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by Alfred Allan Lewis

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-670-85810-2
Publisher: Viking

This multiple biography illuminates a curious group of four turn-of-the-century American women, their lives intertwined

personally and professionally.

Lewis (The Evidence Never Lies, 1984, etc.) does not so much weave together as dart among the lives of Elisabeth (Bessie)

Marbury, Elsie de Wolfe, Anne Morgan, and Anne Vanderbilt—as well as many of their contemporaries, from Emma Lazarus

and Edith Wharton to Eleanor Roosevelt. No dilettante socialites here. De Wolfe came to be a legendary figure in the world of

interior decorating, but her work as a volunteer nurse in the horrifying burn units of WWI frontline hospitals is less well known.

Morgan, of the noted capitalist family, devoted her life first to working women in the US, then to the civilian relief effort in

France during both wars. Vanderbilt, n‚e Harriman, dedicated herself to the French under siege as well. All three were honored

by the French government for their efforts. Marbury, who also worked hard in the French and Allied causes but was ignored when

honors were bestowed, is nevertheless probably the most interesting of the four. With charm and chutzpah, she launched herself

as a representative of such playwrights as Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, No‰l Coward, and Cole Porter, and built her

agency into an international presence. Turning her energies to politics, she became a Democratic National Committeewoman and

an early supporter of FDR. Marbury and De Wolfe were personal partners for more than 20 years; Morgan had relationships with

both Marbury and Vanderbilt, among others; Sutton Place, where all four had homes, was described as a "sapphic enclave." A

host of notables, from Stanford White and Bernard Berenson to Fannie Hurst and the Duchess of Windsor, play cameo roles in

this saga, which stretches from Marbury’s birth before the Civil War to Morgan’s death in 1952.

Fragmented, but full of titillating tidbits that whet the appetite for fuller portraits of these remarkable women and their work.