Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.
Money can’t buy Alva Smith happiness, but she can use it to buy her way into the top of society in A WELL-BEHAVED WOMAN: A NOVEL OF THE VANDERBILTS by Therese Ann Fowler (October 16th 2018 by St. Martin's Press).
A WELL-BEHAVED WOMAN: A NOVEL OF THE VANDERBILTS is a historical novel based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont. The novel opens when Alva and her family are at their lowest – the Smiths are nearly destitute, and it is up to Alva to save them by marrying a wealthy man. So Alva marries William Vanderbilt, combining her esteemed bloodline and society connections for his family’s money. Alva then uses her money to build and furnish various mansions, commission the most fashionable gowns, throw the most lavish parties, and climb her way – the entire Vanderbilt family’s way – to the very top of society’s ladder of the most rich, snobby, and famous.
Alva isn’t always the most likable of characters – her desire to attain the most money, build the largest mansion, and outdo everyone else among New York’s most elite shows her as a spoiled, money-driven woman. Her constant grasping for the next rung of the ladder can get a bit tedious – why can’t this woman, who is married to one of the richest men in America, be happy with what she has opposed to always striving for more, more, more? While Alva isn’t always likable, she is a sympathetic character. She’s trapped in a loveless sham of a marriage, and her husband is cheating on her with various women – including her best friend. Alva’s marital problems, family triumphs and tribulations, charitable contributions, architectural interests, and passion for women’s suffrage humanize her character. It was not easy to be a woman in the late-1800s/early-1900s. Alva not only steps over the line of what was deemed acceptable, she shatters society’s standards and pursues the happiness that money has failed to buy her. Alva is a woman who wants more, and she goes after it whether it’s something that money can buy or not.
Fowler brings the Gilded Age to life with all of its wealth and extravagance. A WELL-BEHAVED WOMAN: A NOVEL OF THE VANDERBILTS is a compelling portrait not only of Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, but of the era. It was fascinating to read about the fashions, furnishings, foods, and customs of the time period. My only complaint is that the novel ends just as Alva is really getting involved in the suffragette movement.