Tag Archives: Charlotte Mosley

Book review: In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor from The Scotsman

First published in The Scotsman 13 September 2008

by Roger Hutchinson

THE MARVELLOUS THING ABOUT yours [books],” wrote the Duchess of Devonshire to Patrick Leigh Fermor in May 1974, “is that they never appear.”

Deborah Devonshire professes a pathological dislike of reading. Somewhere in the unfathomable depths of that eccentricity may be discovered the contrary reason for her having been, for over half a century, the favourite correspondent of one of the greatest British authors of the 20th century.

Debo and Paddy had been swapping letters from various parts of the globe for 20 years when she congratulated him on the paucity of his output. When he received that letter he was in fact just finishing A Time of Gifts, the first volume of the travelogue through Europe in the 1930s which would cement his reputation. If we are to believe the Duchess, she has never read a word of it or any of his other works.

This does not mean that their collected letters, expertly compiled by Charlotte Mosley, is entirely non-literary – there are plenty of gems here for the student of the Leigh Fermor oeuvre. It means rather that their friendship was established on broader grounds.

The youngest Mitford sister, Debo Devonshire, clearly possesses oodles of her siblings’ trademark charm, without the family handicap of being mad as a meat-axe. Patrick Leigh Fermor saw and fell for her at an officers’ ball early in the Second World War. She did not so much as notice him until several years later. By the early 1950s Paddy Leigh Fermor was difficult not to notice. Handsome, polyglot, rakish, wildly itinerant and with a war record straight out of a John Buchan novel, he fell upon London society like a wolf on the fold.

He must have been able to pick off debutantes at a hundred paces. But Deborah Mitford was made of sterner stuff. She had set her sights on a duke. PLF would have to settle for best male friend. We should say, one of her best male friends. Her roster of masculine admirers is extraordinary. President John F Kennedy tops the chart, but it winds down through almost every eligible and ineligible man in the developed world. Debo’s good fortune – and now that this engaging anthology has been published, ours too – is that not a single one of them was half so good a writer as her faithful Paddy.

Naturally, most of the words in this collection were authored by PLF. But if Deborah Devonshire has been a foil, she was a perfect one. Chatty, witty, teasing, gossipy, relentlessly cheerful and with more than a hint of modest good sense, her short replies bounce off his beautiful essays like volleys of tennis balls off a cathedral. Continue reading

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Chatsworth Celebrates the Many Lives of Deborah Devonshire

As you will know by now Deborah Devonshire (one of the famous Mitford sisters), the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire is one of Paddy’s closest friends. Their communication by letters over more than half a century forms the basis for the collection of letters edited by Charlotte Mosley – ‘In Tearing Haste’ – of which I have written before. The seat of the Dukes of Devonshire is Chatsworth in Derbyshire and this year Chatsworth will be staging a special exhibition to celebrates Debo’s 90th birthday. I thought it worth posting details for those who may be interested. For more information please  read the press release below or visit www.chatsworth.org .

In an epic year, Chatsworth is staging a special exhibition throughout 2010 in honour of the 90th birthday of Deborah Devonshire (on March 31), now Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and the last surviving of the famous Mitford sisters.

Andrew and Deborah Devonshire

 Feb 18, 2010 – Sister, mother, wife, Duchess, writer and celebrated national treasure.  Over the years Deborah Devonshire’s path has taken her in many directions creating a life story which is nothing short of fascinating. In an epic year, Chatsworth is staging a special exhibition throughout 2010 in honour of the 90th birthday of Deborah (on March 31), now Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and the last surviving of the famous Mitford sisters, marking the nine eventful decades of her life, illustrating her many interests and achievements.  

Memories of the Dowager’s Mitford ancestry, and her famous siblings, will be evoked with many unique items never seen by visitors before, including numerous letters, plates from the much loved Berlin dinner service sold by her father and purchased by her husband, the Cavendish/Devonshire family tree and the beautiful Renoir painting left to Chatsworth by her sister Pamela.

Visitors will experience a rare insight into the remarkable life of Deborah, illustrated with mementos and keepsakes personally chosen by her Grace including early diaries, the Dowager’s childhood ice skates (skating was an early passion), her nature notebook and a copy of her wedding invitation.  Deborah’s passion for all things outdoors quickly becomes clear.  A keen supporter and participant in all country pursuits, the exhibition will include the Duchess’s gun and game books.  Two of her beautiful handmade walking sticks are also featured, and her love of poultry reflected in a wooden chicken sculpture and her rosettes and prizes for eggs.

Deborah comments: “Putting this exhibition together has meant thinking back over the nine decades of my life so far, and trying to gather together mementos and photographs that will interest visitors to Chatsworth this year. I hope people will enjoy the wide range of things on view, from Paris dresses and works of art I love, to family photographs and a telephone from the gift shop at Graceland. I have been lucky enough to know many fascinating people and be involved in local and national organisations and good causes, and the displays will reflect these.”

In the 1950s, the Dowager had the huge task of restoring Chatsworth after the depressing war years (it had been leased to a girls school), and making it fit for the growing number of visitors, and as a family home. The wallpaper patterns that she used then will be shown alongside the books she wrote later in life, celebrating Chatsworth’s house, collections, garden, food and landscape. Her growing family is represented by glamorous private images of her and her young children by Norman Parkinson.

As Duchess, she was involved in many significant public and state events, and chose to take on many public responsibilities, charitable concerns and interests. The robes she wore to the Queen’s coronation in 1953, at which her son, the present Duke, was page to his grandmother Mary, widow of the 10th Duke, will be on display, alongside presentation objects from public engagements over the last 60 years.

Having known many famous artists and writers, there will be displays of early work by Lucian Freud, sculpted heads of some of the Dowager’s more illustrious artistic friends, by Angela Conner, and the special edition of one of his books given to her by Evelyn Waugh, with blank pages to avoid the bother of actually having to read it.

Deborah continues: “I have known Lucian Freud for well over fifty years, and he remains a great friend and a fascinating person. Being painted by him, when I was in my thirties, was a slow process, as he is not a lightning artist, but I think the result is full of insight – I certainly get more like the picture the older I become.”

Her tastes and style are represented by a number of exquisite couture gowns and other clothes and hats; favourite works of art by Atkinson Grimshaw, Tchelitchev, Jo Self, Epstein, Frink and others; a selection of the jewelled insect brooches she was given by her husband over many decades; and mementos of her hero Elvis Presley, including the Elvis telephone, and a section of fence from Graceland.

After 54 years in charge of Chatsworth [and its estate], Bolton Abbey and Lismore Castle in partnership with her husband, the late Duke, the Dowager’s retirement has not been quiet. Memorabilia relating to her latest books, and forthcoming memoirs, will be on display, together with new photographs taken for the exhibition, including a special image of the Dowager with her seventeen great grandchildren.

Chatsworth re-opens on March 14 and the exhibition runs until 31 October 2010. Entrance is free with house admission. For more information please visit http://www.chatsworth.org

A Review of In Tearing Haste: Letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor from the Spectator

by Anne Chisholm

First published in The Spectator Wednesday, 3rd September 2008

Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor proof reading In Tearing Haste

Towards the end of this hugely enjoyable volume of letters, selected and edited by the skilful Charlotte Mosley from half a century of correspondence (1954-2007), Deborah Devonshire, by now in her mid-eighties, writes a postcard from Chatsworth to her friend, Patrick Leigh Fermor, aged 90, who lives in Greece. ‘Did you know’, she asks ‘That the Vikings called Constantinople Micklegarth? Well, they did. Much love, Debo.’ To which he replies: ‘I did know, and have written fruity paragraphs about it in that book called Mani. It’s really Micklegard’, going on to explain that grath, gard and grad all denote towns and that Harold Hardraada, the Viking hero, had visited the place many times before invading England, only to be killed by ‘our King Harold’ shortly before William the Conqueror arrived in 1066. ‘I’m still surprised’, Debo writes back ‘I can see you aren’t.’

This exchange contains much of what makes their letters so beguiling and so British. Both are more interested in facts, jokes and stories than in feelings; there is no soul-searching in this fat volume.

Both stay firmly in character: she the non-intellectual, resolutely unimpressed by foreign culture, he the erudite polymath, bursting with knowledge. Linked by deep affection and with many friends in common, they live different lives in different countries, have different tastes, use different language; what they have in common, and what these letters so wonderfully demonstrate, is an unfailing appetite for life.

Having first encountered each other during the war, when Paddy was a dashing soldier and Debo, the youngest of the spectacular Mitford sisters and newly married to Andrew Cavendish, the younger son of a duke, they met again in the mid-1950s. By this time she was 36 and Duchess of Devonshire, châtelaine of a castle in county Waterford and a palace in Derbyshire, helping her husband with his unexpected inheritance and beginning the revival and transformation of Chatsworth. He was 41 and a compulsive traveller, famous for pulling off one of the more dashing exploits of the war by kidnapping a German general in Crete. He was also beginning to be known as a writer, having published a novel and his first travel book. This time they fell for each other, and, one suspects, almost into a love affair; almost, but not quite, as Debo already loved Andrew and Chatsworth and Paddy loved Joan Eyres-Monsell and Greece. She was settled and he was a wanderer, and although they met as often as possible over the years on his visits to England it was on paper that their relationship really belonged. Continue reading

A biography of Paddy by Artemis Cooper?

There are some tough jobs around, but few could be tougher than writing a biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor. However, according to the acknowledgements section of “In Tearing Haste” by Charlotte Mosley, Artemis Cooper is apparently doing so; ‘… to Artemis Cooper, who is preparing a biography of Paddy’. Artemis of course edited “Words of Mercury” (2003).

Given that we have been waiting twenty four years for “Vol 3” what are the chances of Artemis’ biography being published before that volume? Not great I would have thought. But what a challenge to write about the life of one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. I wish her the best of luck!

The Moss Conundrum

I have been reading ‘In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh-Fermor’ (2008), edited by Charlotte Mosley. It is really quite good and gets better as Debo writes more often to Paddy; she is very funny.

On page 22 of my paperback version in a letter from Paddy written on 26 August 1956 he writes:

“I was asked by W.S.M. (William Stanley Moss – his partner in the Kreipe kidnap escapade – see Ill Met by Moonlight) to a meal of reconciliation and amends, where we met as affable strangers. It was really a gasbag’s penance and I, having learnt the hard way, vouchsafed little more than a few safe monosyllables.”

Well what does this mean? It is clear something had caused a breakdown in what was once a good friendship. They had been through a lot together and to feel like this, there must have been something terrible to cause such a rift. Was it the way Moss portrayed the events of the Kreipe kidnap? The fact that Moss married Sophie? Who knows?

If anyone knows please add a comment to this article.