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Such warmth of characters and such humour - Must read 2008!!
on 10 September 2008
If you have read and loved Charlotte Mosley's wonderful Mitford Letters this will definitely not disappoint!!
Their writing styles, and indeed life styles are markedly different - Paddy's erudite, descriptive, precise and exuberant letters serve to remind us why he is often considered the greatest travel writer of our time. His wonderful descriptions of his adventures bring to life so many different places - from Devon to the Andes to Eastern Europe and back to Derbyshire. He tells stories about upsetting Somerset Maugham with his stammering jokes; about his feat of swimming across the Hellespont aged 69; about rounding up wild horses in Chagford; and about his time building his home Kardamyli with his wife Joan.
DD writes a shrewd description of life as a Duchess restoring Chatsworth. She never fails to raise a smile with her insightful and honest accounts of a whirlwind of social engagements with such a wide variety of well-known twentieth century figures. From Evelyn Waugh, whom on one occasion sends the famously self-professed illiterate DD a proof of his new book, The Life of Robert Knox with the inscription "You won't find a word in this to offend your Protestant sympathies" - the pages were in fact completely blank. She describes he friendship with "The Loved One" (John F Kennedy) and dinners with the characterful Bohemian Iris Tree. Intimate encounters with the Royal Family - including one such "cotton dress" chance meeting with The Queen Mother - who Debo famously refers to as 'Cake' - at the Tate Gallery. Interspersed with these engagements she writes to Paddy with stories of her family - Andrew and her three children and certainly her Sisters and of course, she details her incredible renovation of the beautiful Chatsworth House. Despite leading such an incredible life, she always remains so down to earth - on one occasion Mario Testino arrives at Chatsworth to do a photo shoot for Vogue's 90th birthday. DD is photographed with her granddaughter Stella Tennant, she describes the shoot:
" [Stella's] Hair skewbald/piebald, all colours & stuck up in bits. THEN they produced "shoes" with 6 inch heels. More stilts - she could hardly put one foot in front of the other, wobbling & toppling.
We looked just like that Grandville drawing of a giraffe dancing with a little monkey. I was the monkey."
The truly charming thing, however, about this excellently edited collection, is the genuine love and friendship that is so abundant in these letters. Mosley describes DD and PLF as sharing "youthful high spirits, warmth and generosity". This comes across in the letters so wonderfully. This book is a lovely account of two such different characters who share a marvellous appetite for life and an even greater friendship.