The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio
In Deborah Harkness’s Time’s Convert, the appearance of the Marquis de Lafayette and his role in both the American and French revolutions piqued my interest in the French aristocrat who is still revered as a hero in the United States (one of only seven people granted honorary U.S. citizenship) yet denigrated in his homeland of France as a traitor. With almost one hundred pages of reference notes, The Marquis offers a definitive examination of the man and his complex life.
“The Marquis de Lafayette at age nineteen volunteered to fight under George Washington and became the French hero of the American Revolution. In this major biography Laura Auricchio looks past the storybook hero and selfless champion of righteous causes who cast aside family and fortune to advance the transcendent aims of liberty and fully reveals a man driven by dreams of glory only to be felled by tragic, human weaknesses. “
Auricchio’s narrative is informative and conversational – an easy way to learn history.
A Well Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler
The Vanderbilt name carries with it a sense of awe for me. I’ve heard of the railroad baron who built an empire and had magnificent homes in New York City with a “beach house,” known as The Breakers in Newport. I know about Gloria Vanderbilt of skinny jeans fame, and her son, Anderson Cooper, the blue-eyed white-haired newsman. But who was Alva Smith Vanderbilt?
Therese Anne Fowler reveals the story of the outspoken feisty suffragette married to William K. Vanderbilt, grandson of Cornelius and great great grandfahter to Anderson. In the first half of her life Alva does what is expected of her, marries into money and society, and works behind the ssenes to assure the Vanderbilt name is synonymous with wealth and power. But after being betrayed by her husband with her best friend, she divorces William and marries her own true love. Divorce in the Gilded Age was no small undertaking, but she manages. Eventually, in the second half of her life, with no husband, she uses her money and influence to fight for women’s right to vote and equality.
Although Fowler’s narrative is sometimes painstakingly slow and the plights of the wealthy seem overbearing, Alva rightfully takes her place among strong women in history.