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A family in a million and a book in a million - I loved it,
This review is from: The Langhorne Sisters (Hardcover)
Fully to understand this excellent study of The Langhorne Sisters and their extended family it is almost necessary to visit Virginia and to know something of its people, its history and its institutions. Virginia is the context of the book and, though the 'action' is more often in England and Europe, the thread of Virginia runs through it: neither the people concerned in this multi-decade work nor the reader can ever escape entanglement with the thread of Virginia.
I have been fortunate enough to have visited Virginia often and to have known several Virginians. I also love Virginia with a passion and have always felt sorry for Virginia and very regretful of and for the sufferings of Virginians in the awful so-called 'Civil War' of 1861-1865 and long afterwards.
The Langhorne Sisters were all born in the period of Virginia's most dreadful trials when death, destruction and gut-wrenching poverty were all present in abundance. All of The Langhorne Sisters wanted to hang on to their Virginian roots whilst, at the same time wanting to escape the death, destruction and gut-wrenching poverty. Their successive family homes, most famously Mirador, near Charlottesville, seemed constantly to pull them 'home' and, despite marrying into great wealth and becoming extremely well-known - Nancy Langhorne married Waldorf Astor, one of the wealthiest men in the world and an American-born member of the British House of Commons with Nancy following him as an MP when he came Viscount Astor - all of the sisters made regular (and astonishingly expensive?) return trips to Virginia.
There was a dark side to the sisters (and their lesser-known brothers). Drink affected adversely almost all members of the family and some of them died due to over-indulgence. Drink and other factors - one being an attachment by some to Christian Science - led to numerous family spats. The 'blessings' (or otherwise) of money left their marks on all of the sisters and their relatives. Politics also caused difficulties and the book sets out how family ignorance and a degree of stupidity led to family members and close friends seeing things with too simplistic eyes. The pre-World War II period is especially revealing and Philip Kerr, a family friend and later the 11th Marquess of Lothian and British Ambassador at Washington, gets a deservedly critical write-up.
The author, James Fox, a grandson of Phyllis Langhorne, has had access to an extraordinary trunk full of letters and other memorabilia left by his grandfather, Robert Henry (Bob) Brand, a son of Viscount Hampden (for whom a relative of mine worked as a land agent). Fox clearly loved his grandfather dearly and much of the book is based on what Brand said and wrote. In a sense, the work is a paean of praise - Brand was said to be 'the wisest man in the [British] Empire.'
Fox's love for Brand is clear. The love felt by The Langhorne Sisters for each other often turned to nasty spite. But the love of all of them for old Virginia was the greatest love of all. I loved this big fat book and will be drawn back to it again and again. It's a wonderful and riveting read and I recommend it whole-heartedly.