The eventful life of Winston Churchill’s mother, recounted by a writer who has penned similar tomes on Mother Teresa and Laura Ashley.
Sebba (Exiled Collector, 2004, etc.) draws on many sources for her biography of Lady Randolph Churchill (1854–1921), born Jennie Jerome in Brooklyn, N.Y., but she makes especially good use of an extensive archive of personal correspondence. Jennie’s early years are quickly dispensed with, and the main narrative begins with a whirlwind romance that inserted this American beauty into the English aristocracy. She met 24-year-old Randolph Churchill at a shipboard ball in the summer of 1873; three days later, they considered themselves engaged. From this point on, Sebba’s text is laced with long quotations from letters Jennie wrote and received, and they add real dramatic verve to her retelling. “I love you better than anything on earth,” averred Randolph in an epistle written during the eight months it took the impetuous young couple to win consent from their reluctant parents. Sebba paints the big picture via myriad small details, making note of exchanges about the perils of smoking, telling stories about young Winston’s demanding nature as a child and indicating that Jennie was often bored by the pomp and ceremony that surrounded someone in her position. She had various affairs while still married to Randolph and wed twice more after his death in 1895. Jennie didn’t live long enough to see Winston become prime minister, yet Sebba offers plenty of evidence to suggest that she was an early political mentor to her son, including fascinating passages about their joint opposition to the suffragettes and quotes from friends who observed her “unswerving faith in his capacities.” Such material provides welcome insight into their relationship.
A conscientious undertaking that offers plenty of food for thought.