‘With painstaking skill, Dismore lays bare the double standards of the Souls – a brilliant group who thought themselves superior, in morals and intellect, to the rest of their class’ (Artemis Cooper, author of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure)
Outrageously handsome, witty and clever, Harry Cust was reputed to be one of the great womanisers of the late Victorian era. By his affair with the married Violet Granby, later the Duchess of Rutland, he was the biological father of Lady Diana Manners (later Lady Diana Cooper, by her marriage to Duff Cooper, politician and diplomat ) and possibly others. Later he was rumoured to be the real grandfather of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
In 1893, while a Member of Parliament, Harry caused public scandal by his affair with artist and poet Nina Welby-Gregory. When she revealed she was pregnant, horror swept through their circle known as ‘the Souls’, a cultured, mostly aristocratic group of writers, artists and politicians who also rubbed shoulders with luminaries such as Oscar Wilde and H.G. Wells.
With the unconventional Margot Tennant and philosopher-statesman Arthur Balfour at their centre, the dazzling Souls eschewed the formalities of upper-class etiquette, valuing conversation and clever games above gambling and racing. Talented and glamorous women such as Violet Granby and Ettie Grenfell joined rising politicians George Curzon and George Wyndham at grand country houses to talk, play and flirt.
Passions raged behind their courtly code. Married Souls discreetly bore their lovers’ children – and public figures got away with much worse – yet bachelor Harry’s seduction of a single woman of the same class broke the rules. For the rest of their lives, Harry and Nina would fight to rebuild their reputations and maintain the marriage they were pressurised to enter. In Tangled Souls, Jane Dismore tells the tumultuous story of the romance which threatened to tear apart this distinguished group of friends, revealing pre-war society at its most colourful and most conflicted.