Book review: Wait for me! by Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire
About the book
The blurb on the front jacket of Wait for Me, states that Debo (as the Duchess of Devonshire is fondly known) ‘looks back on a life lived at a cracking pace’. And indeed she does.
The book is a substantial read but not only are there nine decades to get through, most of those include some of the most momentous events of the last century – for which Debo often had a ringside seat. (Quite literally, in some cases – Debo was an esteemed guest of the Kennedy family for both JFK’s inauguration and his funeral.)
The book is a fun voyage through the Duchess’s fascinating life, including insights into her notorious family. It’s full of interesting tales and anecdotes, written in a very readable style and the detail is amazing – especially given Debo’s advancing years (no offence, Your Grace!) – though keeping diaries throughout her life must have made recollection easier.
From ‘coming out’ as a debutante before the King & Queen of England, to tea parties with Hitler, to dancing with JFK, to travelling the world as the wife of a minister, the Duchess of Devonshire has had her share of excitement and adventure. In Wait For Me, we get to go along for the ride.
Why I loved it
The antics of the Mitford family have been well documented and this is not the first book I’ve read about this extraordinary family (I read The Mitford Girls about 10 years ago.) However, it’s always interesting to get another viewpoint from such a rare position within the family, and the youngest of 7 siblings is always going to their own take on things.
But Wait for Me is much more than an account of life within the Mitford family (though that aspect is certainly entertaining).
Throughout her life, Debo had a privileged access to the higher echelons of society, both in her home country and, (as the wife of a government minister and close friend of Presidents), across the world.
Although she was not born a Duchess, Debo did come from a very well connected aristocratic family. Despite this, she retained a down-to-earth personality – as happy on a haybale with horses and a sister as when seated next to the reigning monarch for dinner. This comes through quite clearly in her informal and friendly narration.
What I found engaging was how Debo’s life , her worries and problems, were so much like the rest of us ‘normal’ folk.
From her portrayal of the social conventions of life in the early twentieth century, (the ‘unwritten rules and nuances’), it seems money, class and breeding is no protection from the usual insecurities, shyness, even terrors of certain social events.
And the extent to which fortunes fluctuate within a so-called ‘wealthy’ family was a real eye-opener. For example, being forced to move from a beloved childhood home for economic reasons is still heart-wrenching, even if the homes in question are larger and grander than your average National Trust property.
Also, being familiar with the domestic challenge (on a smaller scale), it was interesting to see that owners of large houses still have a great deal of work to do, despite their many staff.
Aside from the accounts of places and events, I also enjoyed the tales of the characters from Debo’s life, whose names would linger long after I stopped reading. (I can just picture the long-suffering Muv tolerating yet another Debutante Ball, longing for her bed.)
There is a moving section toward the end of the book, where Debo documents the demise of family members (she appears to have outlived almost everyone mentioned in the book) and it is testament to her colourful and vivid portraits of friends and family, that I felt some empathy for her loss.
For me, the sign of a good read is turning the last page with a mix of satisfaction and reluctance – having thoroughly enjoyed the book and feeling slightly sad that it’s finished. Wait For Me fits that bill.
I relished my week or two spent in Debo’s world and will miss her cast of colourful characters and her down-to-earth take on life. I loved the glimpses into her life and her history – the country houses, the trips and travels, the trials of maintaining a stately home and, of course, her remarkable family.
Still, my piqued interest had plenty of avenues to explore. I have added Debo’s other books (and those of her intriguing sisters) to my ever-growing wishlist. I’m also planning a trip to Chatsworth later in the year…
• • •
You’ll love this book if you;
• are interested the lives of the famous Mitford sisters
• want an insider guide to life of a debutant
• would like insights into the running of a stately home
• are intrigued by the social lives of royalty, world leaders and the aristocracy during the last century
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