They say you can never have enough money. They say that money can’t buy happiness. They say that money is the route of all evil.
Alva Vanderbilt to the world had everything. She was married to one of the richest men in the world and could do whatever she wanted. She married William Vanderbilt, not because she loved him, but because her family was becoming destitute and Alva believed that in marrying William she would achieve two things, getting her family out of debt and eventually falling in love with William. The former happened, but the latter never did.
Growing up and having my family on Long Island, New York, I had many opportunities to visit the one of the summer homes of the Vanderbilt’s, called Eagle’s Nest. It was a beautiful home located on the water on sprawling acres. My girls went to classes there on geology and marine science and today it is a museum owned by the county. The house remains as well as the planetarium and a museum dedicated to the findings and explorations of William and his sons. As we often did the tour we learned about Alva, whose portrait hung prominently in one of the main stairwells, and the picture the tour guides painted of Alva was often none to complimentary. We were told she was a bit of a tyrant making her daughter, Consuelo’s life miserable sticking a rod and a back brace on her to correct her posture, and doing all within her power to see she married European royalty.
However, in this book, Ms Fowler constructs a more humane portrait of Alva. We see her as a young girl being primed to marry wealthy, to push her family up the ladder of social rungs, to be something she thought she might like to be though never really wanted to be. This is a story of excess, of money beyond belief, and of the unhappiness many of the gilded age experienced not only in their lives, but also in their need to be people recognized by other people, to be in a social strata that they clamored for.
Ms Fowler did a wonderful job bringing Alva to life and showing us what a strong courageous woman she really was. She became, for many, a beacon of strength and a woman who fought not only for woman’s suffrage, but also for equal rights.
I recommended this book to those who love reading about people of wealth, to those who enjoy a well done historical fiction book, and to those who will, in their search for money, find that it does not guarantee happiness.
Thank you to Theresa Anne Fowler, St Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for a copy of this intriguing book.
and here’s the author:
Therese Anne Fowler is the third child and only daughter of a couple who raised their children in Milan, Illinois. An avowed tomboy as a child, Therese protested her grandmother’s determined attempts to dress her in frills, and then, to further her point, insisted on playing baseball even though Milan had a perfectly good girls’ softball league. She was one of the first girls in the U.S. to play Little League baseball.
In 2014, she decided to write a biographical historical novel about Zelda Fitzgerald, Z, which was published in 2013. What Therese has discovered is that she has an affinity for badass women from history whose stories have been either mistold or are largely untold. Her next novel centers on Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, a determined, opinionated, compassionate, often amusing woman from America’s Gilded Age. A Well-Behaved Woman, a kind of homage to Edith Wharton with a dash of affection for Jane Austen for good measure, will be published by St. Martin’s Press on October 16, 2018. A Well-Behaved Woman is in development with Sony Pictures Television.
Therese has been a visiting professor at North Carolina State University and occasionally teaches fiction writing at conferences and workshops. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and PEN America, she is married to award-winning professor and author John Kessel. They reside in North Carolina.