That Churchill Woman, a novel written by Stephanie Barron, focuses on the life Jennie Jerome, a Brooklyn-born heiress whose world of wealth and privilege is filled with disillusionment and despair. Jennie’s parents, Leonard Jerome and Clarissa “Clara” Hall, had a marriage of convenience. Because of this, Leonard was occasionally absent from his daughters’ lives, devoting himself, instead, to his latest mistress. Then, when Jennie was nine-years-old, she and her favorite sister Camille were stricken with rheumatic fever. Jennie survived; Camille did not. To help Jennie cope with her sister’s loss, her father advised:
The only way to fight death…is to live. You’ve got to do it for two people now—yourself and Camille. Take every chance you get. Do everything she didn’t get to do. Live two lives in the space of one.
From that moment on, that was exactly what Jennie did. From Paris to Victorian England, she lived her life to the fullest and on her own terms.
At the age of 19, Jennie Jerome met Lord Randolph Churchill. Within three days, they were engaged. Less than a year later, they were married at the British Embassy in Paris. Son Winston Churchill was born eight months after that.
Lady Randolph Churchill was a societal sensation: adored by some, abhorred by others. Well-spoken and shrewd, Jennie helped her husband rise through the political ranks. However, as her husband’s health declined and his sanity slowly slipped away, Jennie struggled to balance society’s expectations with her own wants and needs.
That Churchill Woman is a fascinating tale about a formidable yet often forgotten woman in history. Although much of this book is historically accurate, some of it, especially Jennie’s inner thoughts and motivations, is based on second-hand reports—either superficial or slanted—or is simply speculation on the author’s part.
Also, I was ambivalent about whether I respected Jennie’s fortitude and forbearance or disapproved of her self-centeredness and shallowness. In the end, I realized that I could feel both. Lady Randolph Churchill was a fabulously flawed person. She lived her life on her own terms—society be damned. And although I cannot advocate all of Jennie’s life choices, I still admire her chutzpah and respect the influence she wielded. She was quite a woman.