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VINE VOICEon 6 November 2012
Nancy Astor was a pioneering politician - the first woman to sit in the House of Commons - and yet there has not been a biography of her published since the 1980s. Thank goodness therefore for this scholarly and long-overdue effort by Adrian Fort.

Nancy Astor was born in Virginia and the story does not really get going until she sets foot in England and marries the millionaire Waldorf Astor. At times I wished the book had the directness and acerbity of Astor herself, rather than the description and dutifulness of a conventional biography. However, for the most part, it does indeed possess the 'glorious, page-turning brio' proclaimed on the cover. The detail and research of the chapter covering the Astors' war years in Plymouth is particularly impressive, whilst remaining clear and flowing.

I hope the National Trust shop at Cliveden has stocked up with copies!
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on 16 November 2012
Recently I chanced to catch a review of "NANCY, the story of Lady Astor" on BBC radio 4 and immediately dashed off an order on my Amazon account. A scholarly yet lively book I found it worth every penny: to me more, much more.
I was born in Plymouth and I'm now in my eighth decade. Nancy Astor was my childhood hero and she was the hero of war-torn Plymouth which suffered more concentrated Nazi bombing than any other British city, Coventry included.
Nancy and her husband Waldorf 2nd Viscount Astor were both American and both adored Plymouth, loving its people, its history and the swashbucklers that sailed out of Plymouth Sound. Adrian Fort, the book's author, recounts that on first sighting Plymouth Nancy said,"The moment I got there I had a strange feeling of coming home."
With her rhetoric and ceaseless energy she rallied the citizens of Plymouth with speeches that would have done Churchill proud -- yet she and Churchill maintained a respectful animosity,"Winston, if you were my husband I'd put arsenic in your tea!" "Nancy, if you were my wife I'd drink it!"
Adrian Fort delivers the message that while she was fiery her husband was a pleasant, nicest-person-in-the-world sort. I remember my grandfather being pleased and awed to tell the family that he had had a long chat with Lord Astor on a Plymouth tram. Several times when he was Lord Mayor of Plymouth he was the guest of honour at speech days at my excellent school - Sutton High - axed in the slaughter of grammar schools
I must have been eight or nine when I met Nancy, or properly speaking she met me - see my blog, "What Nancy said to me," on [...]
NANCY, the story of Lady Astor is as gripping as any page-turning whodunnit.I was enthralled, many thanks Adrian Fort for your book. It tugged my heart strings and stirred almost forgotten memories - but in truth it's a jolly good read for anybody and I've got to give it 5 stars.
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This is a fascinating story of a lady who was born in Virginia and who became the first woman MP in England. Her parents were very affected by the American Civil War and she was born into poverty, although from a well established family. Eventually, her father had a change in fortune, but sadly for Nancy their improved status and wealth did not change his ideas on female education. He did not approve of bookworms or too much education for women, which she always resented. Limited in what she could achieve as a young woman, Nancy embarked on a disastrous first marriage. However, she later made a much more successful marriage with the supportive and wealthy Waldorf Astor, who accepted her son and with whom she made a new life in England.

Indeed, it was a life at the very centre of the current events of the day - with Waldorf embarked on a political career and Nancy as a prominent hostess. This book looks at the ups and downs of Nancy's career in politics - her success as the only woman MP, her visit to Russia and meeting with Stalin, the furore caused by the 'Cliveden Set' and, of course, her personal life. Nancy Astor was a woman who knew her own mind, and who spoke it forcefully. Sometimes she upset othes with her strong views, but she was always loyal to her beliefs and, despite being criticised for advocating appeasement before the Second World War, she worked tirelessly for the people of her constituency during the war years. This is a very interesting biography, with Nancy Astor involved in politics during a time of great upheaval socially and politically, which I greatly enjoyed.
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on 12 March 2014
My mother was in service with Nancy Astor in Plymouth for a short time in the 1930s and I was born there, so had a vague idea of Nancy Astor's significance to the city. I bought this book so I could get a fuller picture of her activities as well as understand what sort of person she was. This is a very comprehensive life of her and a fascinating one; their wealth was mind boggling and they could certainly afford to be exceptionally generous. I don't mean that to be snide but I couldn't help wondering to what extent people who are undoubted enormous benefactors do it in order to bask in the light of the prominence and approbation it brings as well as to secure a place in history. Nancy was certainly a bag of contradictions; able to be charming and witty but also cutting, bossy and haughty, often in the same conversation. I guess you had to know her intimately to have an informed opinion of her overall sincerity. She strikes me as one of those people that you either love or loath. In fact Nancy secured her place in history by becoming the first female MP, a tremendous achievement.
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on 30 October 2013
A really interesting isight into Nancy's character rather than a political biography. Sometimes the book rambles but nevertheless the thread is held together and tells a fascinating story of an egotistical woman and her somewhat dysfunctional relationship with her family, coupled with her very strong social conscience. Definitely a picture of a strong woman of great determination!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 February 2013
What a wonderful book. I came to this book with only scant knowledge of Nancy aka Lady Astor. The main source of my knowledge was a book I'd read by her loyal maid Rosina Harrison called "Gentlemen's Gentlemen: My Friends in Service" and which focussed on British butlers and which extensively featured Edwin Lee who was Lady Astor's head butler for most of her life in England. From that book all I had gleaned was that she was an American, who had relocated to England, and become an aristocratic woman of power and social significance.

Her story is so interesting and compelling, and her personality so powerful, that the book is a real page-turner. Adrain Fort appears to be in thrall to Nancy, and with good reason. Born in 1879, her earliest years were mired in economic uncertainty before her father finally managed to come good and provide significant wealth and prosperity to his family. From there she married into one of the world's richest families, and became the first female MP to enter the British Parliament after winning the tough and economically deprived constituency of Plymouth where she became a local legend. This biography provides an excellent historical context to her life whilst never losing focus on its core subject. She lived through extraordinary times: the aftermath of the US Civil War, two world wars, the depression, female emancipation, and massive social change. Her energy and charisma shine through every chapter and yet the writer remains clear eyed about her many mistakes and personality flaws too. A book about an extraordinary woman that does full justice to its subject. At the end of the book I felt genuinely sad to have finished her story which inevitably concludes with the end of her remarkable life.
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on 9 January 2013
After a slow and slightly ponderous start this book really gets into its own by end of World War I. In 1919 Lady Astor is elected first woman member of parliament and during the inter-war years she consolidates her position as Britain's most politically influential hostess. Indeed Adrian Fort goes to some lengths to expose the parliamentary line-up and conflicting opinions over foreign affairs in those unsettled times. This he achieves with both skill and judgement and I believe he also manages to squash the perennially pervasive view that Cliveden hatched a pro-Nazi clique. Nancy, it is true, was open-minded about dictators in the thirties, and she simply enjoyed bringing together as many diverse opinions as possible round a dinner-table. When it was clear Germany would stop at nothing she had not the slightest doubt where she stood. For long she had promulgated the idea of America and the British Empire policing the world, but at the same time she had felt the terms imposed on Germany at the Treaty of Versailles had been too harsh and were counterproductive. There is a lively chapter about the Astor's generosity and devotion to fire-bombed Plymouth, object of multiple raids by the Luftwaffe in 41 and 42, but later this biography tends to peter out after the Labour landslide in 45 when Nancy is persuaded by her husband not to stand again.

Although Nancy's unusual character had been outlined in earlier chapters the last thirty pages, while covering the years rather quickly, are largely devoted to family and staff's views and opinion. There are one or two jokes that bring her vividly back to life, but somehow the book itself lacks the sparkle that its protagonist so amply displayed. But if it is a serious and scholarly appraisal how really could anyone expect it to be anything else ?
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on 28 October 2014
Adrian Fort has thoroughly grasped the significance of this remarkable, if controversial woman. Hopefully it will help resurrect her reputation so that people can see what an extraordinary achievement her life was - in particular that she was the first woman brave enough to run the gauntlet of the taking up her seat in the House of Commons. Fort shows well how incredibly hard this was with such spiteful and nasty behaviour from the men in the House during her first few years there. Her rather extraordinary character with its mixture of abrasive wit, tactlessness, impetuosity and immense kindness and generosity was probably just what was needed to break the glass ceiling in the Houses of Parliament. The book is well written and pacey.
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It is a curiously little-known fact that the first female MP in the Houses of Parliament was not in fact British at all but American. She was not a feminist or a suffragette, not a born radical bent on upsetting societal norms or conventions. Far from it, she was wealthy in her own right and married to yet more immense wealth in the shape of her husband, an heir of the Astor millions, mixing in the highest circles of British social life. Her position as a trailblazer in feminist politics came about solely because her husband had to give up his seat in the Commons on inheriting his father's title, and Nancy stepped into the breech.

A single solitary woman in a hostile House of some 600 gentlemen MPs could not have been an easy experience, and yet perhaps only someone like Nancy Astor could have done it. Her independent wealth, her forthright outspoken ways and vivacious American charm meant she often escaped the veritable straitjacket of convention that so constrained English women of her class and station in life. Far from being cowed by the disapproval of her fellow MPs, she thrived on it, her combative nature rising to the challenge.

Her home at Cliveden became renowned for its hospitality, for her parties that combined men and women from all walks of life, rich and poor, politics and the arts. She was a champion for closer Anglo-American co-operation, a tireless campaigner for legislative improvements for women and children, a lifelong teetotaller. After the trauma of the First World War and the loss of many friends, she was steadfastly opposed to further war, leading many to ascribe fascist or pro-Nazi tendencies to her and the 'Cliveden set' becoming a shorthand for Nazi apologists. Once war was declared, however, she worked exhaustively for her constituency of Plymouth and was a tower of strength and courage during the Blitz.

Nancy comes across as a fascinating character in this book, albeit not always a sympathetic one. She had the headstrong and confident individual's tendency to bully, and in her later years she became more and more intolerant and conservative in her ways. She was very much the archetypal 'bull in a china shop', a trait which often worked both for and against her. Living with Nancy must have been very much like living in the eye of a hurricane, and her husband Waldorf Astor must have had the patience of a saint. She was a remarkable woman, who led a remarkable life - but perhaps not always a comfortable one for those around her!
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on 17 June 2014
I bought this latest book on Lady Astor by Adrian Fort recently and found it an excellent read. Anyone interested in this period of history in Britain will not be disappointed by this well researched book. I highly recommend it.
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