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Five Sisters: The Langhornes of Virginia [Paperback]

James Fox , Scott Fox
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
Price: 10.06 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

1 May 2001
The beautiful Langhorne sisters lived at the pinnacle of society from the end of the Civil War through the Second World War. Born in Virginia to a family impoverished by the Civil War, Lizzie, Irene, Nancy, Phyllis, and Nora eventually made their way across two continents, leaving rich husbands, fame, adoration, and scandal in their wake. At the center of the story is Nancy, who married Waldorf Astor, one of the richest men in the world. Heroic, hilarious, magnetically charming, and a bully, Nancy became Britain's first female MP. The beautiful Irene married Charles Dana Gibson and was the model for the Gibson Girl. Phyllis, the author's grandmother, married a famous economist, one of the architects of modern Europe. Author James Fox draws on the sisters' unpublished correspondence to construct an intimate and sweeping account of five extraordinary women at the highest reaches of society.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (1 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074320042X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743200424
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.7 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 548,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"London Observer" ["Five Sisters"] is not just a study of a family, or of an age, it is a living, breathing re-creation of a singular way of life....Fox has done more than create a monument to his family -- he has captured a fading impression and made it flow. The Langhornes are alive again.

About the Author

James Fox was born in Washington, D.C., in 1945. He worked as a journalist in Africa, and later at the "Sunday Times" in London. He is the author of the bestselling "White Mischief."

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
"THE LANGHORNE SISTERS of Virginia were a phenomenon in American, in the South and then in the North, long before the third of Chillie Langhorne's five daughters crossed the Atlantic and became, as Nancy Astor, in 1919, the first woman to take her seat in t" Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I loved this book. It is an amazing story of the five Langhorne sisters.They begin their life in the American south after the American Civil War. It spans Reconstruction of the American south thru 2 World Wars,and the first woman in the English Parliment. The five sisters are Lizzie, born 1867, Irene, born 1873, Nancy, born 1879, Phyllis, born 1880, and Nora, born 1889. Irene makes the first big impact in the Langhorne family. A southern belle, she married A.Dana Gibson His picture of Irene became famous as the Gibson Girl. At the center of the story is the story of Nancy Langhorne. She followed Irene on the scene. Had a bad first marriage with one son. Her second marriage to Waldorf Astor propelled her to the world stage.The wealth of her marriage funds the other sisters. She is involved with the great men of the last century. It is one of these that she introduces to her sister Phyllis who has a bad first marriage.He is Bob Brand, one of the young men involved with the Union of South Africa. After marriage with Phyllis , he is active in drafting policy with Milton Keyes after the first and second World Wars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read 22 Mar 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I so enjoyed this fascinating story which was so well told. I recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about recent history (American and British) via the real lives of these amazing sisters, the most famous being Nancy Astor. The story focuses mostly on Nancy and her sister Phyllis both of whom came to live in Britain. I would read more written by James Fox; his ability to tell a complex tale is extraordinary.
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I found this book a very enjoyable read, with some interesting insights into life for Virginians and Britains at the turn of the last century. The Langhornes are fascinating sisters and the rises and falls in their lives make compelling reading. Nancy Astor's election campaign and experiences as the first MP in Parliament are particularly interesting, as is the lively storytelling about the lives of each sister. I read the book in about a week and thoroughly enjoyed it!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Informative 21 Oct 2011
By bmgl
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Enjoyed the book - answered a few questions for me. Good book well written. Full of good backgroud details about the lives of all the characters.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  36 reviews
122 of 125 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent Biography 7 Mar 2000
By anneelise - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have long held an interest in Nancy Astor and her somewhat less famous sisters, and here they all are in one book. I tried so hard to make this book last but I couldn't stop plowing right through. The Langhorne sisters lived a rarefied life, every one of them, to what most of us in the year 2000 could imagine. James Fox brought his grandmother, Phyllis Brand, and her sisters to life through their voluminous correspondence, saved by her husband. For all their wealth and privilege, they suffered some terrible tragedies and for the most part continued on. This book seems to be a true labor of love, and I would recommend it to anyone who's interested in a way of life that no longer exists.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars THE RICH ARE DEFINITELY DIFFERENT! 16 Feb 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
This was a very interesting, annoying and heartfelt biography of the author's mother's family, the Langhornes of Virginia. A family impoverished by the Civil War that became the creme of society in the late 19th Century and continued through the 20th Century. The story centers on the five sisters, Lizzie, Irene, Nancy, Phyllis and Nora; each, who in their own way became celebrities in their own right.
There's Lizzie who was old enough to remember the mind-numbing and humiliating poverty brought by the Civil War. She is embittered by the younger siblings' treatment of her in adulthood. Irene's beauty is enshrined when she marries Dana Gibson and becomes the model for the Gibson girl. Phyllis struggles to end her unhappy marriage and eventually migrates to England. Nora, the youngest, the dreamer and wayward one, keeps the sisters' busy covering up scandal after scandal. Then there is Nancy. She becomes the most famous sister when she marries Waldorf Astor, one of the richest men in the world who possesses her children and everyone around her alike, often with disastrous results.
The author researched the book very well. I especially enjoyed the historical detail thrown in. I've read books on both WWI and WWII and never got the full gist of the events leading up to both wars. However, through the author's families eyewitness account and actual involvement at the highest level of political involvement, I got a better understanding of how and why Hitler came to power. The book's focus is on Nancy and Phyllis and does tend to lose track of the other sisters' doings; however, not enough to detract from the overall book. The book is definitely an eye-opener into the inner workings of a super-rich family that didn't seem to be happy despite their stupendous wealth. Worth a read.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Women, but... 7 April 2001
By HeyJudy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Too often, biographers attempt to do such a conscientious job describing their subjects that the books about those subjects end up being dull. And it should go without saying that those subjects, in real life, were anything but dull. Had they been less than interesting, no one would be tempted to write their stories and there would be no buyers for the finished biographies. Something like that has happened with FIVE SISTERS, the story of the famous Langhorne sisters of Virginia.
Author James Fox, who already has proved his skills as a writer in his other works, is well-assisted in this book due to the fact that he, himself, is the grandson of one of these Five Sisters. As such, he had access to family papers and correspondence unavailable in the public records.
The sisters were born into a prominent Southern family impoverished by the Civil War. The most famous sister, Nancy Astor, married the heir of William Waldorf Astor and became the first American woman elected to the English parliament. In a word, she was a character. Another sister, the most beautiful of the group, married artist Charles Dana Gibson. Very literally, as his model, she became the personification of the Edwardian concept of feminine beauty, the "Gibson Girl."
As described by James Fox, the women appear to be fairly typical in their sisterly concerns and rivalries. Nancy Astor sounds odd (to be kind) as well as nasty. And the book, FIVE SISTERS, somehow manages to be less than engaging. Nonetheless, Fox makes a serious contribution to detailing the social history of the lifestyle of the aristocracy in England at the turn of the 20th Century.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As The World Turns - Langhorne Style 17 Mar 2003
By sweetmolly - Published on Amazon.com
This excellent biography takes an in-depth look at the famous, turn-of-the-century five Langhorne sisters of Virginia. The author is the grandson of one of the sisters, which gave him unprecedented access to some never-before-published letters and journals. Lizzie, Irene, and Nora take a back seat to highly visible Nancy (Lady Astor, first woman to serve in Parliament) and Phyllis, the author's grandmother. The author weaves historical and political background around the sisters' stories, which gives the book a pleasurable informational heft and weight.
They started out poor, as most Virginians were after the calamity of the Civil War. Eldest sister Lizzie was born in 1867, only two years after the war. Father, Chillie Langhorne, hit it big about twenty years later by entering into business with some Yankee railroaders. Then he was able to purchase the fabled Mirador, a perfect setting for his daughters. Chillie and mother Nemoire could have been stand-ins for Scarlett O'Hara's father and mother. Chillie was a hard-drinking charmer and a complete autocrat while Nemoire was almost saintly in her beauty and patience. They had eleven children, eight who lived, five girls and three boys. Two of the boys died young of a combination of hard drinking and tuberculosis.
Eldest Lizzie, who grew up poor and was already married living in genteel poverty in Richmond when Chillie hit it big, resented her sister's success all her life---but thought monetary gifts were her due. Irene was a true phenom, a bona fide celebrity, the last true Southern Belle who took the entire East Coast by storm with her breathtaking beauty. She married Charles Dana Gibson and was the prototype of the Gibson Girl. Irene may not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she was kind (a rare trait among the Langhorne girls) and supportive all her life. Volatile, incredible Nancy who married and divorced a Boston millionaire, then married one of the richest men in the world, Waldorf Astor, almost single-handedly tore her family apart with her extreme possessiveness of both her sisters and children. Nancy looked like a beautiful, frail Edwardian lady with marvelously intense sapphire-colored eyes. Looks deceive. She was actually fiery, cruelly witty, and indomnible. Phyllis followed Nancy's footsteps marrying and divorcing an East Coast millionaire and remarrying famed British economist Robert Brand. Phyllis was soulful, the best woman rider in the country, and was a born martyr. My favorite was baby sister Nora, scatter-brained, scandalous, with a complete disregard for the truth fell in and out of love all her life. Men could not resist her. Nora's sisters had to bail her out over and over again, while Nora sincerely said she had made a "fresh start" every time. But Nora was a loving, generous person and a wonderful caring mother (her daughter was the actress Joyce Grenfell), and her nieces and nephews adored her.
"Five Sisters" is a fascinating read, well researched with an excellent index and bibliography. I recommend it highly.
-sweetmolly-Amazon reviewer
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful! 23 Jun 2000
By rctnyc - Published on Amazon.com
This is a superb biography: well-written, intelligent, sympathetic without being indulgent or polemical, it illuminates a world of money, politics, culture and influence in America and England from the turn of the century through the second world war that few could have experienced first hand, but which nonetheless affected everyone. Particularly intriguing are the discussions -- includng, through correspondence, by the participants -- of the negotiations leading up the the Treaty of Versaille and the events surrounding the rise of Fascism and the beginning of the second World War. And of course, in the middle of all this, are the Langhorne sisters. Perhaps Fox's greatest achievement is depicting Nancy Astor -- his great aunt -- at both her best and worst, both thoroughly offensive and, yet, strangely likeable. The tragedy of her unbending personality forms the center of Fox's story, and his account of Christian Science and its influence, told through the experience of Langhorne-Astor, is both horrifying and fascinating. I didn't want this book to end and have given it to friends to read.
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