Top critical review
Very much a curate's egg!
on 12 October 2014
To say that this book is heavy going would be to put it mildly. There are some lucid sections, which is just as well as that was the only thing that kept me going, and allowed me to get to the end, but there were times when I came close to abandonment. I found the final few chapters especially difficult dealing, as they do, and pretty much exclusively, with the political lives of the seventh and eight dukes. Plainly, and not surprisingly, Mr Hattersley enjoys writing about political lives most, but I found these chapters utterly tedious and extremely hard to follow. I found myself continually re-reading paragraphs to get to understand who was in favour of what and who was on who’s side. It really was awfully difficult to comprehend what was going on and, as a result, I did not learn as much as I should have done from a more coherent and ordered commentary.
The best parts of the book were those that dealt with social issues generally and the private lives of the Devonshires. But here again I found some sections very confusing and hard to follow. Dates, concerning Bess of Hardwick, for example, was one case where confusion reigned. I know this is because there are arguments about her birth date, but this point was largely unexplained so that the reader was left helpless about whether this really was her “seventeenth year” and so on. In some parts of the book, I think the puzzlement with which I suffered might well have been caused by errors. There was at least one occasion when Dukes were muddled and there were other instances where I could not work out if an error had occurred or if I was just being a bit slow in unravelling the convoluted narrative.
The greatest disappointment to me was that the book more or less runs dry after 1908 so we get very little – just a very, very brief resumé – of Dukes nine, ten, eleven and twelve. There is so much to write about these and their families but, one suspects, of no interest to Mr Hattersley because none of them achieved much in politics. Surely the marriage of Billy Hartington and Kick Kennedy could have had a chapter all of its own; and this is not to mention the extraordinary life of Deborah Devonshire (neé Mitford), recently, and very sadly, passed away.
But, in fairness, perhaps politics was the point of the book and on reflection perhaps I have been too negative. I learned something and I am better for having read this, but I can’t pretend it was an easy or especially enjoyable read.