“Bright, attractive and well-connected, in any other family the Churchill girls – Diana, Sarah, Marigold and Mary – would have shone. But they were not in another family, they were Churchills, and neither they nor anyone else could ever forget it. From their father – ‘the greatest Englishman’ – to their brother, golden boy Randolph, to their eccentric and exciting cousins, the Mitford Girls, they were surrounded by a clan of larger-than-life characters which often saw them overlooked. While Marigold died too young to achieve her potential, the other daughters lived lives full of passion, drama and tragedy.
Diana, intense and diffident; Sarah, glamorous and stubborn; Mary, dependable yet determined – each so different but each imbued with a sense of responsibility toward each other and their country. Far from being cosseted debutantes, these women were eyewitnesses at some of the most important events in world history, at Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam. Yet this is not a story set on the battlefields or in Parliament; it is an intimate saga that sheds light on the complex dynamics of family set against the backdrop of a tumultuous century.”
I’ve read a lot about Winston Churchill (The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History by Boris Johnson, Kindle Deal of the Day: Churchill: Walking With Destiny only $1.99, #NetGalley #KindleReview Churchill: An Illustrated Life by Brenda Ralph Lewis, as well as a few biographies about his wife Clementine, especially Mary’s biography of her mother (Amazon) as well as her own memoir, A Daughter’s Tale. Then there was the historical fiction novel Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict that included most of the facts gleaned from Mary’s biography. I’ve also seen many documentaries about Churchill and if they were produced long enough ago, their daughter Mary is interviewed. So I knew quite a bit about the Churchills, but am always curious to learn more. I was offered an ARC of The Churchill Sisters from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
When I read biographies of famous people, I also try to concentrate on what they were like with their family. Sometimes biographers barely mention that and only concentrate on the career successes and failures. However, with some of the Churchill biographies, I found details that said that they were both good parents in their own way. Clementine was remote in an Edwardian England upper crust society sort of way, but grew closer to her children as they got older. Winston was said to be a good father whenever he was present, which unfortunately wasn’t often in the early years. He’s the one who got down on the floor and played with his little “ducklings.”
The Churchill Sisters (Amazon) explores the lives of the four daughters of Winston and Clementine: Diana, Sarah, Marigold, and Mary. As I mentioned, I read Mary’s very enlightening memoir a few years ago, and she painted a picture of a good upbringing. As the youngest child, separated in age by quite a few years, her upbringing was much different than the upbringing of her sisters and brother. They did not have the same loving and stable household.
The older children went through a series of mediocre nannies. Clementine often couldn’t handle the stress of raising young children, even with help, and would go abroad on vacation for weeks or months. Winston, too, when he wasn’t working, would take vacations away from the kids. It was during one these breaks from the children that Winston and Clementine, vacationing together, found out their daughter, Marigold, who was about two and a half years old, was seriously ill. They hurried home, but they had been alerted too late by an inexperienced nanny who let Marigold get very sick before summoning them. Marigold died. Winston and Clementine were bereft, and Clementine swore that things would be different for the baby she carried at the time, Mary. Mary had a loving nanny named Moppet that stayed with the family until Mary was grown up, providing love and a sense of security the older children did not enjoy.
One thing the book does well is show how hard the daughter’s helped out during World War II. They actually did war work and did it rather well. The young women were all stationed close to home, and were often guests of their parents. One funny story is how Sarah was working with classified information, and Winston made a statement regarding the war effort, and Sarah politely corrected him based upon the information she knew. Then Winston ended up telling Eleanor Roosevelt, who told a reporter, and Sarah was supposed to be reprimanded, until her bosses found out it was her father was the one who leaked the information.
The older girls had issues and mental health issues, and turned to drink just as their brother, Randolph did. Sarah had a career as an actress as a dancer, her highlight was appearing in the MGM Musical Royal Wedding with Fred Astaire (Amazon Prime Video). She married several times but never had children. Diana was married late by the day’s standards and had three children. Her husband held some political offices as appointed by Winston, and did well, and Diana has an astute political mind, but did not want to run for office herself. Besides, for the time, it would have been very uncommon.
Both Diana and Sarah (and Randolph, too, for that matter) died young. Diana took her own life, without warning when she seemed to have her life together at last, and Sarah died from complications of alcoholism. Only Mary, the youngest, most secure, most grounded, lived a full and mostly happy life with her husband Christopher Soames and their five children.
This was a very accurate and enlightening biography of Winston’s and Clementine’s daughters, and I’m glad I read it. It was well-written and I highly recommend it.
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