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We Used to Own the Bronx: Memoirs of a Former Debutante (Excelsior Editions) Paperback – July 2, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"... a literary treat. ... Pell gives us a kind of cultural anthropology of the closest thing in America to a landed gentry." --Wall Street Journal Review by Sol Stern
"We all know what poverty can do--to individuals, to families, to societies that look the other way ... But what about wealth? What can the possession of immense fortune, over time, do to us? Eve Pell knows. Eve Pell, in this riveting new memoir, tells. We should listen." --Too Much
"...refreshingly direct ... Pell ... uses her lively memoir of growing up in aristocratic style to ask a series of provocative questions: Is it possible to choke on a silver spoon? What good is a sense of entitlement? Are riches wasted on the rich? Her candid account of bristling at her birthright transcends the stereotype suggested by the subtitle to divulge the psychic pressures of living with inherited privilege in a meritocracy-mad country ... To her lasting credit, We Used to Own the Bronx is a graceful object lesson in how perspective is gained not all at once but by accretion, the reward of years of methodical observation." --truthdig.com
"Eve Pell gives us a fascinating glimpse into a secret world of unfathomable wealth and privilege. Hers is an unexpected and ultimately hopeful journey of rebellion and reconciliation." --Jane Fonda
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Top Customer Reviews
Actually, I know something about the family myself, since some of my ancestors were Pells. I tell people that the fortune zigged and my branch of the family zagged, but in truth, they swam in that pond until my great-grandmother married an Irish Catholic (a worse sin than marrying a Jew) and was disowned by the family. That my great-grandfather converted to Anglicanism didn't change anything.
If anything, Ms. Pell underemphasizes the family's egoism. The family used to house its archives in a townhouse in midtown Manhattan. They published a quarterly magazine about themselves. They published books about the family, such as one called something like "War Heroes of the Pell Family," listing page after page of able bodied men who avoided combat by snagging billets at supply depots and training commands.
The author's rare note of moderation is all the more unusual since the highs (and presumably the lows - they are, or were until this book came along, more private) are largely exaggerated. You can start with the title. The Pells never "owned The Bronx," the Morris family, older and far more accomplished than the Pells, owned most of it. The Pells owned a narrow, 9000 acre strip along the east coast of what is now The Bronx and Westchester County.
The truth of the matter is that the family has been in decline for 300 years, staying afloat by strategic, gold digging marriages with robber barons they had only distaste for. This seems to have had the effect of breeding all of the love and human emotion out of their family relationships.Read more ›
A revolution and three hundred years later, the Pell family still believed in privilege --- Eve Pell describes herself as "a snobbish fox-hunting debutante" who was educated only because girls have to do something until their husbands appear.
Her husband showed up, right on time. Three children followed. And then something happened that wasn't in the script --- Eve Pell divorced, befriended the Black Panthers, made documentary films that explored the nasty side of American politics and, in her 60th year, became a world-class runner.
She tells that before-and-after story, briskly and with considerable flair, in We Used to Own the Bronx: Memoirs of a Former Debutante. If you've ever pressed your nose to the chintz-covered window of Old Money and wished you were born into a great American family, this is the book you need --- Pell will take you inside the mansion and share every glorious and terrible secret of the aristocracy.
Her mother was so self-involved she never told Eve she loved her until she was 68 and failing. Her father was so cheap he went to a dentist in Queens. Her stepfather's solution to her brother's bed-wetting: take him to the basement, spank him with a dog collar. Such was life in the mansions of her youth. "Books and servants," she writes. "They were the consolations."
How cruel is exclusivity? Try this:
"A boarding school classmate of mine told me about the childhood game called "Club" that she played at private school in first grade. "The point of Club was that two or three girls would belong and gather under the sliding board at recess.Read more ›
I grieved, as Eve does, over the appalling treatment her brother received--although his parents, tragically, apparently meant to do well by this difficult boy, but they had no instinct for parenting. That they felt the need to follow a very, very mis-guided parenting manual makes for pitiable reading.
As for Eve's descriptions of the nearly vanished debutante traditions, it was fun to read and remember. Being a product of a boarding school myself who "came out" at the Boston Cotillion before going on to Radcliffe, I was charmed by Eve's description of how we dressed, how we behaved and those crazy parties we went to--although she went to far more (and far more glamorous ones) than we Cambridge girls did. My own wonderful brother, a Groton graduate who went on to Harvard, was far busier than I trucking back and forth to New York for the parties. I wonder if Eve knew him...All the same, Boston was not exactly bereft of debutante gaiety....oh, such a long time ago.
I suspect, and Eve hints, that her stunningly beautiful mother vaguely understood that she was not doing the job required for her children---and when Eve finally summoned the courage to tell her so, she spent the next day in bed weeping. That says a lot.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Nice book! Good historic info for this Bronx girl who grew up nearby.Published 8 months ago by L. A. Ibrahim
There was a little bit of whiny-ness involved, the poor little rich girl syndrome. However, I liked her family very much, and learned about a society that I would never have... Read morePublished 20 months ago by The Sassy Countess
Eve Pell is to be commended for writing about her family, their foibles & their inability to change while all around was changing. Read morePublished on September 22, 2013 by THBz
Interesting and provocative look at how extreme wealth through the generations can erode the very best of someone's humanity. XxxxxPublished on May 19, 2013 by Lawrence
This Memoir is a look into the defunct world of America's elite WASP upperclass. The author shows how trapped she felt and how she "escaped" - like a" Junior Miss"... Read morePublished on April 10, 2013 by Pamela S. Lord
And has lived a fascinating life to match. I first found her in a New York Times Modern Love Column about her marriage to a fellow runner and her courtship with him. Read morePublished on March 29, 2013 by Constant Reader
This should have had more information about the past Pells. She dwelt too much on her radical past. It was boring after awhile. She came across as a malcontent. Read morePublished on February 27, 2013 by AG
Eve Pell writes in such a way that it is easy to understand her even if you have no idea what she is talking about.Published on February 14, 2013 by Anne G. Debenham
We live near Fort Ticonderoga, so anything to do with the Fort or the Pell Family interests us. This book was very well written and very interesting to us.Published on December 18, 2012 by Kenneth Engler