A few years ago I was abusing the generosity of the library, taking out 6-8 books a week. I wasn’t working at the time, and despite searching for work most of the time, I found I still had a lot of time on my hands. One of the best books that I read during that time was Mary S. Lovell’s The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family.
If you’ve been around here for a little while, you will know that among my favourite books to read are biographies about women. The Mitfords were a family of SIX sisters (and one brother who was killed in World War II) who all went on to create havoc in the early parts of the Twentieth Century. One was in love with Hitler, one married a rather famous Fascist leader (Oswald Moseley), one became the Duchess of Devonshire and they all dabbled in writing.
It was a fantastic, gossipy, informative read.
I recently picked up The Churchills: In Love and War. I’d been wanting to read it for a long time but finally took the plunge when I found it in paperback recently. I think I was about a third into it when I realized that this Mary S. Lovell was the same one that wrote the book about the Mitfords. Terrible, I know.
Well Lovell did it again. She managed to create a compulsively readable biography of an entire family. While Winston Churchill definitely looms large in this one, Lovell devotes equal time to the lives of his other relatives. Did you know that his cousin, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, married a Vanderbilt? Their marriage was a disaster. Churchill’s mother Jennie, was also an American, thought to be the first of the “Dollar Princesses” who were married to English lords so that their fortunes could keep the families afloat (think Cora Crawley on Downton Abbey).
Winston’s father Randolph contracted syphilis at some point and thereafter refused to have sexual relations with his wife. It ended up killing him, and his wife, Jennie, married 2 more times to much younger men. While there were a lot of unhappy Churchill marriages, it seems that Winston and Clementine actually cared for each other very deeply. It was a fairly unconventional marriage by modern standards (they took a lot of separate vacations) but it seemed to work for them.
Reading about a family like the Churchills is like reading about the Kennedys. You know about the big events, but the smaller every day stuff is all new to you. There was actually quite a bit of overlap with the Mitfords (related to the Churchills through Clementine) and the Kennedys also come up a few times (Winston’s daughter-in-law Pam was good friends with Kathleen ‘Kick’ Kennedy and was actually invited to fly with Kathleen and her new husband on the day that they died in a plane crash).
For someone that had such an appreciation for history and especially his own family history, it must have been somewhat gratifying to find out that Churchill died 70 years almost to the hour that his own father had died.
Lovell’s thorough research and incredible skill at wading through all of the stories and characters to come up with a streamlined story of this famous family is unparalleled. For me, she joins the ranks of Robert K. Massie and Julia P. Gelardi as one of my favourite biographers.