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A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts (Audiobook) Bets On...

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts (Audiobook)

October 2018

I enjoyed listening to A WELL-BEHAVED WOMAN: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler, which is narrated by Barrie Kreinik. This work of historical fiction tells the story of Alva Vanderbilt and her illustrious family. When it begins, Alva Smith is positioning herself to find a husband who will secure her financially and pull her family out of the tight financial straits in which they find themselves. With a marriage to William Vanderbilt firmly in hand, she pursues her next quest: to have the Vanderbilts, who are known as “new money,” accepted by the Astors and those with “old money.”

The book presents a wonderful picture of society at that time with all of its splendor and trappings. Alva has a love of and an eye for architecture, and I loved reading about her plans for her home “uptown” in the 50s in the city, when most had not gone above streets in the 40s. Everything was done to attract eyes and position. She throws a ball to show the house, and the “right set” is there.

She also builds in Newport, again creating a home that will bring her another notch of status. Reading about her architecture plans was so enlightening. She was consumed with every detail. As she and her family gallivant throughout Europe at every turn, they are seeing the best of the world, and thus it is shared with the reader. Ava works at everything, including setting up the best marriage for her own daughter, knowing full well how position matters. She is constantly positioning herself and her family.

Her husband, William, is not shown in a great light. He is a trust fund guy who dabbles more than he works, plays very hard and philanders. After 20 years of marriage, Ava takes the radical step of divorcing him, which compromises her social status. She negotiates a brilliant exit agreement for herself, showing her savvy. Ava always has had warm thoughts for Oliver Belmont, who clearly feels the same for her. You know that if the two of them were in a room, sparks were simmering. They later marry in what is by far a much better emotional situation for her.

Ava goes on to fight for women’s rights, including the right to vote, as a very powerful force in the suffragette movement. She places her power where it will work. While this does not consume much of the book, it does plant her squarely in a very different light from the society-scrambling woman who we earlier saw.

One thing to examine while reading is the deep divide between the very wealthy and the poor, and how it is pronounced in this story. Book groups will have a lot to discuss.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts (Audiobook)
written by Therese Anne Fowler, read by Barrie Kreinik