In 1913, when Perf Wyndham married the Honorable Diana Lister, an onlooker, observing the remarkable family assembled for the occasion, commented, ‘The Wyndham clan – all so beautiful and so well pleased with each other.’ The remark, while astutely nailing one of the feelings induced by reading about these intensely self-obsessed, largely leisured women for 400 pages, is especially poignant because, with hindsight, we know that their apparently perfect world was about to be destroyed forever. Along with many of his friends and relations, Perf, the nephew of the titular sisters of Claudia Renton’s book, was killed in action little more than a year later, aged 26. And so this elegantly written tableau of a book is much more than a group biography; it is an elegiac account of the horrors of the First World War from the female perspective.
Claudia Renton, a practising barrister and former actress, deals sympathetically with the lives of the three Wyndham sisters, Mary, Madeline (known as Mananai) and Pamela, born into a family of immense wealth and privilege in mid-Victorian Britain. Surrounded by artists and politicians, they enjoyed a childhood that was both stimulating