The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau
Julie Ferry (Aurum Press, £20)
the public’s fascination with the British aristocracy waned since Downton Abbey drew to its triumphant close? not if Julie Ferry’s new book is anything to go by. A breathless survey of one particularly hectic year on the transatlantic marriage market—1895, when an unprecedented number of dollar princesses flitted across the pond to ensnare blue-blooded mates—it should go some way towards filling the space left vacant by the departure from our screens of the Crawleys and their retinue.
Indeed, the book can be seen as a prologue to the story picked up by Julian Fellowes in April 1912. Its protagonists are the American women who, in a striking example of nuptial Freemasonry, lent each other helping hands to bag British peers running high on cachet but low on funds.
some will surely need no introduction: Consuelo Vanderbilt, who was effectively forced into a miserable marriage with the 9th Duke of Marlborough by her termagant of a mother, and Emerald Cunard (originally Maud Burke from san Fran- cisco), who went on to dominate London society during the 1920s and 1930s.
Ironically, those who enjoyed somewhat happier relations with their spouses are now less celebrated. Mary Leiter of Chicago and Washington adored George Curzon and, upon his appointment as Viceroy of India in 1899, was raised to the highest position ever occupied by an American in the history of the British Empire.
Behind the scenes and brokering the matches was a brace of matriarchs from the preceding generation: Mrs Arthur Paget (formerly Minnie stevens of new York), who was memorably described by one of her protégées as ‘Becky sharpe incarnate’, and the Dowager Duchess of Manchester (formerly Consuelo Yznaga of Louisiana), who would go on to inspire a character in Edith Wharton’s last, unfinished, novel, The Buccaneers.
If there are occasional infelicities in Miss Ferry’s hasty style—it seems doubtful, for example, that any late-victorian hostess would have referred to an ‘invite’ rather than an ‘invitation’—they are more or less redeemed by her evident enthusiasm for her subjects and by the dexterity with which she weaves together their divergent threads. Martin Williams
Spectators line Fifth Avenue in New York City for the wedding of Pauline Whitney to Almeric Paget in November 1895