A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: 10/16//2018
My Rating: 5 Stars The riveting novel of iron-willed Alva Vanderbilt and her illustrious family as they rule Gilded-Age New York, from the New York Times bestselling author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. 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.
"Nothing short of mesmerizing." ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Genius....Though the novel's lavish sweep and gorgeous details evoke a vanished world, Fowler's exploration of the way powerful women are simultaneously devalued and rewarded resonates powerfully." ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A striking portrait of a woman ahead of her time and a true feminist icon." ―Popsugar ("The 28 Best New Books to Curl Up With This Fall")
"In this captivating novel about the indomitable Alva Vanderbilt, Therese Fowler plunges us with wonderful energy into New York’s Gilded Age. Alva provides a fascinating prism for the challenges and pleasures of era, and is endlessly engrossing as a character, full of action and vision and will―just the sort of woman I love knowing more about. I dare you not to dive right in."―Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin
“Oh how I loved every instant I spent in the world Fowler has recreated here. The story of Alva Vanderbilt is elegantly and empathetically told. Prepare to be enthralled!” ―Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of The Perfect Couple
“A Well-Behaved Woman is a gem: a fascinating tale of Gilded Age manners and mores, and one remarkable woman’s attempts to transcend them. Therese Anne Fowler, the immensely gifted writer who gave us all new insights into Zelda Fitzgerald in her novel, Z, has done it again for Alva Vanderbilt Belmont.” ―Chris Bohjalian, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of The Flight Attendant
"History comes alive in this immensely readable novel. Therese Anne Fowler takes us behind the velvet drapes of the Vanderbilt mansions in the late 19th century, exposing a world of passions and betrayal in which all is not as it seems. A Well-Behaved Woman is an extraordinary portrait of a strong, fascinating woman who rose above societal convention and even her own expectations to become so much more than anyone might have predicted.” ―Christina Baker Kline, New York Times Bestselling author of A Piece of the World and Orphan Train
“The story of Alva Vanderbilt is long overdue for a telling, but it was worth the wait. Therese Anne Fowler has brought this compelling, complex woman to such dynamic life that she leaps off the pages. This is a delicious book, as well as a timely one.” ―Melanie Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Girls in the Picture
"In another writer’s hands, Alva Vanderbilt’s immense wealth and carefully calculated life might have proved barriers to readerly sympathy. But Fowler’s portrait is so nuanced, so complicated by context, and so informed by her own capacious generosity that we can’t help being drawn in. A Well-Behaved Woman is a deeply and sympathetically imagined guess as to who Alva might have been. This is a wonderful book!" ― Karen Joy Fowler, New York Times bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club
"The best biographical novels reveal a life we never expected to know, and here, in Fowler’s jaw-droppingly brilliant A Well-Behaved Woman, she uncovers Alva Smith, who was supposed to be proper and conventional, but instead she not only launched the Vanderbilt’s Guilded Age dynasty, but dug in her heels to defy her times in ways that were nothing short of revolutionary. Not just breathtakingly alive, but dazzlingly and profoundly timely. A must-read masterpiece." ―Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You, Is This Tomorrow, and Cruel Beautiful World
"Activist, egalitarian, philanthropist, trailblazer―these are the qualities of a historic leader. In A Well-Behaved Woman, Therese Fowler illuminates the leading legacy of American heiress Alva Vanderbilt. Alva's gumption and glamour will resonate with modern women and remind all that history belongs to those who courageously persevere. A sparkling, powerful story that needs to be heard now more than ever." ―Sarah McCoy, New York Times and international bestselling author of Marilla of Green Gables and The Baker's Daughter
"To step into Therese Anne Fowler's stunning novel is to step into Alva Vanderbilt's rarefied world of sprawling homes, delicious society intrigue, and incomparable Gilded Age luxury. But there's so much more to this world than appearances would indicate―as Alva and the reader both learn. Fowler's heroine is drawn with care and complexity, a woman of exquisite taste and depth, and one who dares to dream beyond the stifling role which society has assigned her." ―Allison Pataki, New York Times Bestselling author of 'The Accidental Empress'
About the Author
(photo by John Kessel)
Therese Anne Fowler (pronounced ta-reece) is the third child and only daughter of a couple who raised their children in Milan, Illinois. An avowed tomboy as a child, Therese protested her grandmother’s determined attempts to dress her in frills, and then, to further her point, insisted on playing baseball even though Milan had a perfectly good girls’ softball league. She was one of the first girls in the U.S. to play Little League baseball.
After a too-early first marriage and a stint as the single mother of two terrific (now grown-up) sons, she went on to earn a BA in sociology/cultural anthropology and an MFA in creative writing, both from North Carolina State University. Her first novel was published in 2008.
A book’s fate is almost entirely outside its author’s control. Some are published with a lot of marketing and publicity support, but most are not. After the publication of three contemporary novels, each of which sold fewer copies than the previous one, Therese faced a hard truth: her career was in a nosedive. Her editor at the time felt she should take on a pen name and try again with the same sort of book, but Therese was not persuaded. She decided, instead, to write a biographical historical novel about Zelda Fitzgerald, Z, which was published in 2013.
Therese’s work has been translated into more than twenty foreign languages and is published around the world. Z is now available as an original dramatic series for Amazon Studios starring Christina Ricci, with Killer Films producing. (Amazon has elected not to continue with its order for a second season.)
What Therese has discovered is that she has an affinity for badass women from history whose stories have been either mistold or are largely untold. Her next novel centers on Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, a determined, opinionated, compassionate, often amusing woman from America’s Gilded Age. A Well-Behaved Woman, a kind of homage to Edith Wharton with a dash of affection for Jane Austen for good measure, will be published by St. Martin’s Press on October 16, 2018. A Well-Behaved Woman is in development with Sony Pictures Television.
Therese has been a visiting professor at North Carolina State University and occasionally teaches fiction writing at conferences and workshops. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and PEN America, she is married to award-winning professor and author John Kessel. They reside in North Carolina. Read More