In this slender biography, Mitford ( The American Way of Death , etc.) sifts the legend of Grace Darling, daughter of a lighthouse keeper, who became a Victorian celebrity at age 22 when she and her father rescued nine survivors from a luxury steamer shipwrecked off the northern coast of England in 1838. Grace's deed, popularized by the local press and later picked up by newspapers all over Britain, found a special niche in the early Victorians' sentimental hearts. She was seen as a perfect exemplar of the Victorian virtues of piety, courage, chastity, modesty, obedience; moreover, she died young (at age 26, of flu). Never mind that her cautious father, an experienced seaman, apparently waited for low tide and then took the safest route to reach the survivors. Commemorative pottery, girls' magazines, songs, poems and biographies kept her legend alive, but in Mitford's wry telling, she was a ``strangely incurious,'' ordinary woman who shrank from her instant fame. (Mar.)
With her customary wry view of human foibles, Mitford examines the meteoric rise to fame of Grace Darling, a Victorian lighthouse keeper's daughter who became a national heroine after helping her father rescue nine shipwreck victims in 1838. The image of Grace, bravely plying her oars amid turbulent seas, came to represent the nobility of the English character to a nation plagued by economic depression. Mitford shows how the press established Grace as a national figure and traces the history of her reputation from adulation to modern debunking. Readers will enjoy comparing this reluctant Victorian ``superstar'' with contemporary media celebrities. For general collections.-- Susan Thach Dean, Chicago P.L.