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A fabulously wealthy New York beauty marries a cold-hearted British aristocrat at the behest of her Machiavellian mother – then leaves him to become a prominent Suffragette.
Consuelo Vanderbilt was one of the greatest heiresses of the late 19th-century, a glittering prize for suitors on both sides of the Atlantic. When she married, a crowd of over 2,000 onlookers gathered, and newspapers frenziedly reported every detail of the event, right down to the bridal underwear. Even by the standards of the day the glamorous, eighteen-year-old had made an outstanding match: she had ensnared the twenty-four-year-old Duke of Marlborough, the most eligible peer in Great Britain.
Yet the bride’s swollen face, barely hidden under the veil, presaged the unhappiness that lay in the couple’s painful twelve-year future. It was not Consuelo, but her domineering mother who had forced the marriage through. This captivating biography tells of the lives of mother and daughter: the story of the fairytale wedding and its nightmarish aftermath, and an account of how both women went on to dedicate their lives to the dramatic fight for women’s rights, in the light of their own suffering.
‘Skilfully and sympathetically told by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart…It is brilliant…Mackenzie Stuart has treated us to some marvellous vignettes of life at Blenheim in the “Gilded Age”.’ Antonia Fraser, The Times
‘A dual life story that reads as pleasurably as the best fiction but with all the intelligence of a first-rate biography…completely absorbing.’ Amanda Foreman
‘It moves, entertains and intrigues.’ Independent on Sunday
‘[…]an intelligent, insightful and highly readable book about the gilded cage of aristocratic marriage.’ Daily Mail
‘The story of Consuelo and Alva has everything: glamour, money, gossip, intrigue and pathos.’ Harpers & Queen
About the author
Amanda Mackenzie Stuart was born in Edinburgh in 1954. A graduate of the National Film and Television School, she spent the first part of her career as a scientific filmmaker before joining Renegade Films in 1992.
Screenwriting projects include a television mini-series adapted from Divided Loyalties by Janet Teissier du Cros and 'Number the Stars' by Lois Lowry. Her musical biography of Broadway lyricist Dorothy Fields was produced by HMR Productions at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1999 starring singer Morag Maclaren. She also co-wrote and co-produced Khaled El Hagar's 'Room to Rent' released in 2000, starring Rupert Graves, Juliette Lewis and Anna Massey.
‘Consuelo and Alva’ is her first book.
In 1875, the strong-willed Alva Smith married an heir to the Vanderbilt fortune in order to save her own family from further descent into genteel poverty. Twenty years later, she compelled her daughter Consuelo into a loveless marriage to the ninth Duke of Marlborough, in order to provide her with a career rather than an empty life. Mother's and daughter's remarkably similar trajectories through life difficult first marriages, happy second ones, social leadership, arts patronage, a shift into activism were shaped by the opportunities wealth offered and the calculated use of marriage as a business transaction in their class and era. In her first book, Stuart uses a remarkable breadth of sources to follow her subjects to Newport, R.I.; India; late Victorian and Edwardian England; the heart of the women's movement; and the south of France at the outbreak of WWII She tells a riveting story but keeps her distance from her subjects, not offering final judgment on Alva's coercion of her daughter or allowing emotion to intrude on the deaths of major characters. Still, Alva and Consuelo emerge as unique and fascinating characters, and the details of their lives and times make a very entertaining read.