Those Wild Wyndhams
Three Sisters at the Heart of Power
This book can be downloaded and read in Apple Books on your Mac or iOS device.
Winner of the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize 2014
A rich historical biography of ‘those wild Wyndhams’ – three cultured aristocratic sisters born into great privilege in late Victorian Britain.
Mary, Madeline and Pamela – the three Wyndham sisters – were painted by John Singer Sargent in 1899. For The Times it was, quite simply, ‘the greatest picture of modern times’. But these beautiful, fin de siecle gentlewomen came to epitomize a vanished world. The languor of their pose reflects the leisured, gilded, existence of the late Victorian aristocracy that was to be dealt a deathblow by the First World War.
Yet the lives of these three Wyndham sisters were far more turbulent than their air of calm suggests. Brought up in artistic circles, their childhood was liberal and romantic. Their parents were intimate friends with the Pre-Raphaelites and the girls grew to become leaders of the aesthetic movement. Bowing to convention, they made excellent marriages but found emotional support from others – Mary with Arthur Balfour and the poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt; Pamela with Liberal statesman and ornithologist Edward Grey. Their liaisons shocked society, while the First World War devastated their way of life.
‘Those Wild Wyndhams’ is their first ever biography, and is based on the many letters they have left behind – compelling, humorous and brilliantly illuminating. This sparkling debut by Claudia Renton captures them and their age in an unforgettable piece of historical and political biography.
‘Wonderful … a magnificently skillful biography of this trio of sexy sisters and the politically turbulent context of their lives. Renton demonstrates her scholarship with butterfly-winged elegance as she tells the story of a generation of Imperialist Victorians Suffused with privilege, power, money and sex that eventually ended in tragedy’ Evening Standard
‘Renton never loses sight of the bigger historical picture. She sets the sisters’ fabulously privileged and sometimes troubled lives against the convulsions of home and international politics through which they lived. The result is an impeccably researched, beautifully written and compellingly readable biography’ Daily Mail
‘Magnificent … [It] has the wisdom, excitement and psychological depth of a very good novel. She succeeds in combining the novelist’s art with the historian’s craft, laying the sources and workings before us. The beauty and romance are captured unforgettably’ Observer
‘Impeccably rehearsed and researched … a serious, spellbinding chronicle of the last days of Edwardian England’ The Times
‘A magnificently skilful biography…based on scrupulous research and enriched by hundreds of deliciously indiscreet, charmingly frank, pre-Mitfordian letters… Renton demonstrates her scholarship with butterfly winged elegance … [a] wonderful book’ Evening Standard
‘This elegantly written tableau of a book is much more than a group biography; it is an elegiac account of the horrors of the First World War from a female perspective. Renton is excellent at setting personal events within their larger political or social context’ Literary Review
‘A lucid and superbly researched book’ Spectator
‘Hilarious, heartbreaking and completely absorbing, Renton has captured the last rays of light of a gilded family of remarkable women’ Amanda Foreman
‘Readers who enjoyed reading about the Mitfords and Stella Tillyard's ‘Aristocrats’ will relish Renton's elegant book. [An] enthralling period portrait’ Daily Express