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Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt
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Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  736 ratings  ·  97 reviews
"In a November day in 1895, crowds of curious sightseers gathered outside St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in New York, intent on spotting a small dapper bridegroom whom they knew to be a great English aristocrat awaiting his bride-to-be. When she arrived, twenty minutes late, anyone who caught a glimpse beneath Consuelo Vanderbilt's veil would have seen that her face was ...more
Paperback, 640 pages
Published January 9th 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published 2005)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,976)
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Kathryn
So on a trip to England this summer my family stopped by at Blenheim Palace. I really knew nothing about that place, excpet that it was where Winston Churchill had been born. As we walked through, one of the docents pointed to a rather large picture and said that is the 9th Duke of Marlborough (the family that lives there) and Consuelo Vanderbilt. I was surprised to hear the Vanderbilt name in conjunction with the British aristocrats. Especially when the docent explained that it was an arranged ...more
Texbritreader
This well written and interesting dual biography of perhaps the Gilded Age's best remembered mother and daughter duo is a first time effort; the author has a background in independent film making but it would seem this must be her true calling. She handles the complex historical backgrounds of New York Society, the English Aristocracy, the Women's Suffrage Movement, British politics and two World Wars with deftness and aplomb.

Alva Erskine Smith, after her brilliant marriage to William Kissam Va
...more
christina
Good Lord, what a mother - pure id, and the Versailles pastiche would break them all. Reading Consuelo and Alva is less a mother-daughter story than a story about a storm system, one that materially affected the lives of women everywhere in more ways than I realized. Alva Vanderbilt had the first great divorce settlement in American history (at 39) and then forced her daughter into marriage with a feckless Duke to maintain her social position. She then goes on to present herself as one of the le ...more
YiShun
Awful. Really, really. It took me over three weeks to make it even to page 207, and that's not even halfway through. Much of the backing information an quotes is totally irrelevant, and I'm actually really quite interested in the lives of these women.
A gross disappointment that left me feeling more than unsympathetic to two women about whom I was quite interested in finding out more. I'll have to turn to other volumes.
Dusti
The story of a millionaire heiress pushed into a love-less marriage has to be interesting, and it is. The first three parts of the book were great but the story and narrative slowed down in the latter part of the book. I lost interest when Alva and her daughter Consuelo joined the suffrage movement, Alva in America and Consuelo in England. I skipped entire pages of this part.
Ruby Rose Scarlett
Outstanding biography. The genre itself is difficult to approach - it's not enough for the reader to be mildly curious about someone's life, you have to be interested for 500 pages. If you have only a passing interest in the lives of the rich in the Gilded Age period - which in many ways Alva and Consuelo embody - don't pick this up. If, however, your idea of bliss is a good few days spent reading about first-wave feminism, architecture and the class system, this book is a must-read. Highly read ...more
Cheri
A wonderful look into the world of materialism and elitism that comprised turn of the century America, (and beyond). More than that, it's a fairly universal story of parents dreams forced upon their children.

Forced to marry a hideous man for his title, Alva Vanderbilt seems every bit the Wharton heroine she was, (it's said Wharton drew on her and her friends lives for The Buccaneers) but soon we see that both mother and daughter are more complex and tougher that we could have imagined. Born of
...more
Louise
I gave this 5 stars because it's an achievement for the author to put all this together. I enjoyed it all and learned a lot. There were times I couldn't put it down. I almost held back a star because sometimes I lost the forest for the trees. This cries out to be published as three solid volumes because two dynamic lives and several periods of history (US: post-Civil War, Gilded Age, Suffrage Movement/War and Europe: Victorian, Edwardian, Suffrage, War, Peace, War) are too much to be crammed int ...more
Sera
Dec 15, 2008 Sera rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sera by: Neighborhood Book Club
Shelves: non-fiction, own
It's tough to critique this book, because at times, it is so interesting, but at other times, it drags along. I think that it has to do with the writing style of the author. She's at her best when she simply tells the story, instead of attempting to string 100 facts together. Nevertheless, her research is astounding and there are so many cool facts in the book, especially those concerning Edith Wharton and Winston Churchill, that I had to give the book 4 stars.
Lincoln
I read this after visiting Marble House in Newport, Rhode Island, and standing in Consuelo's bedroom there and hearing the audio tour give a summary of her youth and forced marriage to the Duke of Marlborough. It all sounded so fascinating, And this book certainly fleshes out the portrait of her life. I enjoyed the book a lot. I may read Consuelo's own account of her life in "The Glitter and the Gold" one day; that sounds interesting too.
Pamela
I knew I wanted to read this the minute I read the NYT Review, and it completely met my expectations. From hardscrap NY to the Newport and Fifth Avenue mansions to English estates, titles, and a way of life that is almost beyond our imagination, this book covers what Downton Abbey now glosses over. Definitely recommend this, if you want a personal family perspective on an incredible era in history.
Natasha
Even I, with my love of all things regarding this time period, couldn't really get through this dry book. It skipped around from different years and then doubled back, making you feel like you already knew what she was saying. I also felt that important physical details regarding the main charaters were left out, which left me perplexed.
Chris
Honesty up-front. I did not finish this. It was a promising look at the pre-"Downton Abbey" age of society and privilege. A promise not fulfilled.

After a brief, shining start, this biography lumbered into a heavy, dull, uninteresting book. As the "Gilded" parts became fewer and further apart, my interest became equally strained. I came to the party expecting ludicrous extravagance, but left far earlier than is socially acceptable due to the arrival of a stone-heavy broad history of the times. It
...more
Kristin Winkler
This book chronicles the lives of two pioneering women: Alva Vanderbilt (then Belmont), and her daughter Consuelo, who is considered the archetype for American heiresses of the Industrial Age entering into arranged marriages to faltering Edwardian dukes.

Alva was an aggressive proponent of building architectural masterpieces in her years as a Vanderbilt, followed by a dedication to women's suffrage as a Belmont. In these roles as well as in her role as a mother, she is painted as a relatively uns
...more
Ameya Warde
I picked this book up thinking it was just a tale of two ultra-wealthy women living in the "gilded cage"... I was totally unprepared for the in-depth history lessons of the Vanderbilt family, the gilded age, Newport society, world war I & II... and most surprisingly, the suffrage/feminist movement in both the UK & America!

As an ardent feminist myself, I am surprised to find how much Alva Vanderbilt, especially, has been wiped from the list of important women of the American suffrage mov
...more
Rachel Crooks
Reading this book for me was like trying to eat a pomegranate. There is something good inside, but there is a lot of labor involved to get there. If you have patience, you will weather it out, but if not, the hard work will deter you.

On one hand, the real-life subject matter is intriguing: enterprising mother coerces daughter into unhappy wedlock with duke. It sounds like something out of a novel. What was behind this? Who was Alva Vanderbilt, and who was her daughter, Consuelo, that she woul
...more
Rebecca
This is one book with a second, different, book wedged in the middle.

The first half or so of this is an engaging portrait of high society life in the Gilded Age--fabulous houses, ridiculously over-the-top parties, strategic marriages. A treat for lovers of Downton Abbey, certainly.

The middle is then a history of the suffrage movement in both the US and England. Then, after women get the vote, it kind of swings back into high society with a bit of WWII thriller.

Consuelo, especially, had a fascina
...more
Maura
Ever since visiting Biltmore in NC a few years ago, I've been reading up on the Vanderbilts. I knew a little about Fred, the one who built the Hyde Park mansion, and Biltmore got me curious about all the others. So I've been working my way through many different books about the various family members. Consuelo intrigued me because of the story of her mother forcing her to marry the Duke of Marlborough. This book is about both the women in that story.

It starts with a brief history of the Vanderbi
...more
Angela Abbatiello
I really liked it. I've been obsessed with Blenheim and the Marlboroughs--especially Consuelo--since I was a little girl, so it was great to fill that out with some actual history. I may not have made it all the way to the end, though. I wasn't that interested in the mother-daughter dynamic after Consuelo had married and divorced, or their involvement with politics.
Jeni Enjaian
I'm glad that I've already read a book about the Churchills and thus learned a little about Alva and Consuelo beforehand. I really can't recommend it.
To start, the author indulges in a bit of fiction-like narrative describing Consuelo's wedding before reverting to semi-traditional narrative for the remainder of the book. That being said, she also lacks clear transitions between generations when discussing Alva's background. Her transitions in general are pretty poor. The tense is dense and lack
...more
Tracy
A fascinating portrait of the Gilded Age (especially interesting to those who are fans of the likes of Edith Wharton, especially since Wharton is rumored to have based characters on the Vanderbilt ladies). There's quite a bit of speculation that I felt was delivered as just shy of fact (I don't necessarily disagree that it was pretty close to the truth, but it made the narrative sound slightly imbalanced), such as that Consuelo only consented to give up another man and marry the Duke because if ...more
Emily
I finally finished this book in it's entirety after starting several months ago. It is a very interesting history of two of the Vanderbilt women and their marriages as well as their involvement in the suffragette movements of the US and England. I recently visited Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, and it was very interesting to be in the home of Consuelo Vanderbilt (after her mother Alva married her off to the 9th Duke of Marlborough). Fun to see the portraits of her in the grand estate, and inter ...more
Rachel Jones
A well researched and written exploration of a tempestuous mother/daughter relationship, plus some history of the Women's Suffrage movement.
PastAllReason
A well-written and thoroughly reserached book that presents both Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt in a careful manner that was sympathetic, yet realistic. Context was provided for both of the women in a way that explained where they had come from and how this shaped who they were.

Prior to reading the biography my knowledge of either of the women was limited to a mother who plotted to make her daughter a duchess with a pricetag in the millions, and that the marriage fell apart once "the heir and spa
...more
Jourdan Zambrano
This book was wonderfully written, and you can really tell that Stuart was completely wrapped up in the Vanderbilt women. She humanized the Vanderbilts, even offering reasonable, subjective excuses behind some of the crueler behavior of Alva. However, I think that there was a lot of uninteresting aspects of this book (ie, the Duke's political career, and the LACK of juicy details regarding the 'beastly' behavior of Marlborough)but as it is a biographical piece, I expected there would be some sli ...more
Christine Rebbert
I don't know why I've always been fascinated by "the Gilded Age" but this book is a great one to feed that obsession. Meticulously researched (with detailed notes at the end) and probably overly rich; a very 'dense' read. I liked the parts about Consuelo better than the parts focusing on Alva, although her later story provided interesting insight into the early days of the suffrage movement in the U.S. Consuelo comes across as a very sympathetic character. While the detail made the reading somet ...more
Jessica
Not bad, but not great. This is the story of Consuelo Vanderbilt who was married off, after careful and deceitful planning by her mother, to the 9th Duke of Marlborough. Consuelo was one of many American women married into the British aristocracy--titles exchanged for money to save expensive homes, Blenheim. To make even more interesting, the 9th Duke happened to be Winston Churchill's cousin. Consuelo once dined and stayed with Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle lived to see Queen Elizabeth II's ...more
Jovy
Interesting...Consuelo and Alba came from a different time...they were from a time which we call 'the Gilded Age'.

It may be shocking from our point of view at this time what Consuelo and Alba's way of life. But if you ask me, they would think the same of us if they were reading our story from this century. Everything from that time was extravagant - their homes, summer houses, clothes, parties, etcetera etcetera...

This was the time of the robber barons...the Astors, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Mo
...more
Shawn Thrasher
The first half (or so) of the book was interesting - but I'm definiely a reader in the "drag" camp. Some of the book, particularly the latter half, dragged and dawdled on. It seems that for Consuelo, her life settled into this easy complacency that's not all that interesting to read about. Even fleeing France in advance of the Nazis was strangely humdrum. Alva was definitely had a life full of passion and events, and the sections on her mostly made for good reading. All in all, though, I was rea ...more
Julie
Stuart has written an extremely readable book about two very interesting women. She tells the story of how two of the richest women in the early 1900s became involved in the suffragist movement. Stuart draws out the personalities of Alva and Consuelo to show how the stratified world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century upper class women in America was - and how different it could be from English society.

Stuart's a very good writer and she lets her subjects shine. It was a interest
...more
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