A Look into the Privileged World of the American Aristocracy of the Early Twentieth Century
Flora Miller Biddle was born a blue-blood. The granddaughter of the Whitney museum founder, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, her childhood played out in a sort of Wharton landscape as she was shielded from the woes of the world.
But money itself is not the source of happiness. Glimpses into the elegance of a Vanderbilt ball thrown by her great-grandparents and the yearly production of traveling from her childhood home on Long Island to their summer home in Aiken, South Carolina, are measured against memoires of strict governesses with stricter rules in a childhood separate from her parents, despite being in the same house, and the ever-present pressure to measure up in her studies and lessons. As Flora steps back in time to trace the origins of her family’s fortune and where it stands today, she takes a discerning look at how wealth and excess shaped her life, for better and for worse.
In this wonderfully evocative memoir, Flora Miller Biddle examines, critiques, and pays homage to the people and places of her childhood that shaped her life.
Biddle (The Whitney Women and the Museum They Made), president of the Whitney Museum of American Art from 1977 to 1995, examines her privileged childhood in this tender Americanized version of Downton Abbey,filled with estates, servants, distant parents, and all the trappings of aristocracy. The granddaughter of Whitney Museum founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Biddle was born into affluence in 1928 and slowly recognized the great disparities of wealth and lifestyle between her legendary family and their staff, which she now calls "materialism as transgression." Biddle details her family's storied history before sharing tales of traveling on a private rail car between the family's mansion on Long Island and their home in Aiken, S.C., enjoying a carefree existence hunting dove, riding horses, and participating in late summer fly-fishing at the family's private paradise in the Adirondack Mountains. All this was under the watchful, strict eyes of dedicated governesses, stewards, and guides who lived simply and subsisted on the patronage of her affluent family, about which she came to feel "embarrassed and ashamed." Returning in her 70s to her old estate in Aiken which had been sold and remodeled Biddle was "glad to discover that we both have a capacity for transformation and for growth." This understated but thoughtful tale provides a fascinating look at America's old monied class. \n