ON THE SHELF: IN TEARING HASTE



You would think that after having read the massive The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters I'd have gotten my fill of all things Mitford, but not so. In fact, the book only fueled my passion for the Sisters, so I went directly afterwards to reading In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor. Here's a brief synopsis:

From Amazon BooksIn the spring of 1956, Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, youngest of the six legendary Mitford sisters, invited the writer and war hero Patrick Leigh Fermor to visit Lismore Castle, the Devonshires’ house in Ireland. The halcyon visit sparked a deep friendship and a lifelong exchange of highly entertaining correspondence. When something caught their interest and they knew the other would be amused, they sent off a letter—there are glimpses of President Kennedy’s inauguration, weekends at Sandringham, filming with Errol Flynn, the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles, and, above all, life at Chatsworth, the great house that Debo spent much of her life restoring, and of Paddy in the house that he and his wife designed and built on the southernmost peninsula of Greece.

Deborah (Mitford), Duchess of Devonshire

Of course, this description does nothing to impart the flavour of the letters themselves, or their authors. Here are a few extracts:

Deborah to Paddy - 14 July 1975

"Darling (Paddy) Whack,
   No news, except bumpkin stuff. The Council of the Royal Smithfield Club - top farmers and butchers from all over the British Isles, every accent from Devon to Aberdeen via Wales & Norfolk - met here on Thurs. Fifty of them. So the only room I could think of was the nursery, and there they sat good as gold on hard chairs. I offered the rocking horse, but they eschewed it, ditto high chairs and Snakes and Ladders.
   I really love those men, and it's my last year as president. I shall miss it and them.
   Then they had lunch, then the wives were let in (so typical of England that they had to hang about till lunch was over) and of course they wanted to see the house. I said 'I'll meet you at the end of the tour.' The first butcher was out in six minutes. I reminded him of Art Buchwald's lovely article on How to do the Louvre in Six Minutes - but he'd never heard of Art Buchwald or the Louvre so I chucked it and took him to see some cattle, which he had heard of. A really good fellow."


Patrick Leigh Fermor
   While Deborah's heart was always in her home and with her country pursuits, she often had to leave Chastsworth in order to attend to her duties as the Duchess of Devonshire, many of which brought her into contact with Royals and other members of the nobility:

Deborah to Paddy - 18 January 1980

"Darling Paddy -
   . . . . . . Last night I went to AN OPERA. The second in my life. It was a plan of Andrew's (Duke of Devonshire) in aid of the Putney Hosp for Incurables and good Cake (the Queen Mother) came and turned it into a gala. One forgets between seeing her what a star she is and what incredible and wicked charm she has got. The Swiss conductor panicked and struck up `God Save The Queen' when she was still walking round the back to get to her box and I heard her say Oh God and she flew the last few steps dropping her old white fox cape and didn't turn round to see what would happen to it.
   She does a wonderful sort of super shooting-lunch dinner, brought from Clarence House and handed round by her beautiful footmen in royal kit, between the acts, the cheeriest thing. We were a bit stumped though because when she'd gone home we had to go to the Savoy and have a second grand dinner with the organisers. It was a bit of a test forcing down sole after Cake's richest choc mousse. It's tough at the top, I can tell you . . . ."

Paddy to Deborah - 23 October 1995

"Darling Debo -
   . . . . . Ages ago, I went to a party given by Brig. West. Everyone was tightish. Daph(ne Fielding), still Bath, was curled up in a ball next to a chair where Duff C(ooper) was sitting, covered in medals and decorations. Daph was wearing a tiara, as they'd all been to a Court ball. Daph was so rapt in talk and laughter that she didn't even notice or pause when Henry (Bath), on the point of buzzing off with Virginia, said, `I think I'd better take that,' neatly uncoiled the bauble from Daph's hair, and slipped it into the pocket in the tail of his tail coat, and walked away. Daph was amazed a bit later by its absence, until we reassured her. I thought for a moment that it might have been later on the same night when I came and collected you from a ball at the Savoy and took you on to another in Chelsea - whose? - a lovely evening.
   No more for the moment.
   Lots of love - Paddy
   Was the ball at the Savoy given by someone called Christie-Miller? A yearly event? One year, they say, David Cecil was hastening to it along the Strand, when a tart stopped him and said, `Woud you like to come home with me, dear?' and he answered, 'I can't possibly. I'm going to the Christie-Millers.'"

Deborah and Patrick 


Who knew that the tails of tail coats had pockets? More importantly, these breezy, entertaining and endearing letters serve to lend an insight into the lives and hearts of their authors. Whether it's Deborah's slightly wicked sense of humour or Paddy's love of and descriptions of travel, there is something for everyone here. A must read for fans of all things Mitford.


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