Portrait of two important late-19th-century English families and their connection to the newspaper industry.
Negev and Koren (Lover of Unreason: Assia Wevill, Sylvia Plath's Rival and Ted Hughes' Doomed Love, 2006, etc.) spend an inordinate amount of time detailing the religious ancestry and great wealth of Rachel Sassoon and her husband Frederick Beer, even though both rejected their Jewish heritage. Not until well into the narrative do the authors finally begin to chronicle how the owners of the Observer and the Sunday Times took active roles in their business. This period was a time of great social and political changes, completely altering the methods of reporting the news. The advent of the telegraph enabled instant news and regular columns from around the world. The socialite pair first became active in the running of their newspapers in the early 1890s, and Rachel maintained her role throughout her husband’s subsequent illness. Over a mere eight years, Rachel’s papers righteously reported women’s issues, the working poor, the Dreyfus Affair, the Boer War and the establishment of the Penny Post. Even as she attempted to maintain a neutral position, her liberal views shaped her newspapers and influenced government and the populace alike. After Frederick’s death in 1901, she ceased her involvement with the papers entirely. Even so, her influence on journalism and particularly women in journalism ensured her place in history, even though those tedious Victorian “gentlemen” generally ignored and dismissed her work.
The successes and sufferings of the Beers and Sassoons makes for interesting material (Rachel was poet Siegfried’s aunt), but the authors missed an important opportunity to concentrate more on Rachel’s success in running her newspapers.