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Archie and Amelie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age Hardcover – June 27, 2006

3.9 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A great-great-grandson and heir of John Jacob Astor, John Armstrong "Archie" Chanler was born with the proverbial platinum spoon in his mouth but was no stranger to misfortune. His mother died in 1875 when he was just 13, and his father's demise two years later made Archie the de facto head of the family of 10 orphans. An eccentric who, Lucey concludes, probably suffered from bipolar disorder, Archie married the mesmerizing Amélie Rives, goddaughter of Gen. Robert E. Lee and a Virginia novelist whose scandalous heroines made her a literary sensation. Amélie was a master manipulator and morphine addict who refused her besotted husband sex and affection while spending his inheritance to refurbish her family plantation. The couple's divorce after seven years was fodder for the media as were Archie's commitment to a mental institution by siblings alarmed by his free-spending ways, his escape four years later and his lawsuits to prove his sanity and reclaim his fortune. Writer and photo editor Lucey ably chronicles the pomp and excesses of the Gilded Age, but her book bogs down in exhaustively researched details about a parade of glittering Astors and their retinue. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (June 27)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Amelie Rives' racy first novel, The Quick or the Dead, was published in 1888, making her the toast of two continents. In the same year she married John Jacob Astor's spectacularly wealthy but eccentric great-grandson John Armstrong "Archie" Chanler. The marriage was troubled from the start--in fact, it may never have been consummated. Both parties were highly strung, Amelie was addicted to morphine, and Archie didn't like finding himself in the shadow of his brilliant and beautiful wife (nor would he be pleased to find himself just a footnote in today's standard sources on American writers and American women). But even after their headline-making divorce and Amelie's remarriage to an impoverished Russian prince, he continued to throw money her way. Archie's many siblings viewed this as one symptom of insanity and had him committed to an asylum--from which he managed to escape four years later. This is really Archie's book, and he is portrayed with a measure of sympathy, while Amelie comes across as being selfish and manipulative. Lucey's highly readable and substantially documented chronicle is part Victorian melodrama, part Edith Wharton, and part Tennessee Williams. Add this to the nonfiction-that-reads-like-a-novel shelf. Mary Ellen Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; First Edition edition (June 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400048524
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400048526
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,633,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. G. King TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
I could not put this book down. That's something to say for a biography--or dual biography, actually. I was astonished at the ease with which Ms. Lucey spun off on side stories of interesting relatives or events without ever losing the train of the main story. Her depth of research, all well documented, is mind-boggling. Even the acknowledgements, where she tells about her interviews and the serendipitous discovery of an old trunk full of letters, was intriguing. Archie and Amelie were fascinating, larger-than-life people living in a larger-than-life age and circumstance. It's no small feat to present such a grand coming together and coming undone against an equally complex and theatrical backdrop. I couldn't help wondering if Margaret Mitchell knew of Amelie's story (which was well covered in newspapers at the time) and fashioned Scarlett after this bewitching woman since Scarlett's personality was dead on. It's one thing to read of such a fictional character, quite another to know the subject was a real person. All in all, a terrific read. Highly recommended.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I read the Kindle version of this book. The Kindle edition was fine---I had no problems, you could even view the pictures. The book itself was interesting but I did have some reservations. The summary of the book talks about a volatile relationship with drugs, wealth, and scandal. That would grab anyone! However, I found that most of that was just talk. Yes, those elements were present in the book and their lives. However, the book just falls short of truly engaging you in that scandal. The window that you are looking through into their lives is clouded because who they are is stated, but you never really get a true grasp of who that person truly was or what the real issues were. The drugs and illicit activities are hinted at but never really delved into. You do feel for Archie and Amelie but you come away from the book not with satisfaction of having read a good book, but with questions and not feeling like it was really ended. For all of the inuendo in the description, the book falls flat in comparison.
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Format: Paperback
This could (and should) have been a wonderful book, but it's not. The two lead characters are amazingly unique, earlier avatars of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda gliding through the Gilded 90s. This could be a blazingly brilliant movie. However, the book is poorly written. The prose is flat, dull, repetitive. Much too repetitive. A good editor would have pointed out that such-and-such a sentence doesn't need to be on this page because it already appeared a few pages earlier. How many times do we have to be told that Amelie's mother rationed her paper so Amelie sometimes wrote on the starched hem of her petticoat? Or that a relative broke the news to Archie in his school in England about another relative's death. We got it the first time. The second time insults the reader's intelligence.

A great story deserves great prose, not paraphrases of letters that are followed by the letters themselves. Again, too much repetition of something we already understand. I had such high hopes for this book, but I was very disappointed.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a trained historian, I can appreciate the dedication the author has shown in gathering a tremendous amount of data from the late nineteenth century. That being said, I can find little hard evidence that backs up much of this account Archie and Amelie Astor. With weak evidence for facts, this work fails as non-fiction. So, is there at least a good story in regard to love and madness? Not really. The author has added so many detours, that it is impossible to follow the lives of this couple at all. There's no account of any real kind of love story here, just a really poorly matched marriage. The madness is no more than self centered Amelie and a probable case of bipolarity in Archie Astor. Bipolarity is hereditary and had been earlier noted in the family. So aside from some nineteenth century phobias in regard to mental disabilities which were quite mild in affectation in Archie's case, we really have nothing here. This story would never have been told if it did not in some way relate to the Astor fortune, and unfortunately that fact alone simply does not carry the book. One last chance for a good story would have been in a clear depiction the elite social history of nineteenth century America. However, we have another failure as there is so little clear direction of anything as the author was so scattered in her presentation that the entire book appears pointless.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a book about real people that lived in the mid to late 1880s into the 1900's. ARchie is from the wealthy Astor family with tons of money and marries a woman from the south that has respect but no money since the civil war ruined them. She is a writer of "scandalous books" for that time. She is very exotic and Archie is obsessed with her. She dumps him and marries a Russian prince that has no money and Archie continues to support her and her family. His family turns on him and he actually serves 4 years in a rich person's nut house. It gives you a real taste of how "those people" lived during that time period. I love reading books about real people in the past, especially those that were really rich. A nice love story but kind of sad too.
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