Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Just Good Friends from a Bygone Age; Solid Bond: Although Early Letters Suggest a Greater Affection between Debo Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Just Good Friends from a Bygone Age; Solid Bond: Although Early Letters Suggest a Greater Affection between Debo Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor

Article excerpt

Byline: ADAM NICOLSON

IN TEARING HASTE: LETTERS BETWEEN DEBORAH DEVONSHIRE AND PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR EDITED BY CHARLOTTE MOSLEY (JOHN MURRAY ?25)

YOU might feel a bit spiky looking into this book. Rank upon rank of titles, the chat and gossip of the upper classes, everyone with many large houses in various countries, the royal family floating in here and there, never a thought expressed about money or its anxieties (except for the threat of Labour Budgets which may force the Devonshires to leave "this dump", as the duchess calls Chatsworth.) One might as well be reading a correspondence between the Duc de St Simon and the Comtesse de Noailles; 1750, 1950, what's the difference? But, surprising or not, that sense of distrust dissolves as this correspondence gradually drops through the letterbox over 50 years. Debo Devonshire is the youngest and most beautiful of the Mitford girls, claims she never reads a word and spends her time thinking only about her cows, goats and sheep. Paddy Leigh Fermor is the handsome, scholarly, multilingual hero of the Cretan resistance in the war, now travelling and writing (slowly) books about remote parts of Europe.

He is rather writerly, polishing and reworking his letters, she is effortlessly and spontaneously funny, never dressing up her funniness but somehow using it to convey a pared down but clear-eyed vision of human life, its frailties and follies. After lunch at Longleat: "What a kind welcome from mad Bath & a mouthful of beard & other extra hair. His son looks normal & charming." A crisis one evening at the Tate Gallery. Debo, by mistake, is in a summer frock, everyone else in "dresses to the ground and pearls.

To my horror, Cake [her name for the Queen Mother, after once witnessing her enthusiasm for it] advanced on unseen feet in crinoline and diamonds glittering from top to toe & talk to her & it was wicked work with the dread wrongness of get-up & Sir J Rothenstein [Tate director] looking at one as though one was a v small bit of dirt & then her saying 'Isn't that wall lovely' meaning a lot of daubs by famous painters & me being speechless because of being honest. …

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