Deborah Mitford •
All in One Basket •
I confess to a sort of unholy fascination with the Mitford sisters. I devour their novels and memoirs, the biographies written about them, their voluminous correspondence with each other. Like so many readers, I am under the spell of the famous Mitford wit and charm.
Happily, both gifts are on abundant display in this collection of short pieces from the junior member of the literary clan.
Deborah Mitford—who became the Duchess of Devonshire through her marriage to Andrew Cavendish—presides over the palatial estate of Chatsworth in Derbyshire. She’s oriented as much toward the agricultural as the aristocratic, so we get her piquant observations on everything from cows to queens, tulips to tiaras. Her tastes, too, are not quite what you might expect: She loves Elvis Presley and quotes the Marx Brothers (there is “no Sanity Clause” in her book contract).
The writing is natural, engaging, and utterly without pretension. Older sister Nancy snidely called Debo “Nine”—a supposed reference to her mental age—but no nine-year-old could come up with delights like “Windows last longer than sex whatever way you look at it.”
Her attempts at flower arrangement prompt judge’s notes saying “Try to be flatter in front” and “A pity there is a crease in your base.” Mitford’s acerbic response: “Difficult for some lady competitors to obey the first directive and impossible for anyone to comply with the second.”
Her family is not the focus here, although they do appear in vignettes: Sister Jessica’s book A Fine Old Conflict owes its name to Debo mishearing “a final conflict.” You can read about childhood à la Mitford in Debo’s memoir Wait for Me! That title—the rallying cry of younger children everywhere—must have suggested itself forcefully to someone who grew up as the last of seven siblings.