Deborah Mitford's fascinating, long-awaited memoir

2011-09-21 00:00

THE five Mitford sisters were the most notorious aristocratic family of the 20th century. All brilliant, all beautiful, they included fascist Diana, out-and-out Nazi Unity, communist ­Jessica, and Nancy, one of the greatest comic novelists England has ever produced.

And then there was the

youngest, Deborah. She was

the “sane” one — even though her sisters’ nickname for her was Nine, because that was the age at which, so they claimed in

their relentless teasing of her,

her mental development had stopped.

This was definitely not true, as her long-awaited memoir Wait for Me! (her oft-repeated cry in childhood as the baby of the brood) proves.

Deborah eschewed the wild ­excesses of her sisters. She just married a duke — but not any duke. The dukedom of Devonshire is the most glamorous in England, and it owns England’s most fabled house, Chatsworth.

Now, at long last, in her late 80s, she has found the time to tell us her story. And what a story it is.

It ricochets between Adolf Hitler and John F. Kennedy and Elvis Presley, and the hens she has known and nurtured. If she isn’t scrubbing up for a visit to Buckingham Palace, she’s knuckling down in her worst clothes to clean out the attic of the stately pile she had to rescue from ruin.

She didn’t only have to deal with her wild sisters, she also had to cope with a husband who was both an alcoholic

and a philanderer. Resolute level-headedness helped her triumph over those and many other challenges.

Wait for Me! is a testament to the power of both “stiff upper lip” and “if you can’t cry, you might as well laugh”.

It is a wonderful first-hand account by a woman who not only witnessed the best and worst that the 20th century had to offer, but survived it, with bells on. Read it.

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