cover image Dark Lady: Winston Churchill's Mother and Her World

Dark Lady: Winston Churchill's Mother and Her World

Charles Higham, . . Carroll & Graf, $25.95 (250pp) ISBN 978-0-78671-889-4

It would be difficult to write a tedious account of beautiful and appealing Jennie Jerome (1854–1921), who gave birth to future British prime minister Winston Churchill, but celebrity biographer Higham (The Duchess of Windsor ) has managed to do just that. In gossipy but unexciting prose, he details the minutiae of Jennie's birth and childhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., as the daughter of Leonard Jerome, a corrupt and criminal investor who frequently traveled in Europe. In 1874 Jennie, against the family's opposition, married Lord Randolph Churchill, who, with his wife's eager backing, became deeply involved in English politics. The couple spent much of their time in and out of sexual liaisons and scandals until Randolph's death in 1895. They also ran up huge gambling debts. Jennie married twice more (the second union ended in divorce) to much younger men. The author's attempt to turn a flashy, compulsively promiscuous socialite into an early feminist fails miserably, although the fact that Jennie established a magazine and built a hospital for wounded troops during WWI is of interest. Winston, who was conceived before his parents' marriage, makes brief appearances. Replete with sensational details, this account nevertheless fails to bring its subject to life. Photos. (Feb.)