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A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  6,752 ratings  ·  1,043 reviews
A novel of a family as they rule Gilded-Age New York,

In 1883, the New York Times prints a lengthy rave of Alva Vanderbilt's Fifth Ave. costume ball--a coup for the former Alva Smith, who not long before was destitute, her family's good name useless on its own. Marrying into the newly rich but socially scorned Vanderbilt clan, a union contrived by Alva's bestfriend and
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published October 16th 2018 by St. Martin's Press
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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 ·  6,752 ratings  ·  1,043 reviews

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Therese Fowler
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Yes, I'm rating my own novel five stars. Would anyone expect an author to do otherwise?

If you enjoy Jane Austen or Edith Wharton novels, if reading fiction about real figures from history interests you, or if you share a fascination with the Gilded Age and/or the Vanderbilt family, this book is for you.

Diane S ☔
Aug 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
THE GILDED AGE, a time of unprecented economic growth, the robber barons and their new money. Huge mansions, larger than life balls, and over the top furnishings. I have read biographies of Rockefeller, The Vsnderbilts, watched documentaries, where their wives were often side notes. If I thought about them at all, I dismissed them as priviledged, money grubbers and ornemental. Now, after reading this book, which tells Alva's story, I admit to that maybe not being the case for all.

Yes, she
Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader
4 gilded stars to a Well-Behaved Woman!

A childhood visit to The Biltmore Estate will certainly add Vanderbilt intrigue to one’s list of interests, and I lapped up this story of Alva Smith Vanderbilt.

Alva Smith’s family had once known prominence but lost it all; that is, until her best friend orchestrates her union with William Vanderbilt. The latter family is new money, but not well-accepted into society.

Alva works hard for the acceptance in society she receives. If she finds a door
Apr 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well behaved women seldom make history Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

A detailed, fast paced and well written historical fiction novel which is based on the life of Alva Vanderbilt the powerful socialite of New York’s Gilded Age in the late 19th Century.

I started out listening to this one on audible and gave up after a few chapters in favour of a hard copy and this wasn’t the fault of the narrator but I felt I needed to read this story as the voices on the audible felt just a little too frivolous at
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley

3.5 stars, rounded up

I’ve often thanked my lucky stars I was born when I was. The idea of one’s sole goal in life being to manage a “good” marriage is soul deadening. And when that prospect is hampered by a loss of fortune by one’s father…

Alva Smith is looking for a husband in the years after the Civil War. “The young men, who were outnumbered three to one...watched and smiled and nodded like eager buyers at a thoroughbred market.”

Alva’s straight forward, strong willed for her time. As she
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4.5 well done historical stars

They say you can never have enough money. They say that money can't buy happiness. They say that money is the route of all evil.

Alva Vanderbilt to the world had everything. She was married to one of the richest men in the world and could do whatever she wanted. She married William Vanderbilt, not because she loved him, but because her family was becoming destitute and Alva believed that in marrying William she would achieve two things, getting her family out of
Roman Clodia
The blurb describes Alva Vanderbilt as 'outspoken, brave, brilliant, fierce': what a shame, then, that the book portrays her as conventional, proper, limited by her attention to social mores and desperate to fit in - in fact, she's written as a generic rich woman who just wants to be queen bee of Gilded Age Manhattan.

After her family lose their Southern cotton plantation wealth (er, money made on the back of slavery - though Fowler is at some pains to show Alva treating her black maid as an
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Alva Smith marries William Vanderbilt when her family is destitute and headed for the poor house. The well to do in New York said she married him for his money and she did but he married her for other reasons and not one of them had to do with love. She made the best of a loveless marriage and actually helped the Vanderbilt's earn some semblance of respect among New York society. I may not have liked Alva Vanderbilt when I started A Well-Behaved Woman but by the time I finished the book I ...more
Cindy Burnett
May 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars

A Well-Behaved Woman is a fabulous story about Alva Vanderbilt and her determination to succeed in cut-throat, Gilded-Age New York. Fowler humanizes Alva and presents her in a way that will have the reader viewing Alva through a more sympathetic lens. The Gilded Age is a fascinating time period to me, and I loved viewing the era through Alva Vanderbilt’s eyes. I very much enjoyed this book and highly recommend it for anyone who loves that time period. I received this book to read and
Terrible, I must dump this. This was a huge disappointment.

I have read six chapters. I rarely dump any book and I only do it when I am sure the book is not for me. Both this book and the last book I have just read, Edith Wharton's False Dawn, are set in the Gilded Age. Side by side, the comparison between the two was shocking. I have not come far enough to say anything about plot composition; I am criticizing the prose and the inability of the author to authentically capture how people of
Nov 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and fabulous story of a strong, independent woman well ahead of her time.

Alva Smith’s mother was deceased, her father was ailing and her family was quickly becoming destitute. Her family‘s good name was useless on its own. She needed to quickly marry someone with money. Alva, with the help of her best friend Consuelo Yznaga, was able to secure a proposal from the young William K. Vanderbilt. The hope from the Vanderbilts was that Alva, because of her name, would put the
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars.
This is an enjoyable novel about Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, a noted figure of the Gilded Age. Alva was born into a wealthy family whose fortunes declined after the Civil War. After her mother dies and her father becomes ill and can no longer work, Alva sees the only way to save herself and her family is marry a wealthy man. To this end she manages to wed William K. Vanderbilt, the grandson of Commodore Vanderbilt, who built a fortune in railways. Theirs is not a love match, but
Oct 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, netgalley
Alva did not need to love William Vanderbilt; she needed only to marry him.

In the years after the American Civil War, New York's Astors, Roosevelt's, Rothschilds' and Vanderbilts were the cream of high society and advantageous marriages were at the very heart of the papers. Enter Alva Smith, her father ailing, her mother dead, it's up to Alva to elevate her sisters and her husband's family to the stature of leading New York families. But Alva wasn't just a mere trophy wife. She was a woman who
Find this and other reviews at: https://historicalfictionreader.blogs...

Knowing something about the history that inspired a story is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you’re dying for a creative mind to fictionalize the material, but on the other, you want to see it done a certain way and you get intensely frustrated when the author fails to deliver your private expectations. It is, of course, ridiculous to expect anyone to read your mind, but the disappointment exists just the same.

Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A Well Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts is a hybrid tale of fact and fiction, truth and embellishment. It explores the life of a strong and remarkable woman, Alva Smith, born into what would become a harsh world of poverty and injustice. Due to this, she sets her sights on William Vanderbilt and eventually, she marries into a life of wealth, prominence and materialism. This is excellent historical fiction that is full of intrigue and details of the elite world Alva finds herself in; a ...more
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“A Well-Behaved Woman is a gem: a fascinating tale of Gilded Age manners and mores, and one remarkable woman’s attempts to transcend them. Therese Anne Fowler, the immensely gifted writer who gave us all new insights into Zelda Fitzgerald in her novel, Z, has done it again for Alva Vanderbilt Belmont.”
-- Chris Bohjalian, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of The Flight Attendant
Karen Rush
Oct 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. I enjoyed Therese Anne Fowler’s ‘Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald’ and looked forward to reading her latest story of Alva Belmont Vanderbilt, her rise in social status and that of the Vanderbilt family as seen through Alva's eyes.

Alva is introduced as a dynamic young woman in the courting stage who catches the eye of William Vanderbilt, marrying him in 1875. I had no knowledge of her prior to picking up the book but could tell early on that this woman clearly had more purpose than that
Apr 11, 2018 rated it liked it
This was okay. I mean really, just okay. I think I skipped around a lot. BUT. I now know everything about the Vanderbilt family and other swanky 19th century families in NYC. So, I wasn’t a huge fan, but it did instigate further research.* Whatever. I love research. This book was kind of a win on that front.

*starts planning summer trip to Newport so I can pretend to be a distant relation.
Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede
A WELL-BEHAVED WOMAN is a story about the notorious Alva Vanderbilt who married a rich man to save herself and her sisters from destitution. Once Alva Smith lived a prosperous life, but that was until their fortune was lost. She has to wed really well and she catches the eye of William Vanderbilt from the very rich, but socially outcast Vanderbilts. Alva is hell-bent on getting herself and the Vanderbilts everything they want, no matter the cost. But, can all the money in the world buy her the ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
I have no idea why I read this book since (1) I seldom, if ever, read historical fiction, and (2) the antics of NYC "high society" of the Gilded Age give me a pain in the bum. So my review will be short and not too sweet.

The Astors, Vanderbilts, et al were the ruling class of society and were constantly trying to outdo each other to gain even more prominence. They built hideous, overblown houses in NYC and the Hamptons, bought huge yachts, and threw elaborate parties and balls that made
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well Alva Vanderbilt was a determined woman! This is a novel of the Gilded Age , an era I knew little about before I read this. This is a story of excess and ambition. I am inspired to spend more time reading books and novels about this period of American history. Thanks to Netgalley for giving me a chance to read an arc of this book.
A dnf for me. I won the audio book through the Goodreads giveaway program, which I very much appreciate. However...

Can't listen for much longer. Exaggerated, stereotypical 'rich folks,' and the opposite for the downtrodden. Stilted language where the obvious is often (over)expressed. I think that's often the problem with historical novels (for me): too much explaining; real people don't talk that way; it's not necessary to give a history lesson on every page.

And so, because I didn't finish -
Pam Jenoff
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fowler previously wowed readers with Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. She now takes on another remarkable woman in history Alva Smith, who came from a destitute southern family after the Civil War and married into the Vanderbilt dynasty. In the story, Smith struggles to win social status among New York's old money family, and goes on to become a leader in the women's suffrage movement. I loved this well-research and vividly rendered tale of unconventional and little known strength, set against ...more
Christina (Confessions of a Book Addict)
Alva Smith grew up in Alabama with her parents who were, at one point, well off. But all that has changed. Her father's heath took a nose dive and is now bankrupt. It's up to Alva to save her family by marrying well. Her mother brought her up to be not only well-educated, but worldly too. Her best friend, Conseulo Yznaga, an heiress, encourages her to go to a ball in order to secure someone with money. And she does. William K. Vanderbilt, from the famous Vanderbilt family, is interested in her ...more
“Alva did not need to love William Vanderbilt; she needed only to marry him.” I was a huge fan of Fowler’s Z and jumped at the chance to read this, but found the first couple of chapters utterly boring. Alva is one of four sisters and has an invalid father. She’s desperate not to become a spinster or a caregiver, so she goes along with her best friend Consuelo Yznaga’s plan to set her up with W.K. Vanderbilt, even if they share some lingering snobbism about his nouveau riche background. There’s ...more
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc, fiction, bt-e-book, 2018
A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the VanderbiltsbyTherese Anne Fowler centers around the life story of Alva Smith, a well-connected woman who married (and later divorced) William Vanderbilt.

I really enjoyed this book! It's technically a biographical historical fiction novel, so while the the conversations and meetings are mostly works of fiction, the events and timeline are all biographical. I don't consider myself a history buff, but I do enjoy reading books about women in history, since their
Theresa Smith
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
‘The wealthy have a responsibility to avoid decadence and corruption.’

A Well-Behaved Woman is the second novel in recent times that I’ve read covering the so-called ‘Gilded Age’ in America. This one was definitely the superior of the two, and in hindsight, I can’t help but ponder on the similarities between them. This one is based on the life of Alva Vanderbilt, while the other one was entirely fictitious, however that author did say it was inspired by well-known families of the Gilded Age, of
Catherine ♡
Some parts of this I really liked, while others bored me. I can still appreciate Alva as a strong female character—who was really strong in a sort of quiet, yet rebellious way.
Jul 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Alva Smith’s family could trace their bloodline to royalty of France and Scotland, but their fortune was gone.

William K. Vanderbilt is the third Manhattan generation of a wealthy family, but their bloodline has no connection to any royalty, no title or lands, nothing in history to claim glory, not even by extension.

The Knickerbockers of Manhattan closely guard their tight high society and will not let the Vanderbilts in.

Alva is so poor that she needs to marry into money soon or she’ll be looking
Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition
An interesting and beautifully written historic novel with just enough romance for emotional impact.
Therese Anna Fowler has a magical way of weaving famous people and historical facts together to make all her characters come to life in a timeless and engrossing story of the life and times of socialite and social activist, Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont.
As with "Z", her novel about the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, this book is meticulously researched and highly recommended.
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