That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron is a bit of a slog — unless you enjoy reading multitudinous descriptions of nineteenth century clothing and all about the upper crust of Britain.
It’s the story of Churchill’s mother, American Jennie Jerome, who moves to England and marries the son of a duke three days after meeting them. It’s not exactly a successful marriage, but they do manage to beget Winston eight months after the wedding. That just about sums up the book. Except Jennie has an affair with a Count, which also has a disappointing end.
Perhaps it’s just the subject — Mrs. Churchill is known to have cheated on her husband numerous times and a man other than her husband apparently fathered her second son– but I can’t help but think the author could improve her writing style. The book has plenty of telling and not so much showing. There’s also not much detailed description, except for the aforementioned clothing. It took effort to finish the book.
Mrs. Churchill isn’t seen as the most loving of mothers: she sends Winston off to boarding school at the age of six and parties while he’s on the verge of death from pneumonia. Yet we are asked to see her as a sympathetic character. It’s a stretch, for me at least. Yes, she is cowed by her husband from visiting Winston. But Jennie is painted as independent and strong in the rest of the book.
Jennie was part of a wave of American young women who fled to Britain in an effort to snare a titled man. She succeeds, but she isn’t really happy. She’s portrayed as romantic, artistic and adventurous, with a troubled young son (Winston) who is tortured at his boarding schools but nevertheless stays there.
She stays marries to her husband because they are intellectually compatible, but he later learns he has syphilis, which she fortunately has not contracted. Theirs is a marriage of convenience, with both having affairs as they see fit. Winston adores both his father and his mother, but sees little of them.
But Jennie is distracted by her affair with Count Kinski, a Prussian count with parents who are not impressed with Jennie. Her American heritage does not impress much of the British nobility, including her mother-in-law. But Kinski becomes a type of father figure to Winston, who rarely sees his real father.
By this time, Randolph Churchill is descending into madness, and his wife decides to take him on a farewell tour of the world, to see the country he helped annex during his term in Parliament,Burma. But by the time they get to Burma, Randolph is insensate.
Randolph, who was very famous as a politician, dies without leaving his son much of a legacy, and his wife no kind of emotional legacy at all.
All in all, it’s a sad story, and not a well told one. Jennie’s love stories fade into nothingness, and, other than looking good, we are left to wonder what Jennie Churchill accomplished in life other than bearing a man who would change history.