There are so many things I know nothing about! So there were any number of books that would fit thus prompt. I saw Tangled Souls: Love and Scandal Among the Victorian Aristocracy by Jane Dismore on Twitter and pre-ordered.
What it’s about?
Outrageously handsome, witty and clever, Harry Cust was reputed to be one of the great womanisers of the late Victorian era. In 1893, while a Member of Parliament, he caused public scandal by his affair with artist and poet Nina Welby Gregory. When she revealed she was pregnant, horror swept through their circle known as ‘the Souls’, a cultured, mostly aristocratic group of writers, artists and politicians who also rubbed shoulders with luminaries such as Oscar Wilde and H. G. Wells.
With the unconventional Margot Tennant and philosopher-statesman Arthur Balfour at their centre, the dazzling Souls eschewed the formalities of upper-class etiquette, valuing conversation and clever games above gambling and racing. Talented and glamorous women such as Violet Granby and Ettie Grenfell joined rising politicians George Curzon and George Wyndham at grand country houses to talk, play and flirt.
Passions raged behind their courtly code. Married Souls discreetly bore their lovers’ children – and public figures got away with much worse – yet bachelor Harry’s seduction of a single woman of the same class broke the rules. For the rest of their lives, Harry and Nina would fight to rebuild their reputations and maintain the marriage they were pressurised to enter.
In Tangled Souls, acclaimed biographer Jane Dismore tells the tumultuous story of the romance which threatened to tear apart this distinguished group of friends, revealing pre-war society at its most colourful and most conflicted.
What I think:
The research that must have gone into the book is phenomenal! There are so many people with interconnected and complex lives. Royalty, aristocracy, policing and campaigners, the Souls were intelligent, artistic, passionate and determined to make a mark on the world.
The book centres around Harry Cust – he is charming, intelligent, witty and popular. A talented newspaper editor, writer and politician, his career and social life are derailed when his aristocratic lover Nina Welby Gregory becomes pregnant. In a society where affairs are common and illegitimate children are hidden behind titles and respectability, the scandal was that Nin was unmarried. Forced into a quick marriage, the direction of the Custs life changes forever.
This is an interesting book about the lives of a large group of people – their lives, loves and disappointments.
The account of the campaign waged against Harry by Millicent Garret Fawcett was fascinating. As a suffrage leader and fierece advocate of sexual morality she was determined that Harry would not be allowed to stand for reelection as an Member of Parliament. Despite marrying Nina and living respectfully in a marriage that had been accepted by society, Fawcett was relentless in her pursuit if Harry until he resigns.
Nina, herself is an interesting figure. A talented sculptor and writer, she has a creative life outside of her marriage and survived Harry by nearly 40 years.
The book chronicals huge changes in aristocratic society. Changes in the law and the First Worl War have a huge impact on the families featured and the golden age of weekend parties comes to an end.
This is a interesting read. There are a lot of people to keep track of with lots of titles, name changes and nicknames, but it is certainly an illuminating snapshot of a bygone era.
My only criticism is that I would have liked more pictures to illustrate the people featured, particularly the Custs, over the span of the book.