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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two for the price of one - a new look at two practical society Queens
This is a dual biography of Alva and Consuelo Vanderbilt. Alva Vanderbilt was one of the great society hostesses of the Gilded Age in New York. When her daughter Consuelo married the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1895 in New York it was a sensation and considered an amazing catch for the bride. It was only afterwards that stories started to filter out about a forced...
Published on February 25, 2006 by K. Maxwell

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81 of 88 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, fascinating but flawed...
Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart is an ambitious and fascinating book, but it is not without some major flaws. I would rate it four stars for the story, but only two for the writing.

Born into a prominent Southern family, Alva Erskine Smith was always ambitious, headstrong and...
Published on May 10, 2006 by Cynthia K. Robertson


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81 of 88 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, fascinating but flawed..., May 10, 2006
Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart is an ambitious and fascinating book, but it is not without some major flaws. I would rate it four stars for the story, but only two for the writing.

Born into a prominent Southern family, Alva Erskine Smith was always ambitious, headstrong and rebellious. She spent the Civil War years in Europe, returning to New York City after the war. Unfortunately, her father suffered financial setbacks because of the war, and so it was important for Alva to marry into wealth. At this time, Commodore Vanderbilt was considered vulgar by society queen, Mrs. Astor, and excluded from NY society. Alva married the Commodore's wealthy grandson, William Kissam Vanderbilt. Soon, Alva convinced all the Vanderbilt's that they should use their money to become great patrons of the arts. She compared them to the Medici's of Florence, and encouraged them to create homes that were not only works of art, but showed good taste, culture, and the importance of the family. Soon, Mrs. Astor was knocking on their door. Her two great creations were the mansion at 660 Fifth Avenue in NYC and Marble House in Newport, RI.

Alva's other great work of art was her only daughter, Consuelo. Consuelo was a beautiful heiress and one of the most eligible girls at the time. Alva forced Consuelo to break a secret engagement to Winthrop Rutherfurd in order to marry the 9th Duke of Marlborough. The marriage was orchestrated for a number of reasons, but mainly to provide acceptance to the newly divorced Alva and to provide Vanderbilt millions to the cash-strapped duke.

Unfortunately, Stuart had errors and mistakes too numerous to mention. First, there were research errors. Tsarina Alexandra is the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, not a great granddaughter. Also, Stuart implies that Winthrop Rutherfurd was a gold digger, and that both his wives were wealthy socialites. Lucy Mercer may have come from a prominent family, but she wasn't wealthy. In fact, that is why Lucy ended up employed as Eleanor Roosevelt's social secretary, which led to her affair with Franklin D. Roosevelt. It makes me wonder about the accuracy of all Stuart's research. There were also major spelling, vocabulary and grammatical errors. The last course of a meal is spelled dessert. She inappropriately describes a pearl choker of Consuelo's as being "infamous." And Stuart has problems with subject-verb agreement as in "the French army were having no success." Also, army in this instance should be capitalized. I noticed that some items in the index weren't always correct with page numbers. And the book was filled with many, many French words and phrases with no translations. Taken as a whole, these things detracted from my enjoyment of the book and I wondered where her editor was on this.

Still, Consuelo and Alva covers a fascinating time in both American and European history. Alva and Consuelo grew up in the middle of the Gilded Age, and when Consuelo moved to England, she witnessed the end of the Victorian and the Edwardian Eras. Stuart also takes us through both World Wars. Alva became a very active, generous and sometimes militant participant in the Suffrage Movement. While living in the "gilded cage," they both desired something more. "Alva ultimately rejected the caged life herself, though she tried ruling it first." Consuelo desired to "step outside the cage, without wishing to leave it completely." And while Alva grew to detest society, she could never abdicate the power that came from having a fortune at her disposal. They both also had to juggle what should be the role of women and what was best to make them happy.

Overall, I enjoyed Consuelo and Alva. Unfortunately, I felt that Stuart's errors kept this from being a truly great book.
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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two for the price of one - a new look at two practical society Queens, February 25, 2006
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This is a dual biography of Alva and Consuelo Vanderbilt. Alva Vanderbilt was one of the great society hostesses of the Gilded Age in New York. When her daughter Consuelo married the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1895 in New York it was a sensation and considered an amazing catch for the bride. It was only afterwards that stories started to filter out about a forced marriage by Alva.

This biography is well researched and supplies a lot of new information on both women. The author hasn't made the mistake of assuming everything the women wrote in their own memoirs was accurate and has double checked all her facts - which sometimes corrects errors previous published biographies of these ladies.

The book gives a good and detailed history as to the causes of both women's divorces and how both of them changed over the years with the times and how their interests changed - both of them coming to have a strong impact on social welfare and women's sufferage programs in both America and England. For a new look at these women's lives this book is a must - and is much more detailed than other biographies found in other books such as "The Vanderbilt Women" or more general histories on the Gilded Age. There's much more to these ladies than great architecture or parties even if they were social leaders of their times.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Facinating subject, but not without some problems, January 13, 2008
In Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt, Amanda Mackenzie Stuart gives her reader a glimpse into the lives of two fascinating women: Alva, the daughter of a less-than-400-family married into the fabulously wealthy Vanderbilt clan and made them into what they became. She was a forcefully dynamic woman who encouraged her children to be independent, yet stifled them. Consuelo, on the other hand, emerges as a more sympathetic character; married to the Duke of Marlborough at age 18, she was forced to give up the man she loved so that her mother's ambitions could be realized.

The subject matter is fascinating, but I thought that the book was a little too dense at times; I thought that the author tried to bite off too much at once. Her original intent had been to make this book solely into a biography of Consuelo, but was misguidedly advised to include Alva as well. The result is that the book covers a large period of time and tends to wander a bit. Also, Consuelo's story covers about ¾ of the book, while Alva, who was probably a more interesting woman, is left in the background.

There were little things that I didn't like about this book as well. First there were too many French words that were left untranslated. Second the author goes into meticulous and I might even add sleep-inducing detail over every. Single. Little. Thing, which took away from my enjoyment of the book.

However, I truly enjoyed the subject matter. And I thought it was well-researched; it turns out that the mag rag Town Topics (an early precursor to the tabloid magazine) had a lot to say about the Vanderbilts, and believe it or not, sometimes their information was actually correct. I thought it was interesting, too, how society doyennes created the idea of a press agency, working the press according to their own agendas. It was kind of a Catch-22, in its own way.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read... but overextended for one book, May 20, 2006
I gave this 5 stars because it's an achievement for the author to put all this together. I enjoyed it all and learned a lot. There were times I couldn't put it down. I almost held back a star because sometimes I lost the forest for the trees. This cries out to be published as three solid volumes because two dynamic lives and several periods of history (US: post-Civil War, Gilded Age, Sufferage Movement/War and Europe: Victorian, Edwardian, Suffrage, War, Peace, War) are too much to be crammed into one book.

Mackenzie Stuart gives us a riviting description of how Alva took the less than 400 caliber Vanderbilt Family to the pinnacle of American social prominence through determination, further inherited $, architectually distinctive houses and great entertaining. Alva, perhaps understood society of her times all too well. The only career for a woman was the one that she had, so she made certain her daughter had the tools of the trade (thereby cementing her position as well). She groomed Consuelo through carefully supervised tutoring, backbraces for regal posture, hectoring and isolation for a role in the European aristocracy.

Untold is William K. Vanderbilt's family role, how Alva raised the sons or how Consuelo related to the male family members. I'd like a little more on Rutherford. The Lucy Mercer connection alone makes him more worthy than Alva's dimissive opinion. Did Alva bootstrap all the other Vanderbilts and the Smiths with her? How did they respond to society and the sequestering of Consuelo? Three volumes would allow for this.

Stuart Mackenzie's description of the Consuelo's welcome to rural feudal England of the 1890's is amazing. Also amazing are descriptions of how the aristocracy barged in on one another for extended stays expecting to be dined and constantly entertained. For the Prince of Wales' visit the Marlboroughs puchased new wardrobes so they could change 6 times each day. Logistics managed by the young Duchess included seating protocol for the aristocrats, but also the mixing of household servants (can a governess of a future Prince of Wales, dine with a governess of a young Duke? and there was only one bathroom in Blenheim).

Another reviewer noted an error in the section about the Tzarina which was probably due to so much content cramming. I missed the error because I stuck on the meaning of Alexandra's not granting the Marlboroughs an "audience". (Were the Marlboroughs snubbed?) I think a 3 vol. treatment would have been more thorough here and would have time to analyse the begging question: Did Consuelo do for the Marlboroughs what Alva did for the Vanderbilts? and smaller curiosities: the effects of the joint custody arrangement... the Duke's finances without Consuelo.. society's reaction to the Duke's courtship of/marriage to Gladys... Alva's reaction to the divorce... William K's expanded role... Consuelo's route to activism.

The sections on activism, the war, and Alva and Consuelo's later life don't seem to have the energy of the earlier chapters. While this is a tremendous compilation of the known record, the author (perhaps exhausted from the first two parts) seems to lose the personal relationship she has with her subjects.

This could be a magnificent trilogy. The author has a great style, extensive knowledge of the period and a love for her subjects. Fortunately (because it's a good book and needs to be read and acknowledged) and unfortunately (because there are holes), this book is done. We readers will have to wait for others to fill in the blanks.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than just a biography, July 27, 2009
This is one of those wonderful biographies that gets me folding up the bottom corner of countless pages, just to remind myself to find out more about something mentioned in the text. From the intricate family tree of the Spencer-Churchills to the two-degrees-of-separation that is endemic to the upper classes -- did you know that Consuelo's second husband's brother was Coco Chanel's lover? I didn't! -- I was constantly putting the book down and Wikipedia-ing a name or a place. It's not a fluffy biography...the author's voice is best described as "Textbook Lite", but it's not off-putting at all. A fascinating examination of two women who were restricted by their circumstances, but refused to be imprisoned by them.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous subjects, excellent research, September 19, 2006
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HeyJudy "heyjudy" (East Hampton, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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I'll admit to a certain partiality towards the history of the American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, subsequently the first wife of the 9th Duke of Marlborough.

Growing up on Long Island as I did, where her parents had their original summer estate, the story of Consuelo's marriage to the Duke was well-known. Some referred to her bethrothal as a sale, a fabulously wealthy American girl traded off to be the bride of a titled Englishman who was close to destitute.

On a personal basis, my family was among the founders of the incorporated country club which, decades later, bought Consuelo's own Long Island estate; I married my first husband in Consuelo's beautiful English-style garden. Therefore, while I feel no sense of commonality with her, I do feel a connection.

Having said this, it will be no surprise that I have read most of the biographies and autobiographies of Consuelo and her mother, Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont. From this vantage point, author Amanda Mackenzie Stuart has done an excellent job in her book, CONSUELO AND ALVA VANDERBILT: THE STORY OF A DAUGHTER AND A MOTHER IN THE GILDED AGE. Not even Consuelo's own autobiography gave as clear a sense of her humanity as Stuart does here; similarly, none of the books about Alva and her dedication to the women's suffrage movement gives as good a picture of that lady herself.

Without question, these were two extraordinary women, sharing at least three stories. In fact, three stories may have been one story too many for easy integration into a combined biography that is manageable in scope.

The prose used by the author, while adequate, never crosses that important line to engaging. While the subject always is interesting, the book sometimes fails to be.

There are a number of niggardly flaws, admittedly minor at best, yet the quantity of these flaws, in such a serious work, disrupt the flow of the history. And I cannot understand why the foreign phrases with which the book is peppered never are translated. Surely not every reader of an English-language publication can be presumed to talk French.

Alva was a complex woman; by modern standards, probably one who was disturbed. In the simpler times when she ruled society, money easily smoothed over one's glaring peculiarities.

After the death of her second husband, she lost herself in the suffrage movement. That the cause was important and worthwhile, there is no doubt. This importance does not explain Alva's allegiance to it, however, which almost bordered fanaticism. Nor does this explain her self-centered vision of a movement that, ultimately, impacted the rights of women across the globe.

Her daughter seems to have been a kinder, more generous, personality, just plain nicer all around. Consuelo obviously had the greater capacity to love and be loved. Blessed with a very long life, she had close and loving relationships with friends, servants and, most importantly, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The part of the book about the suffrage movement does not sustain the pacing of the biographical sections, even though the juxtapositioning of the gilded age with the disenfranchised lower classes does provide food for thought.

Overall, this remains a work of the highest level of scholarship.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Glimpse Into Two Lives, December 19, 2006
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Foodie from Forest Hills "pvbm" (Forest Hills, NY United States) - See all my reviews
I didn't read this book for a while after I bought it, as I found its heft daunting. However, once I started it, I was totally absorbed. Mackenzie Stuart combines two stories in one. I refer not to the stories of the mother and daughter, but the combination of describing lifestyles that seem almost medieval and then telling the story of the women's suffrage movements in the US and UK from Alva and Consuelo's vantage points.

I can't speak to the few factual errors pointed out by one of the earlier reviewers. However, as for the subejct-verb error cited, although the phrase is incorrect in American usage, I believe it is correct in British usage.

I strongly recommend this to anyone interested in 20th-century social (in both senses of the word) history in the US and UK.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt, May 4, 2013
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This review is from: Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age (Paperback)
I started by reading The Glitter and the Gold, a memoir by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan. I enjoyed it so much, I wanted to learn more about her. In her book, Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother, Amanda Mackenzie Stuartt admirably fills in all the spaces left by the former Duchess in her own book. Now I have a greater understanding of what motivated both Consuelo and her mother, Alva.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the Edwardian and Gilded Ages.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating!, October 27, 2011
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Bronte fan (Spokane Washington) - See all my reviews
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Once started, this book was difficult to put down, even after having recently finishing Consuelo's book, "The Glitter and the Gold", which included similar information found in this book but presented in a different style. Ms. Stuart's writing style was easy-to-read and informative, and she included much more information about Alva and her relationship with Consuelo. It is truly remarkable how full a life both these women lived in a single life-span; and the influence they had on those around them (from American architectural influences, to the suffrage movement, to charity work in England and France)!
I oddly swayed between pity and envy when reading about Consuelo, especially Alva's control over her from the day she was born; but doubt Consuelo would have become the truly admirable person she was without this influence. They both experienced the grandest global lifestyle imaginable at the time (which Stuart describes in some detail); and Consuelo seemed to have taken full advantage of her opportunities to learn and grow as a person from those experiences, which seemed to have brought admiration from many of her peers. A trully enjoyable read!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Much of interest, some of not so much, December 23, 2013
This review is from: Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age (Paperback)
This is a biography of Consuelo, granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and of her mother. I was interested in the book because of the famed annulment of Consuelo's marriage to the 9th Duke of Marlborough, which annulment is learnedly studied in John T. Noonan, Jr.'s excellent book, Power to Dissolve Lawyers and Marriages in the Courts of the Roman Curia, which book I read 16 June 1973 and which was the best book I read that year. The sensation and controversy which the annulment aroused in the U.S. papers in 1926 are well related in the biography I have just read. I did not realize that the man who Consuelo was in love with and who she wanted to marry till her mother induced her to marry the Duke was Winthrop Rutherfurd--who went on to marry Oliver P. Morton's daughter and after her death Rutherfurd married the much younger Lucy Mercer, famous because of her involvement with FDR. The book spends much time telling of the extravagances of the rich subjects (kind of sickening, in a way) and of their enthusiasms and eccentricities. Some of that was not too entrancing.
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Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age
Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart (Paperback - January 9, 2007)
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