Friday, September 23, 2022

Q&A with C.W. Gortner


Photo by Erik Dubon



C.W. Gortner is the author of the new novel The American Adventuress, which focuses on the life of Jennie Jerome, the mother of Winston Churchill. Gortner's many other books include The First Actress. He lives in California.


Q: What initially intrigued you about Jennie Jerome, and at what point did you decide to write this novel about her?


A: I first became intrigued by Jennie as a boy, when I saw the television series based on the bestselling two-volume biography. Lee Remick played her in the series, and I was fascinated by Jennie’s story.


Many years later, as I began publishing my historical novels about famous, often controversial women, Jennie was on my list as a character I’d love to write. Once the opportunity came my way to actually write the novel under contract, I leaped at it. I’d published 12 novels by then, set in a variety of eras and on different subjects, so I felt I was ready to tackle her in particular, as she led a complex life.


Q: How did you research her life, and what did you learn that particularly fascinated you?


A: I read several biographies about her, as well as numerous books about her era and the people who played important roles. I visited Blenheim and other extant sites related to her.


What most fascinated me was that she was one of the first so-called American heiresses to marry into the British aristocracy, but her story doesn’t end there.


While she and her first husband Randolph Churchill had a very dynamic, interesting marriage, Jennie went on after his death to forge a new life, becoming a theater entrepreneur, an interior decorator, and of course the beloved mother of Winston Churchill. She had an enormous impact on him and the man he eventually became.


Q: How would you describe Jennie's relationship with Winston Churchill?

A: Very loving but also complicated. She wasn’t a great mother during his childhood. The Victorian tradition was that aristocratic children were raised by hired staff.


Jennie was still quite young when she gave birth to Winston, too, and she wanted to live her own life; she was self-absorbed in this respect, if no more so than other mothers in her position. She also had to contend with her husband’s erratic career, precarious finances, and a formidable mother-in-law, Winston’s paternal grandmother, who seized charge of his upbringing.


But as he grew into manhood, Winston grew very close to Jennie and there’s no doubt they kept a close, if sometimes challenging, bond that lasted to her death.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and how did Jennie's American background affect perceptions of her in England?


A: I chose the title to reflect that in many aspects of her life, Jennie was an adventurer. She defied expectations for women in her era, even scandalized society with her bold spirit.


Jennie’s American background made her an outsider, but she never let criticism define or impede her. She took English society by storm – she enthralled the prince of Wales, later known as King Edward VII – and extended her influence into politics, as she guided both her husband’s and her son’s political careers.


Jennie wasn’t born into the aristocracy; her father was a self-made man, who made millions and lost them. Though she was seen by her own in-laws in England as a parvenu, a title-chaser of lesser status, in truth, Jennie cared little for titles or money.


She could be very extravagant, even reckless, and she viewed clinging to established ways as the Victorian era shifted into the 20th century as short-sighted. She was a uniquely modern woman in her outlook, who embraced change both in her world and in her life.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A new novel set in the French fashion world of the early 1970s. I can’t divulge the subject yet, but it’s a story I’ve wanted to write for many years.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I hope readers enjoy The American Adventuress! Jennie was inspiring in her passion for life. Book groups cam have me visit them to chat, too. Go to my website to request a chat:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with C.W. Gortner.

No comments:

Post a Comment