So­ci­ety

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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

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