Friday, 19 April 2013

Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor by Adrian Fort

This is a fascinating book about a fascinating woman. I knew of Nancy Astor of course, she was the
first woman MP to take her seat in the House of Commons, but I didn't know anything of her life beyond this. I had assumed that she had always been rich, but in fact her childhood had periods where her parents struggled for money. She was born into the Langhorne family of Virginia, who had been wealthy, but the Civil War wrecked their fortunes. Nancy's father, Chillie Langhorne, had to virtually start from scratch. He was eventually very successful, but there were some hard times along the way.

There were also times of struggle in Nancy's adult life. There was an early, unhappy marriage to a man who turned out to be a drinker. She also suffered from periods of ill health which no doctor seemed to be able to effectively diagnose or treat.

There were consolations however. In order to recover from the aftermath of her first marriage she came to England where she met and married Waldorf Astor. Waldorf's father gave them Cliveden as a wedding gift. These were good years;

For this was the Edwardian Age, and the surroundings in which Waldorf and Nancy lived contained the quintessence of that era: opulence; hedonism; sunlit summers; long days and nights of fashion and society. Peace reigned at home and in the Empire, trade was good and life inexpensive, as Britain, at the apex of her military and financial power, benignly ruled a quarter of the world. Underlying all was an almost palpable sense of satisfaction that the state of the country was, if not perfect, then as near to that as God could make it.

Waldorf became MP for Plymouth, but he was forced to give this up when his father (who had been raised to the peerage) died, and Waldorf inherited his title. Nancy put herself forward and was duly elected to the same Plymouth seat.

She was a very tough character, but some of the opposition she faced as the only woman MP in the House of Commons daunted even her. She was ignored, talked over, physically barred from reaching her place on the benches. The male MPs would loudly discuss subjects designed to embarrass her. She found it distressing, but soldiered on.

There is a lot more in this book than I can cover here. Nancy Astor was such a complex character and lived in such interesting times. I can thoroughly recommend this book.

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