The Gilded Edge: Two Audacious Women and the Cyanide Love Triangle That Shook America

Dutton. Oct. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9780593182925. $28. BIOG
Poet Nora May French (1881–1907) is perhaps best known for her death by cyanide poisoning, but this thoroughly researched biography by Prendergast (English, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Buying into English) instead reports on the writer’s complicated life. French had many failed romantic relationships, including some with married men; several abortions; and strained friendships with other writers. Prendergast focuses particularly on these friendships, especially French’s involvement with the married couple George and Carrie Sterling. Each chapter of the book begins with a story about Nora or Carrie and ends with Prendergast’s take on how the story’s events unfolded. Informed by poems and letters, and conversations with librarians, archivists, and historians, Prendergast pieces together French’s life. Many of French’s letters were archived under the names of her more famous boyfriends, which spurs Prendergast to discuss other forgotten women who may also be lost in the archives. Literary scholars will recognize some of the many other figures who appear in this Gilded-Age biography, like Jack London. Interspersed with excerpts of French’s poems, Prendergast gives readers an inside look at what went on behind the writing.
VERDICT This well-organized biography reads almost like historical fiction; readers are reminded that this is a true story when Prendergast inserts her witty intellectual commentary.
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