Review

The Viceroy's Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters

by Anne de Courcy



Move over Mitfords --- the Curzon sisters are after your title.
Long-known as the most licentious debutantes of prewar Britain, the
Mitford sisters must now pass their crowns to the equally
scandalous Curzons, whose antics hovered below the radar of society
biographers --- until now. Anne de Courcy's deliciously prying
biography, THE VICEROY'S DAUGHTERS, brilliantly documents the lives
and loves of the chronically over-sexed and under-loved trio of
sisters.

The story begins with their father. In the post-Victorian era,
Viceroy to India was one of the choicer appointments Mother England
had to offer, and Lord Curzon's title helped his cause when he
courted Mary Leiter, the much-pursued American Marshall Field's
heiress eager to jump the pond. Between her deep pockets and his
blue blood, their story had all the makings of an epic
romance…but it wouldn't last long. Mary died only a few years
after their marriage, leaving young daughters Irene, Cynthia, and
Alexandra in the care of their inattentive father. Instead of
spending time with his family in the wake of his wife's death, Lord
Curzon was busy carousing around the chintz-draped bedrooms of many
a country estate. (In a rare moment of indelicacy, de Courcy will
later suggest Curzon's daughters inherited their vigorous libidos
from their lusty papa.)

By the time the Curzon sisters were presented into society in their
late teens, each had an inheritance worth millions of pounds.
Needless to say, every aging dowager in aristocratic England had
their eye on a Curzon girl as a possible bride for their son.
Cynthia, known as "Cimmie," married first, to Lord Oswald Mosley.
She quickly became the quintessential political wife, campaigning
for her husband and presiding over a nearly nightly round of
entertaining. Despite Mosley's flagrant philandering, Cimmie
loyally did whatever she could to improve his career, even when his
political leanings took a turn from Labor to deeply anti-Semitic
Fascism.

Alexandra, or "Baba," was the youngest, and in her coming out year
she quickly became the star of London's debutante season with its
endless dances, balls, and parties, attracting many enthusiastic
suitors within the Prince of Wales' playboy set. Partying with this
international crowd, which included Lord Mountbatten and a young
Winston Churchill, Baba caught the eye of (unfortunately nicknamed)
Fruity Metcalf, the Prince's well-meaning if rather dull
aide-de-camp. Baba loved the idea of marrying a penniless man
against her father's wishes. Although she knew they were ill
matched, she married him anyway just to spite the grouchy old
Viceroy. Poor Fruity --- boring, loyal and mostly uncomplaining ---
tolerated Baba's extramarital promiscuity for the whole of their
long, tortured marriage. Baba even carried on a protracted affair
with her sister's husband, Lord Mosley, until he threw her over for
the dangerous and Nazi-connected Diana Mitford. (Big sis Irene also
had a crack at Lord Mosley; they had a drunken one-night romp that
must not have proven memorable as neither of them pursued the
liaison further.)

Irene rapidly emerges as the heroine of THE VICEROY'S DAUGHTERS.
Irene fought for --- and won --- her financial independence from
her dictatorial father, and built a jet-setting life for herself
with the trendy Melton Mowbray hunting set, complete with her own
country estate and a stable full of thoroughbreds. While most women
her age worried about finding the right husband, Irene embarked on
a long string of affairs with her aristocratic playmates.
Throughout her life Irene turned down every single marriage
proposal volleyed her way (I lost count somewhere after 10), and
she reserved her affections for married men who couldn't run her
life like her father had.

THE VICEROY'S DAUGHTERS also draws upon decades of previously
unpublished letters and diaries that give rare personal insight
into the very public drama that led to King Edwards' abdication to
marry the twice-divorced "woman he loved." Baba's correspondence
with Mrs. Simpson reveals that Wallis was a naïve woman,
unable to grasp the enormity of what she'd signed on for. Many of
the anecdotes de Courcy includes about Edward --- now reduced to a
mere Duke --- present him as excessively self-absorbed. For an epic
example of this selfishness, de Courcy includes an account that
occurred during the war. Hearing news of a German advance, the Duke
abandoned his French chateau in the middle of the night, leaving
his best friend behind. He didn't even pause to secure safe passage
for the still-slumbering Fruity. The abundance of old-school royal
gossip makes THE VICEROY'S DAUGHTERS worth the price of
admission.

For all of its salacious snooping, marital intrigues, and
jewel-bedecked parties, THE VICEROY'S DAUGHTERS provides enough
political and historical coverage of wartime England to lend the
book a faint whiff of intellectual value --- good for those among
us who delight in being outwardly highbrow while secretly teeming
with lascivious thoughts. De Courcy rises to the significant
challenge of documenting the lives of three very different women
--- lives deeply interwoven with the largest political figures of
their day --- and she does so with fresh, intelligent
insight.

Reviewed by Andrea E. Hoag on January 24, 2011

The Viceroy's Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters
by Anne de Courcy

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0066210615
  • ISBN-13: 9780066210612