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Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance Hardcover – March 13, 2012

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Editorial Reviews Review

Questions for Jean Zimmerman

What inspired you to write Love, Fiercely?
Love, Fiercely? is a dual biography of Edith and Newton Stokes. I first encountered the couple during research for my previous book, The Women of the House. Looking for New Amsterdam documents, I discovered The Iconography of Manhattan Island, Newton’s masterpiece. I first tracked down The Iconography of Manhattan Island on an out-of-the-way reference shelf in a university library near my home and was astonished by its size and comprehensiveness. As I hoisted its volumes, I began to speculate about the author of this heavy, densely packed, six-volume tome. What obsession did it spring from? And when I went to look up the author’s name--strange name it was, too, I. N. Phelps Stokes--he seemed shrouded in mystery. I could find almost nothing about him in books or journal articles. I wanted to know who had assembled this massive, marvelous work. Then, as I dug a bit and found out that his wife Edith had been a great beauty and artist’s model, the face of the Gilded Age, I was hooked.

What attracted you to the lives of this couple?
The contrasts that abounded in their story. Elegant, patrician, wealthy, they also worked down in the trenches to solve society’s ills. They were so active, so creative, so beautiful, that watching their downfall, when they lost their money and fell into poor health, couldn’t have been sadder. And the painting that immortalized them, by John Singer Sargent, was an aesthetic masterpiece.

Newton and Edith went through good times and bad. What held their relationship together through thick and thin?
They came from similar backgrounds, the group of New Yorkers that had been christened "The 400," supposedly for the number of elites that could fit into Mrs. Caroline Astor’s ballroom. Children of the elite were raised to marry within the tribe. Beyond their backgrounds, though, the two of them felt a kinship, a mutual respect, that came from sharing the same values. Both were progressives, and both believed in doing great deeds, whether it was reforming tenements in Newton’s case or getting the vote for women in Edith’s. They fell in love when they were children, a love that lasted until they were parted by death.

What was unusual about John Singer Sargent’s painting, "Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes"?
Before his portrait of Edith and Newton, Sargent always posed his wealthy subjects wearing elegant formal garb. In the portrait, Edith Minturn has a flushed, glowing countenance and is dressed as if she had just rushed in off the tennis court. Newton, too, wears casual clothes, white summer flannels. There is a feeling of action, of energy about the couple that was not apparent in Sargent’s other more posed, static compositions.

Daniel Chester French created an outsize sculpture of Edith that was truly larger than life. Let’s hear some of the stats.
The Statue of the Republic, as she was called, stood 65 feet tall, on a base of 35 feet, making her almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty. Edith, who was then 24, posed wearing a Roman stola with a crowning wreath of laurel. She held an eagle perched atop a globe in one hand and a “liberty pole” in the other. Working from a 3-foot-high maquette, French enlarged Edith’s figure until the statue towered above the "lagoon" at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, covered in gold leaf, the largest statue ever created in America.

What drew Newton and Edith together? What made them fall in love and stay in love for so many years, despite their differences?
Mutual respect and a shared love of tradition, of the past that was rapidly disappearing, and the sacredness of art.

Photographs from Love, Fiercely

Click on thumbnails for larger images

I.N. Phelps Stokes by Dewitt Lockman, 1930.
Head of the Republic.
Statue of the Republic, World’s Columbian Exhibition, 1891-93.
Mrs. Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes by Cecelia Beaux.


"Love, Fiercely is an exquisitely-rendered portrait of passion and privilege in the Gilded Age."
—Deborah Davis, author of Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X

Demonstrating the same flare as in her previous biography, Zimmerman (The Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant Built a Mansion, a Fortune, and a Dynasty) pays respect to the lives and times of Edith Minturn Stokes and Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes. Edith and Newton, as he was called, who married in 1895, were born in New York to immense privilege and became patrons of the arts and advocates for immigrant rights. The two knew each other as children and eventually fell in love. Newton, a respected architect in his own right, pulled together a massive multivolume documentary history, The Iconography of Manhattan Island, and Edith worked for many charitable organizations. Zimmerman chronicles their personal lives and love, from the heights of financial success to the depths of deteriorating health and wealth, while also encapsulating the era in which they lived. VERDICT With an impressive amount of research behind every page, Zimmerman manages to capture the sweeping drama of the turn of the century as well as the compelling story of a couple who knew how to love, fiercely. Her superb pacing and gripping narrative will appeal to all who enjoy history, biography, and real-life romance.--Library Journal

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (March 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151014477
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151014477
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #606,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a New York-based writer and I have made the history of Manhattan a central focus of both my fiction and nonfiction.

My most recent novel is Savage Girl (Viking, 2014) a mystery with a twist of fable about a "feral child" who gets transformed Pygmalion style into a Gilded Age debutante.

My previous books include the historical novel The Orphanmaster, which told the story of a spunky, beautiful heroine and her sensitive yet manly lover who together embark on a quest to solve a series of grisly crimes in 1663 New Amsterdam.

My most recent nonfiction work was Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance, a portrait of an iconic couple of Gilded Age Manhattan.

An honors graduate of Barnard College, I earned a graduate degree in writing from the Columbia University School of the Arts, published my poetry widely in literary magazines, and received a Writing Fellowship from New York Foundation for the Arts.

I live with my family in Westchester County, New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Book Addict VINE VOICE on February 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is such a lovely book. It is the real life story of Edith Minturn and Newton Stokes, two of the movers and shakers in the late 1800s New York. The image on the cover is, of course, by John Singer Sargent. The author has done a very credible job of recreating the era, breathing life into the main characters, and conveying to the reader just what a significant wave of change these two were both riding and also...creating. We always believe that is is only our own generation that experiences the angst of change, forgetting that this is, indeed, the history of time.

Edith...the beautiful socialite who is leading the charge on many fronts...independence, suffragette, intelligence. And her husband, Newton Stokes, nearly inconcievable wealth and social stature. It's a beautiful love story but not at all simplistic or predictable. And engaging book that is beautifully written. Get it!
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This double biography of Edith (Minturn) Stokes and Newton Stokes was inspired by the double portrait, "Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes," by John Singer Sargent, painted in 1897. Isaac Newton Stokes and Edith Minturn had been born into two of New York's wealthiest families in the same year, 1867 and grew up during "The Gilded Age," the period of rapid economic development following the Civil War and Post-Reconstruction era of the late 1900s. Although the Minturn and Stokes families were both members of "the 400" (the "haves" of this era, those who qualified to hobnob with the Astors) and both attended the same Episcopal services at Christ Church during their formative years, they didn't marry until they were 28 years old.

Details of the indefinite courtship between Edith and Newton, their eventual marriage, their Paris years and their subsequent lives that focused on philanthropy and preservation are skillfully covered by Jean Zimmerman. I felt immersed in "the age" in this comprehensive study of the progressive times, the habits of the very wealthy and their enclaves along the east coast, and the history of New York City.

Thanks to Newton Stokes, there exists today (mostly in university libraries, but also in private collections) a six-volume collection of the history of New York with maps and engravings. Invaluable, because, according to the author, "None of the contemporary histories of New York could have been written without the `Iconography' as a source." The acquisition of materials for his "Iconography" and the printing of 402 copies, combined with a tough economy (the Great Depression of 1929) reduced Newton's wealth of approximately $1.75 million to less than $50,000.

This book contains an "Index," a "Select Bibliography" and many photos and reproductions of family portraits by well-known painters of "The Gilded Age."
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By G.I Gurdjieff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
On the face of it, I liked almost everything about this book. It told the story of Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes and his wife Edith Minturn. They were a New York society couple who came of age during a period normally referred to as the Gilded Age (roughly the last half of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century) and remained devoted to one another for the rest of their lives. The author did a good job of describing the rarified lives of the extremely wealthy during the period of the Gilded Age as well as defining the social mores of the period. She also did a good job of introducing and familiarizing the reader with both the Minturn and Stokes families, describing the sources of their wealth as well as the family dynamic, and establishing their lofty roles in the development of New York City. As for Newton and Edie, the reader sees a couple who are rich in love and money but also committed social reformers in their own right. Newton is heavily involved in preserving and recording the history and development of New York and this becomes one of his many passions. Edie is a dedicated wife and mother who is active in the settlement reform movement. On the side, Newton designs fabulous homes for family members and is involved in building development on spec. The book also guides the Stokes through a life of incredible wealth and opportunity to a downturn as the Gilded Age fades into modern times and the economic depression that started in the late '20's.
I liked the descriptions of life in the Gilded Age and the curious stories of how the families developed and multiplied their fortunes. The family included Civil War casualty Robert Gould Shaw(known today for his part in the film GLORY), who was Edie's uncle. It also included through marriage communist Rose Pastor Stokes.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Utah Mom VINE VOICE on March 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was excited to read Love, Fiercely : A Gilded Age Romance by Jean Zimmerman for several reasons. First, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton is one of my favorite books. I was entertained by the novel The American Heiress, to which Love, Fiercely is compared. I've long been simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by the excess of this era at the end of the nineteenth century. I enjoy narrative histories and biographies, so needless to say I looked forward to reading this book.

Love, Fiercely is the history of Newton Stokes and Edith Minturn, both born into extreme wealth in New York City. Eventually they would marry, travel the world, influence art and society, and play their hand at philanthropy.

Full of information and details about everything in the era, Love, Fiercely excels as a history of the excess of the very wealthy and privileged class. Each home and summer "cottage" is described in detail, including having a Tudor manor house built in 1597 in England dismantled and shipped across the ocean and rebuilt in Connecticut. The author gives full histories of the art of the time period and especially the portraits of Edith and the famous statue for which she posed. Their service to society and Newton's career are discussed at great length.

What Love, Fiercely is lacking is the feeling of passion between Edith and Newton. Described as "the greatest love story never told" in the prologue I was anxious to read of their romance. However, the characters still remain flat and lifeless. The author shows only brief glimpses into their relationship and spends most of the time with describing the world they inhabit.

There were many interesting details about the era but ultimately, I found the book dull and disappointing.
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