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Customer Review

TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 26 August 2011
This well-researched book covers a period of almost a century, tracing the story of the Jerome sisters as they travel from their American birthplace to Europe, in the vanguard of the trend of American heiresses marrying (or being married off to) impoverished European aristocrats. Its sweep encompasses Second Empire France and its demise, two world wars, the Irish problem and Home Rule, the abdication crisis and the declining fortunes of the British & Irish aristocracy.

In some ways the book reads as an extended soap opera, detailing the triumphs & tribulations of the Jerome family and the aristocratic/landed families they married into, but that would be to under-estimate its value as a book of serious social history. Although in parts there is a 'tabloid' element, this is under-pinned by solid research and the book reflects the changes that were happening in society more generally. Given that the Jerome girls were so well-connected, important political and social concerns are brought in, albeit this is not in any way a political history. It is also an exposition of the restricted lives of upper class women although this didn't extend to their love lives: the level of philandering, by both husbands and wives, is astonishing in light of the overwhelming mores of Victorian England.

The Jeromes' mother was socially ambitious, although rumours about her antecedents meant her status in New York society was not as she would have liked. She spent long periods in Europe, taking her daughters initially to Paris until the Franco-Prussian war necessitated a move to England. There, her second daughter, Jennie, marries Lord Randolph Churchill, younger son of the Duke of Marlborough and later an eminent politician, although his career would be eclipsed by that of his eldest son, Winston.

The other Jerome girls also married into the aristocracy or landed gentry but none of her daughters married at the level which Mrs Jerome would have liked, and none married into enormous wealth. In fact their lives are plagued by financial worries, partly because their father's fortunes declined (he made and lost fortunes several times), partly because the girls married for love rather than money, partly because none of them seems capable of living within her means. For me, the most interesting story is that of the least well-known of the sisters, Clara, who marries an apparently charming man who is perpetually on the verge of making a great fortune, yet who dies with today's equivalent of £3 million of debt, having borrowed against his children's inheritances.

Overall an interesting and well-written book which should appeal to those interested in the lives of the rich and famous and those with an interest in social history.
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