Mitford (The American Way of Death; A Fine Old Conflict; Poison Penmanship; Faces of Philip) doesn't rake muck (though she aims an occasional dart) in this idiosyncratic account of England's first media heroine: Grace Darling, the fortuitously named 19th-century lighthouse-keeper's daughter who became a national symbol--her life turned to legend, and used for both inspirational and commercial purposes--after she participated in the rescue of nine shipwreck survivors. In September 1838, the steamship Forfarshire was wrecked off England's northern coast. Her brother being on the mainland at the time, Grace accompanied her father in rowing almost a mile at low tide to reach the survivors--a strenuous but not death-defying feat that happened to coincide with the era of penny-a-line journalism and the rise of girls' magazines. Embellished and fanciful accounts of the rescue soon appeared all over England, and exemplary Grace--not only heroic, but pure, devout, modest, and a scrupulous housekeeper--was touted as a feminine role model. Grace completed the picture of Victorian perfection by dying a few years after the rescue, virginal and tragically young. She remains a potent cultural symbol, though in recent years more often debunked than admired. An amusing, often digressive (because there's only so much to say about Grace) read with pointed parallels to our times--and, yes, there's Mitford charm and wit, but most readers will find this an interesting magazine article padded out to book length.