A Well-Behaved Woman is a gorgeous historical fiction book that I found incredibly hard not to fall in love with; Therese’s writing is so well developed & I loved knowing that the book is based on fact. I’m desperate for more of the Vanderbilts!
I was sent this book by the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
💋 🧑 📜 ♀️
⚠️ This book contains racism, sexism, Native-American slurs, some vague consensual yet uncomfortable scenes of a sexual nature, as well as very detailed sex scenes ⚠️
Alva Smith, her southern family destitute after the Civil War, married into one of America’s great Gilded Age dynasties: the newly wealthy but socially shunned Vanderbilts. Ignored by New York’s old-money circles and determined to win respect, she designed and built 9 mansions, hosted grand balls, and arranged for her daughter to marry a duke. But Alva also defied convention for women of her time, asserting power within her marriage and becoming a leader in the women’s suffrage movement.
With a nod to Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, in A Well-Behaved Woman Therese Anne Fowler paints a glittering world of enormous wealth contrasted against desperate poverty, of social ambition and social scorn, of friendship and betrayal, and an unforgettable story of a remarkable woman. Meet Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, living proof that history is made by those who know the rules—and how to break them.
Most of the time I don’t include the official synopsis of a book in my review, but I wanted to for this book because I had no idea how to sum up a story that spans so many years of such an incredible woman’s life. Therese’s writing is intoxicating, but so was Alva’s life, & upon finishing the book I was desperate to learn more about her & the rest of the Vanderbilts (a family I had never heard of before this book).
A Well-Behaved Woman isn’t an overly exciting story, there are times when you’re on the edge of your seat, but generally it’s a well-paced book that felt comfortable to read & one that you find yourself slowly falling in love with. Despite the fact that this book wasn’t one that makes your heart race throughout, I love how much I got sucked into it & I was desperate to get into bed each night so I could read it & get transported back in time.
Fact & fiction have been sewn together in a really delicate way within this story; sometimes I was so pulled in that I would forget that most of what I was reading was fiction based on speculation, but the knowledge that Alva & her family were real, that the landmark parts of the plot really happened & that the houses & dresses described throughout really existed was so thrilling. You’re so pulled in by the positive parts of the story that you’re desperate for every detail to be Alva’s true story, but at the same time it’s so hard to believe that people actually lived (& probably do still live) in this way.
This book touches on a few topics, & one of them is race… I loved the blatant anti-racist attitude of the book – it’s obvious from the second a POC walks onto the page that both Alva & Therese wish they could wipe racism out of our world & although at times offensive language is used to fit in with the timeline, you can tell from the start that Alva, & therefore Therese, want everyone to be equal & the book awakens inner frustrations about how unfair the world was, & still is. As a white reader I can’t comment on how well Therese wrote the scenes that revolved around racism; Therese didn’t have to touch upon the racist issues of the 1800s though, & I appreciate that she did.
This was a gorgeous book that transported me back in time, had me imagining gorgeous houses & praying for the best for Alva. So many times I found myself wanting to Google her so I could find out how the story would end, without having to wait to finish it… alas, I never let myself because I didn’t want Alva’s story to end, & now that it has there’s a dark space in my heart.
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