A Well­Be­haved Woman

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - BOOKS - JR

by Therese Anne Fowler, Ha­chette

There’s some­thing ut­terly se­duc­tive about the op­u­lence of Amer­ica’s Gilded Age and it is into this world that Z au­thor Therese Anne Fowler plunges us with the fas­ci­nat­ing Alva Van­der­bilt. This is fic­tion with a clev­erly struc­tured plot, but the au­thor’s im­pec­ca­ble re­search shines through. “I al­ways stick to the facts, inas­much as they can be known,” Therese tells The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly. “I had a time­line of doc­u­mented ac­tions and events, and a lot of hearsay, and had to re­con­struct what was pos­si­bly true.” Alva and her sis­ters have been raised with all the ex­pec­ta­tions of a high­so­ci­ety ex­is­tence but with the fam­ily fac­ing bank­ruptcy, mar­ry­ing well is para­mount. It’s 1885 and 21-year-old Alva is de­ter­mined to land heir Wil­liam K. Van­der­bilt, from the ship­ping and rail­road dy­nasty. This she man­ages, but not all money is equal, and tak­ing on the stigma of the Van­der­bilts’ new­money sheen is a chal­lenge. What’s more, her hus­band is lack­ing in most de­part­ments, in­clud­ing fidelity. But Alva’s stub­born re­fusal to be quashed by the so­ci­ety snobs and her strength to wres­tle the reins of her mar­riage is pow­er­ful and tri­umphant, and her jour­ney is very on point with cur­rent gen­der bat­tles. Ul­ti­mately Alva de­fies con­ven­tion in all she does, not least be­com­ing a lead­ing suf­fragette, and watch­ing her forge that path is breath­tak­ing. “My point of en­try was an ar­ti­cle I came across about Glo­ria Van­der­bilt, who most of us know as a fash­ion de­signer,” says Therese. “When she was a child, her aunt [Gertrude Van­der­bilt Whit­ney] sued her mother for cus­tody. It’s quite a story and made me won­der, who are these peo­ple? I went down the rab­bit hole and came up back in 19th-cen­tury New York, with Alva. I dis­cov­ered that the im­age we’re given of her just didn’t match her ac­tions, and be­came fas­ci­nated as to how and why that might be. “I found the Gilded Age spell­bind­ing. While there’s no ques­tion about the ex­cesses, ex­treme wealth also gave rise to some of the most re­mark­able homes and fash­ions. Come for the spec­ta­cle, and stay for the story of how a con­sci­en­tious woman nav­i­gated her life amid all of that.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.