The five daughters of Virginia railroad entrepreneur Chiswell Langhorne (1843-1919) and his wife, Nancy, graced the American and continental social scenes as the 19th century dissolved into the 20th. Fox’s challenge in Five Sisters: The Langhornes of Virginia – squeezing all the women into one steamer trunk of narrative – is simplified by the fact that the eldest, Lizzie, did little to distinguish herself other than marry badly and live beyond her means.
The next, Irene, served as the model for the Gibson girl, while Nancy, the third, married the aristocrat Waldorf Astor, moved to England, and eventually became the first female member of Parliament. She completely overshadows No. 4, Phyllis, who is easily confused with Irene, and almost obliterates No. 5, Nora, a rebel who ran with the F. Scott Fitzgerald crowd. Still, Fox has rendered each Langhorne with complexity and care.