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on 3 September 2001
...This is a hugely entertaining tale of of an upper strata of society utterly convinced of its own worth and superiority. The viceroy's daughters were at its core and many the major characters of the era figure in the story. The insights into their lives are fascinating and are vividly described. Sir Oswald Mosley, the fascist leader who married one of the daughters, for example, was a serial adulterer with minmal concern or interest in his own children.
The book describes the travails, adventures, virtues and vices of the daughters with a pace that never flags. An added, and major bonus, is a highly diverting early section on their fascinating father. The view behind the glitz often reveals appalling behaviour but there are also examples of self sacrifice and commitment to others. This is an enthralling and balanced account of a vanished era. Telling the tale through the lives of three women who were at its core works brilliantly.
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on 27 December 2013
Having thoroughly enjoyed Anne de Courcy's book about the "Fishing Fleet", I was keen to read this, with its further Indian connections via the Viceroy Lord Curzon. Having read his biography by Kenneth Rose many years ago and a number of books concerning the period, including copious Mitfordiana,I had to force myself to wait until I went on holiday. Despite it being quite a long book, and with a huge cast of characters, I found the clarity of the writing and the excellent marshalling of the numerous personae made it easy to read. I found it a total page turner and could not put it down. What I really liked was the way the author let the characters speak for themselves, using (mainly) Irene's diary and never allowed herself to judge from a 21st Century viewpoint, as is common with so many modern biographers. Yes, they were by and large a pretty revolting lot. Curzon was never regarded as a warm and charming individual, and his treatment of his daughters (basically purloining their fortunes left them by their mother for his own ends) and his fury when they challenged him shows him in an unpleasant light. He did seem genuinely fond of his first wife, even if his insistence on her trying to give him a male heir may have contributed to her death. Her wonderful peacock dress, on display in the chilly splendour of Kedleston Hall, and the portrait there of both Lord & Lady Curzon at the 1903 Durbar shows the level of luxury a Viceroy of India inhabited. His extremely shoddy treatment of his mistress, the novelist Eleanor Glin, who had been kind to his three children (all of whom liked her) after his wife's death, only reinforces his unpleasantness - as contemporary doggerel went, "I'm George Nathanial Curzon, I'm a most superior person, my cheek is pink, my hair is sleek, I dine at Blenheim once a week". His cavalier treatment by his second American heiress wife smacked of well-deserved come-uppance.

But what a cast of characters - horse-mad Irene - the first to challenge her father, who made persistently bad choices over married men, and who seemed unwilling to accept even eligible suitors, who cared for her sisters' children and had a struggle with the bottle, was one of the pleasanter. The second sister, Cynthia (Cimmie)appeared to have limitless charm, totally wasted on her utterly repellent husband Sir Oswald (Tom) Mosley. I had always understood Mosley to be a pretty nasty individual, but this book highlighted just how vile he really was. The fact that Cimmie even became a Socialist and stood for parliament at his behest (canvassing in modest attire with limited jewels & furs) but was nonetheless liked by old school trade unionists and labour members, shows how pathetically she tried to do the right thing by her husband (but such judgemental comments were not made by the author!) I particularly liked the vignette of Cimmie whilst in socialist mode, being given the Mosley family jewels by her husband's mother when his father died and he succeeded to the Baronetcy. Hoping to have the old-fashioned pieces "remodelled" into fashionable clips and bangles (as was the rage with old jewellery in the period) she was firmly reminded by her supposedly Socialist spouse that she would "need" the tiara! His entanglement with the equally unpleasant Diana Guinness (nee Mitford)and Cimmie's subsequent death also shed further light on the unpleasantly Nazi sympathies of the Mitford clan, few of whom seemed to entirely escape being in thrall to Hitler.

Finally Alexandra "Baba" who married the Prince of Wales's, later the Duke of Windsor's, friend and equerry, "Fruity" Metcalfe. A man of modest background and intelligence, but an excellent horseman and clearly good company, his unstinting loyalty to both his King and his wife was not remotely returned in kind, although they both seemed fond of him rather as if he were a spaniel. Again, the first person accounts of the romance between Edward and Mrs Simpson were utterly fascinating, including one of the very few descriptions of their wedding (to which both Metcalfes were invited, Fruity being best man in lieu of Lord Louis Mountbatten). Again the actual witness accounts of the Windsors said more about their unpleasant proclivities than any amount of conjecture and hindsight. Poor old Fruity (one of the better guys in this sorry tale) was ultimately used and given the boot by both Duke and Baba, whose promiscuousness was deeply unsavoury.

So why is the story of this sorry band of deeply privileged, rich, heartless and entitled people so compelling? It was extremely evocative - personally I loved the descriptions of houses, fashions, furnishings, vehicles and holidays, as they followed the quite long period covered. Ultimately though, I believe it was the way the characters spoke for themselves through a skillful author that made it so authentic and enjoyable for me. I am off to read more of Anne de Courcy's books.
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on 5 November 2000
In the realm of sibling biography the Mitford sisters have long held the floor while the Curzon sisters sat it out; safely aloof and largely unknown. Endowed with their diaries and letters - and the blessing of their sons and nephews - Anne de Courcy has turned the spotlight on to Irene, Cynthia ('Cimmie'), and Alexandra ('Baba') Curzon for almost a century from Irene's birth in 1896 until Baba's death in 1995. Through their parents and partners, the sisters' lives span and intimately intersect the world of the Souls, the Raj, the Abdication, the British Fascists, the Cliveden Set, and the Dorchester clique during the Blitz. Lord Kitchener and Winston Churchill, George V and Lloyd George, Elinor Glyn and Nancy Astor, Dino Grandi and Jock Whitney, Lord Halifax and Walter Monckton, the Mitfords and the Windsors all appear and make their mark. While Miss de Courcy manages to focus on the three girls, two particular men bestride the pages and dominate their lives. The first is their father, George, Marquess Curzon of Kedelston - Viceroy of India, and British Foreign Secretary. He was brilliant, energetic, passionate, ambitious and vain, obsessed with pomp and ceremony, a strict and distant father who used his wife's enormous wealth and (after her early death) his daughters', to acquire and restore great houses and surround himself with all the luxuries of a potentate. By the time of his death, in 1925, another colossus had entered the lives of his daughters - Oswald Mosley, known as 'Tom', a gifted, flashy, flawed baronet and politician. Although photographs of the young Mosley make him look like a slightly absurd early Hollywood villain, his magnetism and libido were such that, apart from Cimmie, whom he wed, he bedded both Irene and Baba, as well as their step-mother! He hopped from bed to bed until he found the most beautiful of the Mitford sisters, Diana Guinness; he also jumped from party to party - from Tory, to Labour, to New - until he found Fascism. Within a year, Cimmie died of a burst appendix and, according to her sisters, a broken heart. By then Baba was married to Fruity Metcalfe, the Prince of Wales' best friend and, when the Duke of Windsor, his best man. This did not prevent Baba becoming Mosley's lover while Irene became a mother to his children. A pattern was set for the rest of their lives: Baba took a succession of lovers, invariably eminent men of influence and wealth; while Irene, the eternal aunt, suffered a series of unsuitable suitors, finding herself in travel, her charges and good works and losing herself in the bottle. Anne de Courcy, the biographer of the legendary between-the-wars political hostess, Circe, Marchioness of Londonderry, is very much at home with the lives of the British aristocracy. She has made deft use of Irene and Baba's diaries and all three sisters' letters, which so vividly express their rivalry and rows, their disappointments and despair, their jealousies and joys. Some diary entires, however, are plumbed too far - that Lady Ravensdale had piles in 1932 is more than one needs to know. Detailed descriptions of fashions and furniture may delight some readers as they enrich the text with a period flavour; for others there may just be too much marble, gilt and Worth, too many silver fox furs and candlesticks. The Viceroy's Daughters is not as elegant as Nigel Nicolson's biography of their mother Mary Curzon, nor as scintillating as Superior Person, Kenneth Rose's early life of their father, nor as riveting as James Fox's brilliant biography of his grandmother and great-aunts, The Langhorne Sisters; but it can be commended as a very readable, intimate, and sympathetic account of three sisters' lives at the epicentre of a glamorous elite in the first half of twentieth century Britain. Mark McGinness
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on 24 August 2011
Before I read this book, I read a really poorly written Swedish biography on the Mitford sisters. Diana Mitford it said, became mistress of fascist leader Mosley, and when his wife died, he also took his wife's younger sister as a mistress and had the other sister raise his children. It sounded too incredible to be true so I just HAD to find out who these women in Mosley's life were and decided on this book.

I bought it used and on the inside front someone had written "Hope this doesn't turn your stomach". This book does turn your stomach for many reasons! First of all it describes a social class that did not abide to the same rules as us other mortals do. It describes parents whose only concerns were physical pleasure, parties, looks, houses, jewels, clothes and hunting. Children were not to be heard or seen. You bred to have an heir and a spare. You married title or money. Adultery was a normal part of life and accepted as long as it was discrete.

The book does not only describe the Curzon daughters but it starts describing the man himself and then his marriage to an American heiress with too much money. A rather stupid woman that failed to see that her husband was a calculating man who had no qualms of robbing his daughters of their inheritance and his love. She died at an early age leaving her fortune in the hands of her husband that did not use it for the benefit of his daughters as she probably had hoped he would. He soon took himself a couple of mistresses and when they both became widows, he chose the younger basically because he wanted a son. All his wife's money was spent on houses for HIM and his new wife's children. She did not produce the heir he hoped for and he failed to see what a cold, calculating, insanely jealous woman she really was nor did he realized that she cheated on him for years before he died. He testamented as much as he could to her and her children, even the jewelry from his first wife that was intended for her daughters, went to wife number two and her children.

The sordid story moves on to his daughters. The oldest, Irene, was always taken advantage of. She had a love affair with a married man for years on end and he never left his wife and she never got over him so she became a very lonely woman. All nieces and nephews were dumped on her so their parents could be off on holidays and other entertainment and she was expected to pay for their upkeep without as much as a thank you.

Sister number two fell for the philanderer Oswald Mosley who gave her a life of misery, arguments, humiliation, shame and finally a too early death. His mistresses were so many that the book could not mention them all. But the youngest sister, Baba, that became his mistress three months after the death of his wife, and Diana Mitford Guinness, receive a lot of space in the book. Especially Diana gets a lot of space since she wrecked all three sisters' lives, the childrens' and Baba's husband's. Baba married Prince Edward's best friend Fruity Metcalfe who was 17 years older than her. Which means that the book also go in to all the Prince's affairs, his personality and interests, his abdication after becoming King and his marriage to Wallis Simpson and their pretend court in France.
Baba was Mosley's mistress for years till she discovered that he had married mistress number 2, Diana Mitford, and had had a child with her. The book also describes her life with numerous lovers and her non-war efforts as well as Irene's war efforts and work. Irene had time for everything from taking care of Mosley and Metcalfe children to doing charity work and partying.

This book is very detailed, well researched and a fascinating read even though their world of incredible riches, immorality, no conscience, is as far as it can be from modern life.
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on 24 January 2001
I thought that this book was a complete delight to read as it gave me insight to what actually happened during the first forty years of the last century.
I would highly recommend this as an excellent read.
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on 14 January 2016
I bought the book in haste for research on a book I am writing and did not realise it was by Anne de Courcy. I have only read one of her biographies and her delight in lascivious detail spoils the books for me. A little restraint would make her books more palatable.
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on 1 March 2014
Well researched a family of some merit Anne de Courcy brings together all the strands of their very interesting life with ease ,which made it a very entertaining read.
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on 30 January 2016
I wanted to read this book after I'd read about Diana Mitford by the same author and the Curzon sisters were well documented due to their intertwined lives. I was not disappointed. This really was a truly brilliant book. Held my interest throughout well researched and written. Sometimes a little repetitive but you can forgive this as it never becomes boring. If you like this era in history and enjoy reading about the sometimes spoilt and pampered rich and how their lives become connected this is the book for you. Highly recommended
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on 26 March 2015
good biographies are hard to find, great biographies are rare as hen's teeth. this is one. perfectly detached & fair, yet the characters leap off the page & crawl under one's skin. i could not put it down. this is what biography should be.
(lack of individual footnotes is presumably justified by the fact that sources were private letters, diaries & interviews all unavailable to the general public. the source notes are good.)
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on 10 January 2016
Sadly Curzon's daughters turn out to be rather vapid and light weight, inspite of being Lord Curzon's daughters and the daughters of lovely American Mary Leiter. Probably because she died so young and they were left in the hands of nannies and Curzon's girlfriends. I found the book interesting about the other side of Curzon, but rapidly lost interest in his daughters, so never finished the book. I will one day . . .
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