Fort (Archibald Wavell, 2009, etc.) presents a life of Nancy Astor (1879–1964), a Southern belle and the first woman elected to the House of Commons of the British Parliament.
Marriage to Waldorf Astor cast Nancy Langhorne into a Gilded-Age society already well populated by many American “dollar princesses.” The difference was, rather than bringing wealth, she married it. She was brash and had a knack for infuriating people, but she was still the political hostess of the generation. Dinner invitees included politicians, artists, writers and royalty—as long as they were interesting. Nancy, a teetotaler and Christian Scientist, made no bones about her dislikes, which were myriad: music, trade unionists, alcohol, Catholics, Jews, communists, socialists and others. Still, she managed to be elected to Parliament for Plymouth, taking her husband’s place in the Commons when he inherited his father’s title. Fort gracefully interweaves the immense changes that took place in England in those years with the Astors’ efforts to foster the needs of their constituents. Nancy was considered too liberal by her contemporaries, especially in relation to her promotion of women’s and children’s issues. At the same time, her attitude toward government intervention would suit today’s conservatives well. She was assertive to the point of bullying and had a caustic wit; she said whatever was on her mind. Her antics keep this book moving briskly, and the author’s keen knowledge of the early 20th century is impressive. Nancy was a loose cannon who, in spite of herself, managed to aid the English in their struggle through the Depression and two world wars.
Not the usual gossipy tale of the rich and famous, but rather a wonderful history of tumultuous times.