Alva Smith Vanderbilt sets her sights on William Kissam Vanderbilt out of pure necessity. With her father gone and little beyond her looks and an old family name to recommend her, Alva has to marry very well or else see her sisters starve. Initially shunned by the Astors and the rest of the Knickerbocker set, Alva beats them at their own game, creating stunning homes, staging society balls, and marrying her daughter to the future 9th Duke of Marlborough (the cousin of Winston Churchill). She succeeds beyond her wildest dreams, becoming one of New York’s premier society matrons and gaining access to unthinkable wealth upon the death of her father-in-law. Money doesn’t buy happiness, however, as Alva discovers when William’s many adulterous dalliances come to light. But divorcing William and creating a new life with Oliver Belmont means breaking all of society’s rules, and by doing so, Alva risks nearly everything she has scarified to get there.
An interesting look into the life of a complex woman. Alva was known for her support of many charitable efforts as well as a pioneer of women’s suffrage. However many believe she forced her daughter Consuelo into a loveless marriage with the duke, not at all unlike the primarily financial bargain she made when marrying William. Consuelo eventually became distraught and disillusioned too, as she eventually divorced her husband just as Alva did. This story shines more prior to Alva’s marriage than after, as Alva seems to lose her drive as a married woman. Also, the dissonance between the betrayed women’s rights advocate and the woman who was doing all she could to propel her daughter into the British aristocracy seemed underemphasized. All in all, a good first glance into a woman whose story is usually restricted to parties and buildings rather than what she did for society.
Amazon link is here.
Special thanks to NetGalley who gave me an ARC in return for my review.