Consuelo and Alva: Love and Power in the 'Gilded Age'

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9780007216871: Consuelo and Alva: Love and Power in the 'Gilded Age'

A fabulously wealthy New York beauty marries a cold-hearted British aristocrat at the behest of her Machiavellian mother – then leaves him to become a prominent Suffragette.

On November 6th,1895, crowds of curious sightseers gathered outside the Church of St Thomas on Fifth Avenue in New York.Those who had arrived early enough to peep inside the church saw that it had been decorated with thousands of white flowers at eye-watering expense. Even a casual reader of local newspapers would have known that the small, dapper bridegroom with his best man was a great English aristocrat. An audible shiver of schadenfreude went through the crowd at the arrival of the bride. She was twenty minutes late and anyone who caught a glimpse beneath her veil could see that her face was swollen with crying.
On the day Consuelo’s grandfather died he was the richest man in America; the Vanderbilt fortune stood at $200 million. Her father, Willie K, started to spend it, being the first generation of ‘social Vanderbilts’. In this he was enthusiastically assisted be Consuelo’s mother, a force of nature called Alva Erskine Smith, who was determined to take the family to the top of New York society. And like many other American plutocrats,a chronically underfunded English aristocrat 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 are told.’ But like many a woman before and since who has been coerced into marriage (paradoxically, her mother had divorced her father by the time Consuelo herself was making what many termed ‘the match of the century’), Consuelo threw herself into children and good works; Winston Churchill encouraged her to make her first public speech, and increasingly an interest in social and political matters became a way of dealing with loneliness, and this in turn added to the tension between the Marlboroughs. Sunny, the ninth Duke, with his own loveless childhood, was unable to provide kindness or understanding to his increasingly socially aware wife, who made no secret of the fact that she resented and frequently despised him.

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Review:

• Amanda Mackenzie Stuart is a highly promotable, well-connected author.

• Will appeal to Edith Wharton fans (the story of the Vanderbilt children inspired her book The Buccaneers); also those who enjoyed Diana Souhami’s Mrs Keppel and Her Daughter.

About the Author:

Amanda Mackenzie Stuart has worked in British film since the 1980s, having taken a first-class degree in history at Oxford. Her latest film is Room to Rent, to be distributed in the UK in May 2001. She has been writing about history for Renegade films, and a stage play for singer Morag Maclaren abou the life of lyricist Dorothy Fields. This is her first book.

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