I decided to read The Viceroy’s Daughters by Anne de Courcy on holiday in Egypt, having previously enjoyed her book The Fishing Fleet and being generally interested in that period of Britian’s colonial history (see my previous blogs on Colonial Misdemeanours, Shadow of the Moon and Midnight in Peking).
It follows the fascinating lives of the Curzon sisters, daughters of Lord Curzon, who was Viceroy of India from 1898-1905, all of whom were born around this period between 1896 and 1904. What is most peculiar about their story is the transformation of Lord Curzon from affectionate father pouring out his love for his daughters Irene, Cimmie and Baba in endless letters, to his appalling behaviour after the death of their mother. This included trying to control them in every way, stealing their rightful inheritances from them, and essentially disowning them. This meant the sisters turned to support from a couple of surrogate mother figures in their lives, but it must have been deeply upsetting and difficult for them to have parental support cut off from them in this way.
Irene was the most interesting sister for me, as an unusual woman for her time who did not follow the conventional path of marriage and children, but pursued her own passions instead. Although this led to a great deal of unhappiness and alcoholism for her, it also led to her playing a key positive and much needed role in bringing up of her sister’s Cimmie’s children after Cimmie’s early death. The lives of the sisters also intertwine with the lives of the Prince of Wales and Wallace Simpson, through Baba’s marriage to the Prince’s of Wales’ best friend ’Fruity’ Metcalfe whom I had read about before.
One of the things I found most interesting and most disturbing about the book is its depiction of Oswald Mosley who married Cimmie and subsequently had a long affair with Baba after Cimmie’s death. It’s not that it treats him sympathetically – he is shown as a man who leaves personal destruction in his wake – but rather that it treats his descent into fascism almost matter-of-factly. One minute he and his wife Cimmie are campaigning for the Labour party sticking up for the causes of working people, and then not so long afterwards he is the character from history we are familiar with – leading an appalling fascist movement within Britain. The book recounts this as an almost a seamless transition and showing it from the perspective of his personal life almost made light if it for me.
But this is a fascinating personal insight into all of these characters and shows how Irene and Baba battled on through many ups and downs until becoming unlikely establishment figures in their own rights. If you are interested in being a fly on the wall in this turbulent period of history this will be a great book for you.