MRS. JACK: A Biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner by Louise Hall Tharp

MRS. JACK: A Biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner

Email this review


As graphic as the Sargent portrait she sat for, although the stance here is not quite as brazen, this is also a full-scale reproduction of New York born Isabella Stewart who came to Beacon Street, Boston, to be snubbed by the world she later scandalized. She became a legend in her lifetime; she left an enduring memorial--the Gardner museum or Fenway Court; and Mrs. Tharp proves to be once again a careful curator of her material which is innately more interesting than any she has had since the earlier Peabody Sisters and Three Saints and a Sinner. Frail in appearance, headstrong in character, ""life enhancing"" (her old childhood friend-Henry James), ""persecuted and mercilessly mulcted"" in her last years (the cicerone-procurer of her art treasures-Berenson), Mrs. Jack was always talked about, even though, as seen here, she hardly indulged in more than innocent coquetry and in the later years increasing eccentricity. Childless (the death of little Jackie at two was a tremendous blow), indulged by a husband who fades off the pages here, she did bring up three orphaned nephews with ""devotion and rigor""; hunted real tigers in the Orient (they traveled extensively); and she collected lions of all kinds, encouraging her proteges, discoveries and satellites. At her husband's death she built Fenway Court even though her extravagances were subdued; her penuriousness occasioned still further talk--Berenson said there were only two dog biscuits in the icebox... Mrs. Tharp, a solid biographer, stronger on documentation than imagination, lacks the flair which her subject certainly had, but there will be a readership as solid as the house which Mrs. Jack built on the Fenway.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1965
Publisher: Little, Brown