Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor. by Adrian Fort

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9780224090162: Nancy: The Story of Lady Astor. by Adrian Fort

In 1919, Nancy Astor became the first woman to take a seat in Parliament. She was not what had been expected. Far from a virago who had suffered for the cause of female suffrage, she was already near the centre of the ruling society that had for so long resisted the political upheavals of the early twentieth century, having married into the family of one of the richest men in the world. She was not even British. She would prove to be a trailblazer and beacon for the generations of women who would follow her into Parliament. This new biography charts Nancy Astor's incredible story, from penury in the American South, to a lifestyle of the most immense riches, from the luxury of Edwardian England, through the 'Jazz Age', and on towards the Second World War: a world of great country estates, lavish town houses and the most sumptuous entertainments, peopled by the most famous and powerful names of the age. But hers was not only the life of power, glamour and easy charm: it was also defined by principles and bravery, by war and sacrifice, by love and bitter disputes. With glorious, page-turning brio, Adrian Fort has brought to life this restless, controversial American dynamo, an unforgettable woman who left a deep and lasting imprint on the political life of our nation.

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About the Author:

Adrian Fort was educated at Eton and Oxford where he was subsequently a Clarendon Fellow. He practised as a barrister and became involved with politics before pursuing a financial career. He has published many articles on financial and economic matters and has broadcast frequently on the radio. His previous books include Prof: The Life of Frederick Lindemann and Archibald Wavell: The Life and Times of an Imperial Servant.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Nancy
ONE In Dixie Nancy Astor was born into a family with no money and no certain future, in a country vanquished in war and destitute in its aftermath. Her parents were Chiswell Dabney Langhorne and Nannie Witcher Keen, and she too was christened Nannie, the name she used until, in 1904, in her early twenties, she travelled to England, when she began calling herself Nancy. Her father, known as Chillie or Dab to his parents and wife, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, on 4 November 1843, the eldest of five children, two others having died in infancy. A heavy, stocky, rumbustious extrovert, he was good-looking, genial and jovial, but impulsive, his charm interspersed with fits of ungoverned temper. His ancestors on his father's side were Welsh, but in the seventeenth century one of them, Captain John Langhorne, had emigrated to Virginia. Langhorne proved himself a man of substance, and in time he acquired lucrative contracts, became a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, and patented a valuable tract of land. His great-grandson, William Langhorne, was to be revered by future generations of the family for his service during the American Revolution. William's son, Major John Scarisbrooke Langhorne, married his first cousin, Elizabeth, daughter of his father's elder brother, Maurice. In 1828, their son, also Maurice, rented from its owner, a judge, a fine colonial house which had been built in 1815 next to what had once been a duelling ground, and which was consequently known as Point of Honor. It overlooked the James River, on whose banks, near Lynchburg, Virginia, Maurice and his younger brother Henry, Chillie's grandfather, established a flour milling business in 1831. Chillie's father, John, Henry Langhorne's eldest son, married the daughter of Chiswell Dabney, a lawyer and the owner of a fine plantation near Lynchburg. Named Sarah Elizabeth, she was described by her grandchildren as 'one of those strong-willed Dabneys, conceited and bumptious'; even so, Chillie had an enjoyable and comfortable childhood, spending much of it on the Dabney plantation, riding, shooting and fishing, with a little workon the farm, plenty of food, and, to 'ease the scheme of living', slaves, one of whom, a 'Negro boy named Henry', was given to Chillie when he was six, a present from his grandfather. By 1860, the Langhorne family milling business was prospering and had become one of Lynchburg's largest. From the bay windows of Point of Honor, Chillie's father could gaze out at the flowing water that turned the wheels of the mills, while his younger brother, James, managed land that he had bought in nearby Patrick County; there, as the family described it, 'crops were good, the slaves hard workers, and the Langhornes prospered'. After Henry retired, management of the mills devolved upon John, who in 1859 had formed a partnership with one Charles Scott. At first the two men had considerable success. Nurturing hopes for developing the business, they formed an ambitious plan to dam the James River and provide a new and reliable water supply for the mills and factories that were springing up along its banks. On her mother's side, Nancy's family was Irish, originally from Donegal, from where some of her ancestors had sailed to America, eventually settling and prospering in Virginia. Nancy's mother, christened Nannie but always known as Nanaire, was born on 30 August 1848, the elder of two daughters of Mary Anne Witcher and her husband Elisha Ford Keen, a land- and slave-owner who was also a lawyer and a member of Virginia's state legislature. Both the Keen and Witcher families were prominent in local politics. The proceeds of the sawmills and tobacco on the Keen estate at Cottage Hill, near Danville, provided a good living and sustained Elisha Keen's position as lawyer and senator. Nanaire attended a boarding school in North Carolina - Greensborough Female Institute - and gradually became an accomplished pianist, needlewoman and painter of watercolours. She was also a good gardener, rather more than just an issuer of orders for the planting and arranging of shrubs and flowers, as was then the practice for such ladies. Living in quiet prosperity and in harmony with their surroundings, the Keens, perhaps slightly more than the Langhornes, had come to reflect the accepted image of Virginian life - gracious, affluent, slave-owning, and content in the tranquillity of the Old South. If not among the grandest Virginian families, they were not far off the top echelon of a society whose leaders, even in the mid-nineteenth century, cherished their links with an aristocratic past and still lived in almost feudal state: fox hunting, shooting and pursuing other pleasures drawn from English traditions. On their land they created and enjoyed an atmosphere of ease and cordiality: 'The colonel with his mint juleps, the white-columned verandas peopled with belles inflouncing, ruffled gowns; the slim, aristocratic young swains proposing marriage on bended knee; the mammy, the faithful black retainer.'1 And so life might reasonably have been expected to continue, into a placid if not golden future. But the times were about to alter, shaking Southern society to its roots. In the Northern states, pressure for radical change was building. The tidal wave created by the release of that pressure was to surge over the happy Southern families, the society in which they lived, and Virginia itself, engulfing them in total ruin. As Winston Churchill put it: 'They had long dwelt comfortably upon the fertile slopes of a volcano. Now began the rumblings, tremors and exhalations which portended a frightful eruption.'2 It was during the 1850s that a volatile mix of political and economic issues began to polarise the Northern and Southern states, and to lead them towards a confrontation that would be resolved only by war. The crucible of conflict was the vast, undeveloped area of the Midwest, at first particularly in the regions that became known as Kansas and Nebraska - new territories with huge economic potential. Both North and South wanted their share of what they believed would be an economic treasure house, and, not least in order to maintain their political weight in the development of the Union, were equally anxious to harness the support of the people moving west, to settle and develop new lands. The temperature rose sharply as Northern opinion coalesced in opposition to slavery - endemic in the political and economic life of much of the South. The voice of opposition grew all the more shrill with the astonishing success of the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1852, and was refined and magnified by a lawyer from Springfield, Illinois: Abraham Lincoln. In parallel with the political gulf that the slavery issue opened up between the two sides, there developed a stand-off over the sovereign right of states to secede from the Union. In December 1860, South Carolina broke its link with the Union, its example being soon followed by six other states, leading in February 1861 to the formation of a Confederacy of Southern states. For them, the question was one of jurisprudence: that their sovereignty was inalienable, a matter for themselves and not for the Federal Union; any state freely joining a union retained the right to leave it. The leaders of the Northern states believed that a crisis was upon them: they would not countenance the right of secession, with its consequent weakening of the Union. They stiffened their resolve with moral indignation at the thought of the entrenchment of slave states, and even of an increase in their numbers. At length the verbal confrontation between North and South led tophysical violence. In April 1861, forces of the newly formed Confederacy bombarded Union troops occupying Fort Sumter, a coastal fortification at Charleston, South Carolina. It was the attack that effectively started the Civil War. In the four-year conflict that followed, the Confederate forces began with a number of military successes. The first, in July 1861, was an action by the Bull Run stream at Manassas, which was close enough to Washington for many Union politicians to ride out from the capital, accompanied by food, drink and their ladies, to observe the promised excitement of a battle. On the day, however, their expectations of an enjoyable programme turned to consternation, for, standing 'like a stone wall' on a hillside in their path, the Confederate General Jackson halted the Federal advance in its tracks, turning the blue-coated Northerners to flight. In a short time the well-dressed spectators and their carriages found themselves dragged among a tangled rout of soldiers fleeing headlong back to the outskirts of their capital. The following year the tables turned, and for the so-called rebels the bright start faded into the dark hardship of withdrawal. Thereafter, the Army of Northern Virginia fought seven great battles, but for the troops, despite the inspiring leadership of their great general, Robert E. Lee, each was a bleak station on the road to defeat. For the families of Virginia, memories of the conflict were hallowed by the initial victories of the Confederate armies and their gentlemanly leaders, especially General Lee. A glorious and gallant image of the Civil War became fixed in the soul of the South and was long to dominate its folklore. For many years, before new roots took hold and a fresh start was fostered, Virginian society drew its comfort from dreams of the antebellum age, looking back rather than ahead, living on 'peanuts and past memories'. It was easier to recall a lost world with an image built on an illusion, 'a fabled country, a feudal order of gallantry, chivalry and slaves'. 'Oh, the lazy days, the warm, still, country twilight; the high, soft Negro laughter from the quarters, the golden warmth and security.' 'Don't look back, Ashley, don't look back.'3 The Langhornes and the Keens, like all su...

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Adrian Fort
Editore: Jonathan Cape 2012 (2012)
ISBN 10: 022409016X ISBN 13: 9780224090162
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Descrizione libro Jonathan Cape 2012, 2012. Condizione libro: New. New hardback. May show some slight shelf wear but content fine and unread. Codice libro della libreria A174470

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