The Chamberlain Litany: Letters within a Governing Family from Empire to Appeasement

Overview

The Chamberlains were the most controversial dynasty in British public life for more than sixty years. They were a close-knit family, and they treasured that solidarity throughout their lives. Bereft of a mother and with a largely absent father, the children of Joseph Chamberlain clung to each other as they grew up, and they kept in lifelong touch by letter. Based on those family letters, this book explores the accounts that the Chamberlain children told each other about the ...

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Overview

The Chamberlains were the most controversial dynasty in British public life for more than sixty years. They were a close-knit family, and they treasured that solidarity throughout their lives. Bereft of a mother and with a largely absent father, the children of Joseph Chamberlain clung to each other as they grew up, and they kept in lifelong touch by letter. Based on those family letters, this book explores the accounts that the Chamberlain children told each other about the events in their lives.

The two sons, Austen and Neville, followed their father into the highest echelons of British public life, and Neville eclipsed his father in fame. Their story is told through the eyes of their sisters. Hilda, the youngest of the surviving children, discovered that a pattern was repeated in the lives of all three men, a pattern that she recited in a kind of litany echoed by the family. Hilda’s litany spoke of the way in which the Chamberlain men secured victory for each other over their adversaries. Her story reached its climax when Neville met Adolf Hitler in Munich on the brink of war and managed to preserve the peace. But Hilda had reckoned without the last and greatest adversary of the Chamberlains: Winston Churchill. Churchill’s achievement, first in winning the war that Neville had failed to avert, and then in writing a history of that war that damned Neville for its outbreak, forced Hilda to change her interpretation of the Chamberlains’ story from a hymn of praise to a lament.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781906598631
  • Publisher: Haus Publishing
  • Publication date: 4/1/2010
  • Series: H Bks.
  • Pages: 350
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue: As the Sisters Saw It

Part I: Setting the Pace

1 Munich Tulips 3

2 Exile 33

3 An Imperial Family 59

Part II: The Children's Ascent

4 Until Death Do Us Part 85

5 War 119

6 Fraternal Division 155

7 Square Peg in Square Hole, Round Peg in Round Hole 191

Part III: Overreach

8 Depression 221

9 Rearmament 257

10 Munich 287

11 In Face of Failure 315

Epilogue: From Litany to Lament 353

Chronology 365

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating portrait of Chamberlains

    I will admit to knowing very little of early 20th century British history and even less about the Chamberlain family, and these were two reasons I was interested in reading this book -- to learn. The other reason was because I absolutely adore reading personal and family histories through people's own hands, through their written words preserved over the years.

    The Chamberlain Litany paints a fascinating portrait of one of the most prominent and powerful British political families, which included patriarch and statesman Joseph, sons Sir Joseph Austen (statesman and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize) and Neville (UK Prime Minister from 1937-1940), and daughters Beatrice, Ida, Hilda, and Ethel.

    Marsh's writing is engaging, clear, and his contentions are well-supported through extensive research. The most interesting aspect of the book to me was how much the daughters were involved in political discussions and debate -- and that their opinions were well-respected; of course with that respect came somewhat of an obligation to support and help sustain the males' political careers, which may have been part of the reason three of the four sisters never married. It seems to me a book about the Chamberlain women would be a worthy pursuit as well.

    The Chamberlain Litany also speaks to my American history interests as well as to my passion for Italy; various members of the family interact with the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, and other notable Americans of the time. The Chamberlains also spend a lot of time in Italy, and, on the political side, there is, of course, plenty of talk of Il Duce himself, Benito Mussolini. That said, the sections about Neville's relationship with Adolf Hitler and how appeasement came to be are surely highlights for the universal reader.

    I should mention, though, that you don't have to worry if you don't know much about early 20th century British history; Marsh includes a handy timeline in the back of the book to catch you up to speed.

    My only real criticism, if you can call it that, is that I would have liked to have seen more full letters reprinted, without necessarily being woven into a larger narrative via snippets. While the latter is certainly a useful and effective writing technique, it did take away from some of the personality of the letters that otherwise may have come through.

    Overall, I would say if this a topic you feel like you'd be interested in, this is a worthy read. I would recommend, though, that if you don't know much about the Chamberlains, read some background information on them to get you interested in their lives. This is a nonfiction book, so there isn't the same kind of character development you might see in a novel -- and if you don't give a whit about the main players in the book from early on, you might lose interest, and that would be a shame.

    [I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.]

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