The extraordinary Mitford sisters

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Deborah Vivien Cavendish, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, turns 91 today — and boy, does she deserve to celebrate. She has authored 12 books, all of them based on her often scandalous life as the daughter of a baron, wife of a duke and sibling in one of Britain's most prominent aristocratic families. She looks back on her eventful life in her latest release, Wait for Me!: Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister.

The Mitford family entertained the company of some of the world's most revered — and infamous — characters.

In Wait for Me!, the wryly humorous duchess shares stories of consorting with John F. Kennedy and using the loo at Hitler's flat. And to her, these experiences are as commonplace as a cup of tea.

"Isn't it extraordinary?" she laughingly remarked to The Sunday Edition's Michael Enright about the popularity of her book. "I never dreamed that it would go so well or be so interesting to people somehow. I thought maybe they'd have had enough of our family, one way or another."

Cavendish — known as "Debo" to her family and friends — is the only surviving Mitford sister. The six sisters came of age in the 1920s and '30s, and their lavish lifestyle, outrageous behaviour and controversial political affiliations brought them both fame and notoriety.

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They were popularly referred to as "Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur."

For the better part of the 20th century the Mitford sisters and their parents were routinely in the spotlight of the press. But Cavendish felt that the public record of her family was often misleading, and she wanted to set the story straight in her book.

"Well, it was really [for] my mother and father," she explained. "They were very shabbily treated by the press."

Cavendish herself hasn't always been treated kindly by the media. Recently, a British journalist writing in The Times referred to her as "A lilac relic from a bygone age."

"I do hope you don't think I'm exactly like that. I don't believe I am," she laughed. "It's quite funny, though."

Witty and frank, Wait for Me! is both a fascinating account of an era, and an insightful inside look at an extraordinary family.

To hear the full interview, click on the player above.

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