A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts

St. Martin's. Oct. 2018. 400p. ISBN 9781250095473. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250095497. F
The 1875 marriage of Alva Smith and William Vanderbilt is one of convenience. Alva needs a rich husband to save her family from poverty after her father's losses in Confederate investments, and the Vanderbilts hope the Smith lineage of generations of prominent Americans and European royals will help them join the top ranks of New York society. Alva combines wit, intelligence, and connections to move up the social ladder yet chafes at the restrictions, longs for love, and finds her greatest satisfaction in designing ever grander mansions. Her discovery of William's unfaithfulness leads to an unprecedented divorce settlement that scandalizes society but leaves her independently wealthy. While readers catch glimpses of Alva's social concerns, only the final three chapters devote time to her second marriage to Oliver Belmont, with an exploration of her work for women's rights appearing in a final author's note.
VERDICT Fowler (Exposure) ably portrays the excesses of the Gilded Age but falls short in her avowed attempt to counteract Alva's reputation as an ambitious social climber. Expect high demand from fans of the author's Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and those who enjoy stories of the rich and famous. [See Prepub Alert, 4/8/18.]
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing