Saturday, April 23, 2011

Living at Chatsworth

The House, The Duchess of Devonshire

I found this book at Half Price Books, just after I'd read The Sisters, the collection of Mitford letters edited by Charlotte Mosely.  I couldn't believe it when I saw this sitting on a shelf.

I'd also come across references to Chatsworth and the Devonshires in odd places, like a New Yorker article on a blight threatening the world's bananas, from which I learned that the ubiquitous yellow bananas we buy every day are the Cavendish variety, found in the Chatsworth greenhouses after a previous blight wiped out the then-common variety.  And then there was Bill Bryson's At Home, which introduced me to Joseph Paxton and the Bachelor Duke.

Subtitled "Living at Chatsworth," this book starts with "The History of the House" that is a history both of the family that built Chatsworth and the buildings themselves.  I wasn't familiar with the history of the Cavendish family, though I knew Bess of Shrewsbury and the Bachelor Duke.  I am glad that I'd already read Deborah Devonshire's Wait for Me!, which gave me some background and context for the later part of the story.

The second part is a tour through the house, both the rooms open to the public and the private rooms, as well as the grounds.  This section includes lengthy extracts from the 6th Duke's Handbook of Chatsworth, written in 1844 as a letter to his sister Harriet, with added comments from Deborah Devonshire.  I found this section harder to follow, because the pictures don't always show what the Duke was describing, in part because of changes since 1844; and because the maps show only the public rooms.  But all in all I found the book entertaining and informative, and also inspiring, especially in the struggle to restore Chatsworth after years of neglect, and in the face of crippling death duties.  Here again I was glad of the background from the family letters and Wait for Me!  I also kept thinking of Trollope's Duke of Omnium and Gatherum Castle. Angela Thirkell in her continuation of the Barsetshire stories wrote a fictional account of the struggles to save the grand houses like Chatsworth in her later novels.

I've been fortunate enough to tour Hatfield and Blenheim, but I have never traveled much in the north of England.  If I ever get back to England, Chatsworth will definitely be in my travel plans - in the footsteps after all of Elizabeth Bennet and the Gardiners!

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Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!