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Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age
Synopses & Reviews
On a November day in 1895, crowds of curious sightseers gathered outside St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in New York, intent on spotting a small dapper bridegroom whom they knew to be a great English aristocrat awaiting his bride-to-be. When she arrived, twenty minutes late, anyone who caught a glimpse beneath Consuelo Vanderbilt's veil would have seen that her face was swollen from crying.
When Consuelo's grandfather died, he was the richest man in America. Her father soon started to spend the family fortune, enthusiastically supported by Consuelo's mother, Alva, who was determined to take the family to the top of New York society. She was adamant that her daughter should make a grand marriage, and the underfunded Duke of Marlborough was just the thing. It didn't matter that Consuelo loved someone else; as Alva once told her, "I don't ask you to think, I do the thinking, you do as you're told."
However, the story of Consuelo and Alva is not simply one of the emptiness of wealth, of the glamour of the Gilded Age, and of enterprising social ambition. This is a fascinating account of how two women struggled to break free from the deeply materialistic world into which they were born, taking up the fight for female equality. Consuelo threw herself into good works; Winston Churchill encouraged her to make her first public speech, and her social and political campaigns proved an antidote to loneliness. Alva embraced the militant suffragette movement in America, helping to bring the fight for the vote to its triumphant conclusion and campaigning vehemently for women's rights until she died. In this brilliant and engrossing book, Amanda Mackenzie Stuart suggests that behind the most famous transatlantic marriage of all lies an extraordinary tale of the quest for female power.
"In 1875, the strong-willed Alva Smith married an heir to the Vanderbilt fortune in order to save her own family from further descent into genteel poverty. Twenty years later, she compelled her daughter Consuelo into a loveless marriage to the ninth Duke of Marlborough, in order to provide her with a career rather than an empty life. Mother's and daughter's remarkably similar trajectories through life — difficult first marriages, happy second ones, social leadership, arts patronage, a shift into activism — were shaped by the opportunities wealth offered and the calculated use of marriage as a business transaction in their class and era. In her first book, Stuart uses a remarkable breadth of sources to follow her subjects to Newport, R.I.; India; late Victorian and Edwardian England; the heart of the women's movement; and the south of France at the outbreak of WWII She tells a riveting story but keeps her distance from her subjects, not offering final judgment on Alva's coercion of her daughter or allowing emotion to intrude on the deaths of major characters. Still, Alva and Consuelo emerge as unique and fascinating characters, and the details of their lives and times make a very entertaining read. Agent, Clare Alexander." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
The colorful story of Alva and Consuelo Vanderbilt and their adventures on both sides of the Atlantic--in an age of callousness and ambition, material extravagance and excess--is told through their mother-daughter relationship and their mutual quest for self-determination in the glittering empty world of the Gilded Age.
About the Author
Amanda Mackenzie Stuart took a first-class degree in history at the University of York. She has written and produced award-winning independent films, and her writings include historical screenplays. This is her first book.
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