Jennie Essay - Critical Context

Ralph G. Martin

Critical Context

Martin has shown the rare ability to write a book that works as both popular and scholarly history. In that sense, Jennie is a model biography for young and old alike. Without being dry or losing the thread of his story, the author has presented a study of personal triumph and tragedy, shown how the mother of one of the twentieth century’s most important politicians influenced her son, and written a chapter in the political history of Edwardian England.

Although intended for and very successful with the general public, Jennie is quite appropriate for young adult readers. Its themes hold interest for them, and the writing is accessible. Martin’s sympathetic account of Lady Randolph Churchill combines with the very real drama of her life to make a fascinating story. The book is also a good history text, as its biographical approach includes a history of the times, although one that is limited to the upper class.

The behavior of Jennie Churchill will not recommend itself to modern feminists, but the age in which she lived denied women many opportunities. She was determined to be a part of the political scene beyond the traditional roles of wife and mother, and she was able to play a relatively independent role. If she was more inclined to use traditional feminine wiles to achieve her goals than would be acceptable to a woman in the late twentieth century, then she also had much greater barriers to overcome. Martin’s account of her life provides a useful lesson for history students to help them grasp how much progress women have made since the late 1800’s