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Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.

Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance

Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance - Jean Zimmerman This double biography is as much an exquisite narrative of American life on the mid-Atlantic coast from the Gilded Age through World War I and the Great Depression as it is the story of Edith Minturn and Newton Stokes. Edith and her husband Newton grew up in the greater New York City area when Staten Island was a bucolic retreat from Manhattan, accessible only by ferry. Though both came from business-developing, world-traveling families with enough money to be included in “Mrs. Astor’s Four Hundred’’, their families also attempted to balance the inequitable world of the late 1800’s-early 1900’s through a variety of progressive causes, and Edith and Newton continued and expanded that tradition. Edith was instrumental in popularizing kindergarten as a way improving the lives of children living in poverty. Newton, who subverted convention by becoming an architect instead of joining the family business, designed inexpensive but sunny, healthful apartments at a time when New York tenements were dark, cramped airless tombs, with one filthy outdoor bathroom serving for an entire building. Edith was nicknamed Fiercely by her brother because she lived life so intensely. As a young woman Edith posed with upraised, semi-scandalous bare arms as the model for Daniel Chester French’s immense statue The Republic, which overlooked the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She later posed with Newton for an iconoclastic portrait by John Singer Sargent, whose most famous painting may be the equally revolutionary Madame X. Instead of sitting demurely in a ball gown, as was the custom of the age, Edith stood boldly in front of Newton, overshadowing him, with her bright face flushed as if she’d just taken a brisk walk, dressed in an attractive, but comfortable skirt and blazer outfit that verged on mannish. Newton, who pursued Edith for years before she fell in love and agreed to marry him, was more reserved than his wife. Bearded and almost solemn looking, he dressed with the care of a dandy. His life work and obsession became an oversize, six volume, thirty-nine pound set of books, The Iconography of Manhattan Island, that collected together every map, sketch, view, print, and fact he could find about the early New York City, from its Dutch origins, through the buttonwood tree on Wall Street where 18th century traders made deals, to the beloved but rapidly changing New York City of Newton’s youth. It was a project that, along with changing tax laws and the Great Depression, ate away most of Newton’s wealth so that by the time he died he was living in a two room apartment. The once lively Edith died in 1937; the more staid Newton lived another seven years without her. Given the Elizabeth/Darcy dynamics of their own relationship I loved learning that at the end of her life Newton read to Edith from one of her favorite books, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.