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Review: Daisy: The Life and Loves of the Countess of Warwick, Sushila Anand

Francis Evelyn “Daisy” Maynard was left an extremely wealthy heiress when, as a toddler, her father died without having any sons, and her grandfather took a liking to her and gave her his fortune.  As a result, Daisy was bound to be in demand in society, and her beauty and vivacious personality merely sealed the deal.  Despite an offer from Queen Victoria’s youngest son, Daisy married Lord Greville, heir to the Earl of Warwick, and began a high profile life, sensational not only for the many and passionate affairs she had with some of the most prominent men of the day, but also for her political and social involvement.

I knew I wanted to learn more about Daisy when I visited Warwick Castle and saw the exhibit given over to her.  The rooms are as they would have been when she gave a house party in the 1890’s.  There are wax statues, eerily realistic, of Daisy, her husband, and many guests, among them the Prince of Wales at the time, later Edward VII.  The little blurbs gave out some information, but not enough for me, and this book very satisfactorily filled the gap.  With very effective use of original letters, newpapers, and other primary sources, Anand writes knowledgeably and compassionately about Daisy Warwick without judging her for her many infidelities.

The book is split into roughly two sections, as Daisy’s life probably was.  The first half is mainly devoted to her childhood, marriage, affairs, and children, with some detail of her many humanitarian activities shared throughout.  Daisy’s letters to her lovers as excerpted here are fascinating and there is enough period detail given for us to realize that while she seems promiscuous to us, she wasn’t remarked on as that spectacular in her class.  It seems that everyone was having affair after affair, and she must have thought that this was normal, although I was a little sad that what seemed like a budding love story with her husband quickly fizzled on their marriage.  This part is very interesting for its picture of the aristocracy during Daisy’s younger life and for her relationships with the men, one of whom in particular it seems she genuinely loved.

With the first World War, everything changed, and Daisy changed with the times.  She became a socialist and an activist for both the socialist party in Britain and the Labour party, which was emerging as a force at the time.  She had a curious juxtaposition between her life as an aristocrat and her campaigns for worker’s rights, her work to build schools and encourage education, and so on.  She even campaigned to be an MP.  This is a fascinating picture of a Britain that was changing hugely.  Not only were heirs to great families dying off, leading to more land for more people, but ideology itself was changing.  Daisy got married in a church in a huge ceremony, whereas her youngest daughter was married in a registry office, which had become perfectly appropriate for a countess’s daughter over the years.

I found this book to be a fascinating picture of both a woman who, while firmly living in her own social class, strove to do more for the world and of a changing Britain at the turn of the century and beyond.  Very highly recommended.  And Daisy would be a fantastic choice for the Women Unbound challenge, which I’m counting it for.

I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.

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