Miscellaneous thoughts and observations by the proprietress of one of England’s stateliest homes.
Born Deborah Mitford, youngest of the six famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view and which one you’re talking about) sisters, the duchess is no stranger to either writing or country life. Although she has staked out a considerably smaller patch of literary turf than sisters Nancy or Jessica, it’s nevertheless one for which she shows considerable affection and enthusiasm, revolving as it does around Chatsworth, the Derbyshire estate inherited by her husband. During her long and eventful life, the duchess has overseen its conversion from a crumbling white elephant into one of Britain’s best-known and most visited Great Houses, as well the headquarters of a thriving business selling specialty foods and other appurtenances of gracious living. Her sixth book about life at Chatsworth contains diary excerpts, occasional pieces, and reminiscences, including cameo appearances by JFK, Evelyn Waugh, and Lucien Freud, among others. At times she sounds a bit like a P.G. Wodehouse character come to life, railing against such modern inconveniences as government regulation and anti-foxhunting crusaders, or stating the obvious with the serene self-assurance that only centuries of breeding can confer: “Windows. We have got to have them to keep out weather and burglars.” Elsewhere, however, she’s charmingly down to earth, musing on the pleasures of gardening and raising poultry, or gushing about her love of Elvis Presley. Due to its grab-bag nature, this is occasionally rambling and choppy, particularly at the beginning; the best pieces are the longer ones that close out the volume, particularly an amusing account of a wartime journey transporting a goat by rail from the Scottish Hebrides to London and a brief memoir of her famously eccentric family.
Slight but readable: to be dipped into at leisure rather than read in one go.