Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Obituary: Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire AKA Deborah Mitford

An era has truly ended with the death of the last of the famous--even infamous--Mitford sisters. Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, has died at the age of 94, according to her son.

Deborah, or "Debo," as she was nicknamed, was the youngest of the celebrated sisters. Unlike some of them, she mostly stayed out of trouble and was widely admired.

One can't say the same for some of the other sisters. The oldest, Nancy, became a novelist, and she basically stayed out of politics and scandal. Another sister, Pam, stayed almost completely out of the public eye preferring living a rural lifestyle. Diana, however, wasn't so shy. She started messing around with a married fascist politician named Oswald Mosley and eventually married him. Both of them were cozy to Adolf Hitler, which tarnished both of their reputations. More scandalous was the weirdly named sister called Unity, conceived in the Canadian town of Swastika, who was literally Adolf Hitler's groupie. She was totally smitten with him from a young age, decided to get her chancellor kneepads and went to Germany in pursuit of her beloved. However, Hitler wouldn't engage in anything more with her than a friendship believing he should be involved only with a German girl. He had other pressing issues in his life including invading countries, committing mass genocide, and living with Eva Braun to be entangled with an English girl. When Unity felt betrayed by Hitler when he started invading countries in his insane quest for world domination, Unity tried to kill herself. She survived another decade, but she died in 1948.

Meanwhile, Jessica Mitford, although a communist at one point and a vehement anti-fascist, came off the best of all among the sisters, as far as I am concerned. She eventually became a journalist and a social critic, writing the bestseller The American Way of Death and writing frequent pieces for magazines like the New York Review of Books. I read her work quite a bit.

But what about Debo?

Debo, who always claimed to be very stupid (her sister, Nancy, insisted she had the mental age of a nine-year-old) and to have never read a book, had a late-flourishing career as an author. She wrote books about the history of Chatsworth, reviews for the Spectator, news-paper columns and three volumes of memoirs.

She had decided tastes and a long list of hates. These included: the sort of woman who wants to join a gentlemen’s club; the bits of paper that fall out of magazines; female weather forecasters; visitors to Chatsworth who complained that the countryside was ‘dirty’; the words ‘environment’, ‘conservation’ and ‘leisure’; supercilious assistants at make-up counters; dietary fads; skimmed milk; girls with slouching shoulders and Tony Blair.

She particularly disliked Blair — ‘a stranger to common sense’ — for presiding over the fox-hunting ban. At 77, she made a pilgrimage to London for the Countryside Alliance March, carrying a placard stating her defiance: ‘I’m ready to go to jail.’

The things she loved, she loved with a passion: Bovril, telegrams, spring cleaning, long letters, Beatrix Potter, wildflowers, fried mushrooms, clothes bought at agricultural shows, Shetland ponies, ice-skating, her whippets, chickens, great- grandchildren and Elvis Presley.

Anybody who liked Elvis Presley can't be all bad.

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