The Water Beetle by Nancy Mitford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This turned out to be a challenging read – but not for the usual reasons. Shortly after I started, my battered copy disintegrated in my hands. I then found that two pages were missing from Blore, the short story about one of the Mitford nannies & a fascinating look at the Mitford household in general.
So what did my mother do all day? She says now, when cross-examined, that she lived for us. Perhaps she did, but nobody could say she lived with us. It was not the custom then. I think nothing in my life has changed more than the relationship with mothers and young children.In those days a distance was always kept. Even so she was perhaps abnormally detached. on one occasion Unity rushed into the drawing-room where she was at her writing-table saying, “Muv, Muv, Decca is standing on the roof – she says she is going to commit suicide!” “Oh, poor duck,” said my mother, “I hope she won’t do anything so terrible.” and went on writing.
I’m sure this story would be a 5 ★ (Blore was probably a good reason why the Mitford siblings made it to adulthood) but can’t rate it because of those missing pages.
All of the other stories were 5★ for me except for the sad tale of Augustus Hare. In Mitford’s account he changes from a brutally ill treated child to an unpleasant adult. Mitfords telling is detailed yet oddly cold – and to be honest, I have barely heard of Hare. 3★
I want to read The Worst Journey in the World Mitford’s account of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s suffering is insightful. Unusually in my reading of Mitford it is also compassionate and indignant of Cherry-Garrard’s behalf.
Her Reading for Pleasure contains this great truth
As far as I am concerned, all reading is for pleasure.
Yes! To read for joy is one of the great gifts there is. At my age, pretty much the only things I don’t read for pleasure are maps and Inland Revenue’s web site!
The second section of the book is about travel and French historic figures. Mitford makes the distinction that she sees herself as a visitor rather than a tourist and she writes sadly about the Venetian Island of Torcello, which even then (1959) was already being overwhelmed by visitors. Well worth reading for Mitford’s love of French history and her good fortune in being able to travel places like Russia when they were closed to most of us. Her account of how she obtained her Russian visa is very amusing!
Edit; I have discovered Open Library! & they have a copy of this book that doesn’t have these four vital pages missing!
These four pages give more vital clues about Mitford relationships & things I certainly didn’t know – like their father was violent. Also makes clear how much Nancy longed to go to school. Her self education was really remarkable. And (what I already suspected) the nanny in The Blessing was based on Blore.