Memoirs of a Duchess

Carl is sick. We also had a huge thunderstorm yesterday, and between the two, we’ve been spending lots of time holed up at home. Eating easy fix meals. Not washing dishes. It’s good, but I keep doing the tentative swallow thing this morning to see whether my throat is sore like sick-sore or only I-just-woke-up sore.

Hmm.

On the plus side, I’ve had lots of time for reading.

I bought Deborah Mitford’s memoirs as soon as they came out last fall, figuring if it was a Mitford book I would probably like it. And I do like it. I also put it down and didn’t look at it for a couple of months, but I still like it.

The book reads like a rambling one-sided conversation with a warm, sweet, factual, and slightly proper old lady. Crazy I know. Yes, she was a personal friend of folks like John F. Kennedy, Rita Hayworth, Winston Churchill. Yes, she had tea once with Hitler. And she might tell you some fascinating but ultimately harmless and probably endearing quirks of her famous friends. But she doesn’t go in for all that psychological stuff. She’s not going to give you a detailed pen portrait. And don’t even bother asking about someone’s sexual proclivities, because she’s likely to say very tartly that in her day people didn’t discuss other people’s private lives, and as far as she’s concerned it was a good thing for all concerned.

She’s also not a storyteller. There’s very little arc to the events she retells. Just the facts, laid neatly in a row. What makes the book worth reading, though, is her incredible memory for detail. The juicy little eccentricities that pop up on every page.

For exercise, Eddy tossed a pack of playing cards on the floor and picked them up one by one. I often wondered why he could not do something more useful—dig the garden for instance—but no, he was too special for that. [117]

I only started to notice the books shortcomings when I got to the middle and realized that, while I knew how she met her husband and that they were very much married, I didn’t have any idea what he was like as a person or how their marriage was. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to be just as clueless when the book ends.

Curious, I did a quick internet search. No affairs. No trouble. By all accounts, she and Andrew Cavendish were happily married their whole lives. So why not talk about it?

Apparently, memoirs or not, one’s marriage isn’t something one talks about.

Nor are one’s children, although she does admit in a few short sentences that it was extremely shattering to lose three babies a few hours after childbirth. And while it sounds like loved her children, I also have no idea what they were like as people.

So, maybe it’s just that these aren’t really memoirs of her own life. More like the charming quirks of people and places I have known.

And again, I’m enjoying the book, and if today is anything like yesterday I’ll probably finish it by mid-afternoon… but it’s definitely an odd fish of the memoir world.

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2 thoughts on “Memoirs of a Duchess

  1. Hee hee…what an amusing and also potentially tiring book. I can see why you would lay it aside for a couple of months. I often get lost on slow arc-less tales like that.

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