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BOOK REVIEW:

All in one basket

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Call Number: 
942.51 D511-6

Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford Cavendish, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, is the youngest of the Mitford sisters whose interests and social views were all over the political compass. One sister was a Communist; one sister and her husband were imprisoned during World War II for their fascist views and overtly supporting the Nazis; several other siblings were unofficial supporters of fascist politics; and two others preferred the agrarian life. As a child, the Duchess was tormented and teased by her older sisters who called her Nine because they thought her intellectual development stopped at that age. Nothing could be further from the truth. For someone who was not formally educated, nor were her sisters, she had a very keen business sense and transformed Chatsworth, one of England's great stately homes, into a lucrative tourist sight which includes an on-site shop that sells the estate's produce. Her interest in agriculture is legendary, especially concerning chickens. And at the age of sixty she embarked on, what proved to be, a very successful writing career with numerous books to her credit.

By marriage and birth she has relations and friends all over England and the world. There was Uncle Harold, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. She reminisces about Joseph Kennedy, his wife and children, when the senior Kennedy was appointed U.S. Ambassador to England, 1938-1940, and the stir caused by Rose Kennedy, as the stylish and slim mother of all those children. The young Deborah remembers dancing with the young J.F.K. and found him to be boring. Not until years later, when both of them had matured did he begin to show his wit and charm.  When brother-in-law William, Marquess of Hartington, was killed in action in 1944, four months after marrying Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, Chatsworth passed to Deborah's husband, Andrew.

All in one basket combines two former books,  Counting my chickens and Home to roost, in one book.  Readers are brought into the daily life, activities, and running of a famous estate. This is the real thing which, in many ways, is far more entertaining, funny and interesting than the television drama Downton Abbey.  Most of the entertainment is due to the Dowager Duchess' unabashed candor and humor.  She does not hold back in stories about her sisters, visitors, friendships, family matters, and royal visitors.  The only aspects of her life that she skims over are the personal difficulties of dealing with her husband's alcoholism and philandering, which is emblematic of  the Duchess keeping calm and carrying on.

Two other recent books by the Dowager Duchess are Wait for me!: memoirs and In tearing haste : letters between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor

This is a particularly charming and funny interview with the Duchess at the Frick Collection.

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