Top positive review
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on 14 September 2010
The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire's eagerly awaited autobiography arrived last week and I am delighted to submit the first Amazon review.
Wisely, the nonagenarian Duchess has found the time to write the book herself, rather than subject herself to the vagaries of a biographer. The result is a delightful personal memoir of a long, varied and interesting life. Her vivid recollections of the years before the Second World War give us an insight into a way of life long since gone.
She chronicles the good times and the bad; the happy and the sad (three infant children died prematurely).
The lives of the Mitford sisters are well documented, but this book is different. It brings us right up to the present time with the Duchess now living a well-deserved, happy and contented life 'in retirement' on the Chatsworth Estate.
Just as Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon who, when she married Prince Albert, never expected to be Queen, so The Hon. Deborah Mitford when she married Lord Andrew Cavendish never expected to become Duchess of Devonshire. Andrew Cavendish's elder brother died in action in the War in 1944 and as a result caused him to become heir to the Dukedom. He inherited in 1950 when his father, the 10th Duke, died prematurely.
Faced with crippling death duties, the new Duke and Duchess heroically rescued Chatsworth from an uncertain future. I suspect that the Duchess underplays the role she took in all of this, and I am sure that her guiding hand has been a major factor in the renaissance of this great house. She lived in the house for 47 years and left an indelible impression on what we see today.
The book runs to 350 pages, but that could easily have been 1,000. It must have been difficult to decide what to include and what to leave out. There are some delightful vignettes. I loved the description of the evening spent at Calke Abbey in the early 1960's with the eccentric Harpur-Crewes. At dinner the first course was melon, followed by cold beef and melon again for pudding! Similarly the description of the 90th birthday party for Sybil, Marchioness of Cholmondeley is wonderfully descriptive.
What I so enjoyed about the book was that I could hear the Duchess reading every word to me. I do hope she can be persuaded to record some or all of it. It would be a marvellous 'Book at Bedtime'.
I could go on, but instead urge you to buy and read the book. Nothing about the Dowager Duchess could ever be described as dull or boring, and every page in this book entertains. It is very well written and I have no hesitation whatever in awarding 5 stars.
On Woman's Hour on Radio 4 last week, the Duchess was interviewed about the book. In conclusion the interviewer asked her what she thought the next decade might bring. In her typical matter-of-fact way the Duchess said brightly "Oh, I suppose I shall die". Let us hope that, for once, she is wrong and that in ten year's time we are celebrating her centenary.