British author Stuart debuts with a saga of transatlantic maneuvers worthy of Henry James or Edith Wharton.
Alva Smith bolstered the flagging fortunes of her Southern, formerly slave-owning family in 1875 by marrying William K. Vanderbilt, son of the fabulously wealthy but not socially acceptable Commodore. The Vanderbilts had made progress in getting into Mrs. Astor’s good graces when William’s philandering prompted a scandalous divorce in 1895. There was no way daughter Consuelo could be allowed to enjoy true love with a respectable New Englander; Alva steered her into the arms of the Duke of Marlborough. A contemporary newspaper reported that the Vanderbilts paid $10,000,000 in order to join their family to the Marlborough line, and the duke certainly needed the cash: The same paper reported that he earned the 1895 equivalent of $40,000, but his palace at Blenheim cost $370,000 to maintain. Consuelo was none too pleased with the arrangement, in which she had no say; small wonder that she kept her groom waiting at the altar while she wept in the arms of her father, who had no choice but to persuade her to get it over with. Consuelo did, and Alva was soon reaping the benefits due the mother of the Duchess of Marlborough. Good thing, for she needed points to reenter society after her divorce. Declaring that she would never again be financially dependent on a man (save for alimony, of course), Alva later became a strong advocate of women’s rights—some said in penance for what she had done to Consuelo, separated from the duke in 1906 but not divorced until 1921, when she quickly remarried and found happiness among the nobility of France.
Capable rendition of an elaborate family drama.