The story of Jennie Jerome Churchill, mother of Winston, a New York born heiress who always lived life on her own terms.
Daughter of New York financier Leonard Jerome, Jennie was born into wealth—and scandal. Upon her parents’ separation, her mother took Jennie and her sisters to Paris, where Mrs. Jerome was determined to marry her daughters into the most elite families. The glamorous city became their tumultuous finishing school until it fell to revolt.
Fleeing to Queen Victoria’s England, Jennie soon caught the eye of aristocrat Randolph Spencer-Churchill, son of the Duke of Marlborough, one of Britain’s loftiest peers. It was love at first sight, their unconventional marriage driven by mutual ambition and the birth of two sons. Undeterred by premature widowhood or society’s rigid expectations, Jennie brashly carried on a lifelong intimate friendship with Edward, Prince of Wales—a notorious bon vivant—and had two later marriages to younger men. When her son Winston launched his brilliant political career, Jennie guided him to success, his most vocal and valuable supporter.
By turns scandalous, tragic, and exciting, Jennie Jerome lived an unconventional life full of defiance—one that enshrined her as an American adventuress.
Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic Advance Readers Proof of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.
The Gilded Age was an era of excess where there was not only great division between rich and poor, but also between the old and new rich of New York City. The Jerome family were considered new rich, and not worthy of the same status as the older clans. The matriarchs of wealthy families sought to “one-up” each other. Mrs. Jerome initially found status in Paris as a confidante of Empress Eugenie. In American Adventuress, she will maintain her adoration of the Empress even after the French Emperor is deposed and will delight in purchasing remnants of the Imperial Court and showing them off.
Families also found status by marrying off their daughters to impoverished British titled gentlemen. These weren’t often love matches, but Jennie fell in love with Randolph Churchill to the point where Winston Churchill was born several weeks earlier than would’ve been expected. His birth was called premature, but author CW Gortner goes with the pre-marital intimacy suspicion in semi-explicit detail.
I’ve not read any other material on Lady Randolph Churchill (Wikipedia does NOT count), so it’s hard for me to say how much of Gortner’s novel is fiction or speculation. Who was she really? The author wrote the book from her perspective, but how well can a man ultimately get into the head of a woman from history? While reading I heard Elizabeth McGovern’s voice in my head speaking Jennie’s lines, but Lady Grantham she was not. Lady Randolph Churchill came across as selfish and extravagant with little concern for anyone – or anything – else save her sons and the occasional good cause. In his Afterward, Gortner describes her as vain and self-absorbed, and this opinion of her is evident throughout the work.
There are some books I adore reading, where I’m disappointed to finish them. American Adventuress isn’t one of them. Frankly, it felt like a relief to finish it. Not one character was likeable, including the future prime minister who came across as anything but the giant we know from World War II. Would I read it again? Probably not. Next time I’ll go for a straight non-fiction biography of this particular Dollar Princess.
Publisher: William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins)
Publication Date: 20 September 2022
C.W. GORTNER holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California, as well as an AA from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco.
After an eleven year-long career in fashion, during which he worked as a vintage retail buyer, freelance publicist, and fashion show coordinator, C.W. devoted the next twelve years to the public health sector. In 2012, he became a full-time writer following the international success of his novels.
In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard at Hampton Court, learned about organic gardening at Chenoceaux, and spent a chilly night in a ruined Spanish castle. His books have garnered widespread acclaim and been translated into twenty-one languages to date, with over 400,000 copies sold. A sought-after public speaker. C.W. has given keynote addresses at writer conferences in the US and abroad. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights, in particular companion animal rescue to reduce shelter overcrowding.
C.W. recently completed his fourth novel for Ballantine Books, about Lucrezia Borgia; the third novel in his Tudor Spymaster series for St Martin’s Press; and a new novel about the dramatic, glamorous life of Coco Chanel, scheduled for lead title publication by William Morrow, Harper Collins, in the spring of 2015.
Half-Spanish by birth and raised in southern Spain, C.W. now lives in Northern California with his partner and two very spoiled rescue cats.
CW Gortner’s website: https://www.cwgortner.com/