Richmonders have always had a special interest in the Langhorne family the father moved from Danville to Richmond with his three sons and five daughters, while he made a fortune in the railroad business.
The Langhornes lived for a time in Richmond before moving to Mirador their beloved home at the foot of the Blue Ridge mountains. Nancy the third sister (fifth child) became, of course, the most prominent Langhorne after she married Waldorf Astor, one of the richest men in the world, and later become Britain's first female member of parliament. After a lifetime in some of the finest houses in England, she was to write of the Virginia of her youth, "Nothing is quite as lovely as that."
Now, the grandson of one of the sisters has written a book about them. If you have read James Fox's "White Mischief," you will know that you are in for an entertaining time when you read "Five Sisters," (Simon & Schuster, $30). It is the story of the five extraordinary Langhorne women at the highest levels of Anglo-American society in a tumultuous century.
Fox, the grandson of Phyliss Langhorne and Bob Breed, (who was once called the "wisest man in the British Empire") was given first access to thousands of letters between the Langhorne sisters, letters which Fox's grandfather had collected and saved after his wife died. So many letters could only come from an age where there were two or three posts a day, and letters were still the preferred means of communication, and, too, there was a convention of returning collections of letters to the senders in times of grief. Fox also used material from other archives as well as private collections, documents and many interviews and memoirs.
Other books have been written about these beautiful, spirited and charming women. But because of the recent disclosure of the letters, "Five Sisters" gives special insight into their personal lives and personalities warts and all.
Should "Five Sisters" encourage you to think only the successful and famous are interesting, "The Missing World" by Margot Livesey (Knopf, $23) will immediately disabuse you of that idea. Livesey has taken a group of eccentric losers in London and made each of her characters occasionally even the villain complex and endearing.
Hazel, for very good reason, has moved out of the flat she shared with Jonathan. But unfortunately for her, she is hit by a car and becomes the victim of amnesia and recurrent seizures. She remembers Jonathan, however, and to his surprise, has forgotten that she doesn't like him. He, in turn, keeps her a virtual prisoner in his home. To her rescue come Freddie, a black roofer, who has dropped out of Stanford; Charlotte, an actress, who has fallen apart because of a failed love affair; and Mrs. Craig, a yoga teacher who lives next door. These off-beat characters should hold your interest and occasionally make you laugh.