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The First Lady of Fleet Street: The Life of…

The First Lady of Fleet Street: The Life of Rachel Beer: Crusading Heiress…

by Eilat Negev, Yehuda Koren

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Although this claims to be a biography of Rachel Beer, the female editor of the Sunday Times and a prominent social figure in Victorian London, it sometimes seems like the authors are doing anything they can to avoid actually talking about Rachel Beer. There are lengthy chapters about her family's history, her husband's family's history, her husband; an unnecessarily detailed description of the Dreyfus affair which Beer made much of in her editorials; entirely too much weight given to other people's descriptions of her and not nearly enough to her own words. (In most cases, it's hard to talk about Victorian women in their own words, but she wrote weekly editorials for one and sometimes two newspapers for years - there are plenty of her own words out there.) Overall I'd say less than half of the book is actually about Rachel Beer.

The other half is about Jewish businessmen - and especially newspapermen - in England in the Victorian age and preceding years, and that's actually reasonably interesting. The chapters on the Dreyfus affair do a good job of pointing out the tensions between in Jewish assimilation and the anti-Semitic opinions still common in most of Europe. It's just....not what the book claims to be about. ( )
  jen.e.moore | Jan 22, 2015 |
The story of the first woman to own and edit a British newspaper—and an Indian-born Jewish woman in the nineteenth century, no less!—should have been a fascinating read. Sadly, Negev and Koren's biography never rises above the pedestrian, and I was deeply frustrated with how often the author's shifted the attention of the book from Rachel Beer to the men around her. What a sad thing, that a woman should only make cameo appearances in her own biography until about halfway through! Perhaps this reflects scant surviving sources, particularly in her later years—her relatives had Beer declared insane after her husband's death, and confined to a country home under the care of nurses—but given that Beer was a newspaper writer who likely engaged in a voluminous correspondence, this seems unlikely. There must be letters out there which she wrote to others, more context which would help situate Rachel Beer more firmly within the political and social contexts of her time and place. As is, the Rachel Beer who comes across here is—perhaps unintentionally—a curiously isolated figure. ( )
  siriaeve | May 25, 2014 |
I’ve read countless biographies of newspaper publishers, editors and reporters who are household names. Rachel Beer (1858-1927) is anything but. Rachel Beer?

Rachel Sassoon Beer was the first woman in Britain to edit two Sunday newspapers – the Sunday Times and The Observer -- at the same time. She owned one; her ailing husband Frederick owned the other. Then, why had I never heard of her before reading The First Lady of Fleet Street? That may be because she spent the last quarter-century of her life, after the death of her husband, out of the newspaper business, out of the limelight, and a virtual prisoner in her own elegant home. The newspapers she edited made almost no note of her abrupt move out of her journalistic endeavors, and even her passing decades later.

Although I found Rachel Beer’s story quite fascinating, I thought much too little of that life was covered in The First Lady of Fleet Street. She makes only cameo appearances in the first half of the book. It isn’t until page 152 (out of 280 narrative pages) that Rachel takes on the editorship of the Sunday Times. The first half of the book is devoted to a detailed chronicle of both Rachel Sassoon’s and Frederick Beer’s family histories. It’s not that I find those stories un-interesting. But in a book that’s ostensibly a biography of Rachel Beer, too many pages were devoted to others.

In the prologue, the authors ask: “Why, then, at forty-five, did she submit so passively to those questioning her sanity and her ability to care for herself? Why did she allow herself to be torn from her active life and prestigious position in society?” They are questions I don’t believe were adequately answered.

That said, I thought the writing was okay, the research and sourcing adequate. It’s just that I wanted Rachel’s story. ( )
  NewsieQ | Apr 10, 2012 |
I was completely unaware of who Rachel Beer was before I started reading this book. I came across this book and read the summary of it and knew that this was a book that I would like. This book shows the life of Rachel Beer, the owner and editor of two newspapers in England during a time when woman didn't hold such important jobs. The book also shows us the life of her husband, Frederick Beer. I loved getting to hear about the ancestors of both Rachel and Frederick. I found this to be absolutely fascinating and very informative. Rachel Beer was a very interesting woman and it was such a shame to see what her life eventually became. I am really glad that I decided to read this and that I learned what a force Rachel Beer was. I would recommend this to those interested in journalism (especially the history of it), also to those interested in the woman's suffrage movement in England. ( )
  dpappas | Mar 19, 2012 |
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Eilat Negevprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Koren, Yehudamain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Rachel Sassoon Beer (1858–1927) was a remarkable woman who at one time owned and simultaneously edited both The Observer and The Sunday Times.  She was born in Bombay and grew up in England in the fabulous Sassoon family of Jewish merchant princes, one of the richest families of the 19th century. As a young woman, she was intensely moved by human suffering and dissatisfied with check-book philanthropy.  In 1887, she married out of her faith the financier Frederick Arthur Beer and was disowned by her family.  He suffered from an illness that changed his personality and led to his early death. Soon after her marriage, Rachel began contributing articles to her husband's newspaper, The Observer, and in 1891, she took over as editor, becoming the first female editor of a national newspaper in the UK.   Two years later, she purchased the Sunday Times and became the editor of that paper as well.  While she was editor, Rachel Beer achieved one of the greatest exclusives in history:  Major Esterhazy confessed to her that he had forged the letters that condemned the innocent French officer Alfred Dreyfus for treason. The story provoked an international outcry and led to the release and pardon of Captain Dreyfus from Devil's Island and the court martial of Esterhazy.
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Documents the rise and fall of the Victorian era newspaper heiress and social crusader, tracing how she assumed the editorship of two Sunday newspapers and promoted revolutionary social causes before family disputes forced her into isolation.

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