02 March 2017

Book Review: These Great Ladies (2017)

At the beginning of the year, we all had quite a lot of fun chatting with my pal Lyndsy Spence about an intriguing tiara tale: the story of Lady Massereene's "stolen" diadem. Now, Lyndsy has published a book, These Great Ladies: Peeresses and Pariahs, containing even more stories of the scandalous, fascinating lives of some of the twentieth century's most intriguing women.

The book features pen portraits of eight fascinating ladies: Margaret, Duchess of Argyll; Mariga Guinness; Sylvia Ashley; Joan Wyndham; Enid Lindeman; Venetia Montagu; Irene Curzon; and Jean, Viscountess Massereene. It's still rather rare, I think, to find history books that are focused solely on women, and many of the stories included in Lyndsy's book were brand new to me.

Although many of the tales that Lyndsy tells are scandalous, tragic, and even sordid, she deftly manages to maintain a light tone throughout -- just as many of her subjects did when dealing with their various trials and tribulations. But she doesn't shy away from the seriousness of some of the issues at hand, including topics like the politics of Oswald Mosley and his wives and paramours, the addictions of Enid Lindeman, and the public humiliations of Margaret Argyll.

Sylvia Ashley with her fourth husband, Clark Gable (Keystone/Getty Images)

Overall, though, the book often feels like a good, old-fashioned gossip with completely fascinating friends -- and I mean that as a compliment. We travel with Lyndsy to Hollywood as Sylvia Ashley marries not one but two movie stars; we sojourn to imperial India with the viceregal Curzons; and we even discover the bohemian side of London's Blitz years with Joan Wyndham.

In the book's introduction, Lyndsy explains how she selected the subjects for her latest book: "I was drawn to women who were stars in their day but have fallen into obscurity, in the mainstream anyway. As such, I have chosen women who not only dazzle me but who were pioneers on the social front, albeit their fame for the sake of being famous or their social consciousnesses."

This choice of source material, for me, was crucial to the book's success -- I was able to be dazzled by the splendid, glittering lives led by many of these women while also confronting the challenges of the changing times in which they lived. If you're as drawn to great ladies as I am, I think you'll enjoy this book, too.

Note: I received a copy of this book for review purposes. The links in this post are Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase the book  (or anything else) through one of the links, I receive a small commission. I use all proceeds from these affiliate links to purchase more review and research materials for the blog.