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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hitler was a fascinator ?

Things Diana Mosley Told To
Philip Ayres

I WAS WORKING at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire for a few weeks in the early spring of 1990. I’d flown across alone from Virginia after staying with friends on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. Chatsworth is the home of the Dukes of Devonshire. The house is open to the public most days. I was there to carry out the first descriptive analysis of the eight-eenth-century library of Lord Burlington, the neo-Palladian architect earl. This work materialised as “Burlington’s Library at Chiswick”, published in 1992 by the leading journal in its field, Studies in Bibliography (University of Virginia; http://etext., and later it formed a part of my work on classicism and culture in eighteenth-century England, published as a book by Cambridge University Press in 1997. A generation after Burlington died, his library was transferred from his London home, Chiswick Villa, to Chatsworth as a result of a marriage joining the two families, and it has remained part of the Chatsworth library ever since.

Renting a car at Heathrow, I drove directly up to Bakewell, a couple of miles from Chatsworth, paid for a three-week stay at a homely bed-and-breakfast place I’d booked from America, hung my clothes in the closet and drove across the hill through the mist and drizzle and down to the big house. It was freezing cold and there were just one or two cars in the parking lot, with no one walking about.

If you are carrying out any research here, you register, and then they show you to a room in the basement. The books or manuscripts you wish to consult are brought down to you. No one works in the library itself, which is up on the second storey, part of the tour of the house (visitors can look into it, but not walk into it). They gave me Burlington’s 1743 library catalogue to work from, and by using that I could ask to see any of the books it listed, but I found it quite impractical to make an efficient study of Burlington’s library from the basement.

On the second day the Duchess of Devonshire came down with an assistant to make some photocopies, and spoke to me.

She asked what I was working on, and where I came from. I told her. “Well, you must stay with us, then,” she said very kindly. Though I had nothing formal with me to wear to dinner, I should have accepted on the spot, but instead I explained that I’d paid a deposit and was committed to staying in the town. I could have cancelled there easily enough, but I was expecting a call to that number from a party in Germany, my wife, to whom I’d sent the number before leaving Virginia—she was planning to visit me in Derbyshire, and I didn’t have her telephone number with me to ring her and give her a different number, so I was stuck with the joint in town.

When I explained to the Duchess that I was preparing a detailed descriptive analysis of Lord Burlington’s library from his 1743 catalogue and the books themselves, she arranged for me to work up in the library instead of down in the basement. I was told by the curator that it was the first time in years that any visitor had worked up there. It’s a beautiful library, restrained baroque, with exquisite bookcases and desks including one that was Burlington’s own. I worked at that desk, with the books from his Chiswick library all around me. I could examine them, make all my notes and photograph examples of the beautiful bindings. It was pleasant work. Down the other end visitors would peer in: “Oh look! Somebody’s reading in there ...”

For lunch I’d buy sandwiches and eat in the gardens, exploring the rhododendron walk, the yew maze, the river bank and the deer park. At the bookshop I’d flip through the stuff they had.

There were several books about the Mitford sisters. One of these sisters was Deborah Mitford, now the Duchess of Devonshire and mistress of Chatsworth, whom I’d just met. I knew something about a couple of the others from their books, or from books about them (like David Pryce-Jones’s book on Unity Mitford, aka “Hitler’s girlfriend”), but I didn’t know much about the one whose pictures most took my eye, Diana Mitford, later Diana Guinness, subsequently Diana Mosley, married to Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists during the 1930s. She had been described as “the most beautiful woman in the world”. I was curious to know more about her because of her looks. The photos were from the 1930s.

In between periods of research I started reading about the Mosleys and their love affair with National Socialism. Diana, like Unity, was often in Germany. Hitler was witness at her wedding to Mosley. Just how well did she know Hitler? Then I read that she was also friends with the Goerings and the Goebbels.

I was thinking about this side-reading while I was photographing the Burlington bindings. Lord Burlington was a man of impeccable and studied taste in every detail of his life and work, from the houses he designed to the bespoke mathematical instruments he used to design them, and one expects and finds a style of considerable elegance in the bindings of his books. His binder was Thomas Elliott, also binder to the Harleian Library.

I was reading how they locked her up after the war broke out, her own account of that. They stuck this beautiful woman in a rat-hole where the female warders treated her with the kind of sadism I guess envy exacerbates. They didn’t exactly tie her up, but you get the picture.

I didn’t have a copying stand and I didn’t have a flash, so I was flirting with failure by hand-holding my Olympus OM1 and photographing under reading lamps the books I chose to illustrate for my article, using a macro lens, fast transparency film, and exposures of 1/250th of a second to obviate camera-shake, with correspondingly large aperture settings. Luck was with me because they all came out sharp. I didn’t know much about bindings of that sort. However pretty, they’re not exactly my idea of exciting.

After many months of mistreatment they let this gorgeous girl out because she was no longer perceived to be a public danger. She hadn’t been punished because of conviction of crime, but for constituting a public danger. You could maybe call her a public enemy. They hadn’t broken her spirit or changed her views. Several years later she and her husband went to live in France, in a house built for one of Napoleon’s generals, called “Le Temple de la Gloire”. They were in the Windsors’ circle, which must have been depressing.

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