Book Reviews

The Gilded Age Heiresses in Fact and Fiction

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Jennie Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill) later in life and Consuelo Vanderbilt (Duchess of Marlborough)

The Lost Summers of Newport put me in a Gilded Age mood. While that era (approximately 1870 to 1900) is only one of the three timelines in the story, it is a favorite era of mine. So, here are a few books to help you get into the Gilded Age Spirit.

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I found this mystery hiding on my Kindle, but, obviously, haven’t read it yet. It sounds good and I hope to get to it soon. Under a Gilded Moon: A Novel by Joy Jordan-Lake is set in North Carolina at the time the Biltmore House is being finished. I’m guessing from the summary of the story that if she plays her cards right, Kerry MacGregor could potentially become a near-heiress at least since the Vanderbilts want that land of hers!

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Jennie Jerome was among the very first of the dollar heiresses. She was likely expecting when she married Lord Randolph Churchill, a younger son of the Duke of Marlborough and brother of Consuelo Vanderbilt’s Duke, for when he was born future Prime Minister Winston Churchill was an awfully big “premature” baby. Like my grandmother (born in 1904) always said, “First babies can come at anytime, but after that they all seem to take nine months.” Her home was replaced by Madison Square Garden and her father helped found the Jockey Club. He was one of those men who made regulating the stock market necessary. That Churchill Woman: A Novel by Stephanie Barron. I’ve read so much about the Churchills that I did not finish this, but if you do not know much I’m sure it’s very good.

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The American Adventuress by C.W. Gortner is also about Jennie and arrives in September, but is available for pre-order now.

I Prefer This Biography

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This (originally two volume) biography of Jennie came out in the 1970s and was as readable as any novel. I’ve read it more than once and highly recommend it. Martin doesn’t assume Jennie consummated every “affair.” There are newer theories out there on Lord Randolph’s death, and like Prince Harry, Jack Churchill endured all kinds of theories on his parentage, but anyone who looks at him (just like Harry) can see he is a Churchill. Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill by Ralph G. Martin (now in one volume). There are other, newer biographies, but I haven’t liked them.

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The American Duchess by Karen Harper is about Consuelo Vanderbilt the ultimate dollar heiress. I did not get to finish–barely got it started, when I had to return it to the library due to holds.

Or, if you prefer non-fiction:

Consuelo & Alva: The Story of a Mother and Daughter by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart 

The Glitter and The Gold by Consuela Vanderbilt Balsan (Consuela’s memoirs)

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Aside from making a mess of the titles (Your Royal Highness, not Highness. It’s Sir after you’ve used the full title), this one is good. The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin. (My review was lost on my old blog).

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Gilded age Chicago! Where “Mr. Selfridge” got his start–Marshall Fields! What the Lady Wants about Marshall Field. Lots of great Chicago history–including a dramatic account of the great fire. What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen. Field’s daughter married British Admiral Beatty.

Field’s partner, Levi Leiter, gained a much more impressive English son-in-law in George Nathaniel Curzon–later Viceroy of India. Sadly, Mary Curzon’s biographies are mostly out-of-print (but available used).

Mary Curzon: The Story of the Heiress From Chicago… by Nigel Nicholson.

Here is an excellent book on Mary and George Curzon’s daughters that has a lot to offer on Mary and the family: The Viceroy’s Daughters by Anne De Courcy–it reads like a novel.

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The real-life inspiration for t.v.’s fictional Cora, Countess of Grantham was Almina, Countess of Carnarvon.

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon

These books are part collective biography, part social history of the whole “Dollar Princess” era.

To Marry an English Lord by Gail Mac Coll

The Husband Hunters by Anne De Courcy

The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau by Julie Perry

Have you read any of these books? Leave me a comment or a link to your review.

2 thoughts on “The Gilded Age Heiresses in Fact and Fiction

  1. These all look so good!!! At first I was thinking Consuelo was the daughter who lived at Biltmore … but she must be an earlier Vanderbilt; the one I was thinking of was Cornelia. I read the other “Downton” book by Lady Carnarvon and loved it. Love all these books and the photos.

    Liked by 1 person

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