Review: In Tearing Haste

In Tearing HasteCharlotte Mosley, ed., In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor

Deborah Devonshire began life as the youngest of the (in)famous Mitford sisters, but she unexpectedly became the duchess of Devonshire when her husband, Andrew Cavendish, inherited the duchy from his brother. Patrick Leigh Fermor was a travel writer who became a war hero by kidnapping the commanding German officer on the Nazi-occupied island of Crete. (The movie “Ill Met by Moonlight” is a fictionalized account of his experience.) The two first met when Deborah was still a young debutante, but they eventually formed a deep friendship, as well as a correspondence that would last for more than half a century. Although “darling Paddy” and “darling Debo” lived through many political upheavals and personal tragedies, their letters to each other always remained upbeat, humorous, and cheerful.

I usually find nonfiction very slow going, but this book was a pleasure to read. Both “Debo” and “Paddy” wrote in a lively conversational style that’s very easy to read, and I felt truly immersed in their day-to-day lives. Patrick often wrote about the various exotic places he visited, including the little town in Greece where he and his wife eventually settled. Deborah largely stayed on the Devonshire estates in England and Ireland, where she waxed poetic about sheep breeding and various fox-hunting excursions. The book also provides some fascinating insights into the psychology of the British upper classes: for example, Deborah mentions, with the utmost casualness, dining with President Kennedy several times. Though there’s not much in-depth discussion of the historical events through which they lived, anyone who is interested in reading a firsthand account of the 20th century should pick up this book! I’d also recommend it for fans of the Mitfords or early 20th-century British literature in general.

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