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A Well-Behaved Woman

A Novel of the Vanderbilts

This book can be downloaded and read in Apple Books on your Mac or iOS device.


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 nine 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.

From Publishers Weekly

Aug 06, 2018 – As accomplished as its subject, redoubtable socialite and women's suffrage crusader Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, Fowler's engrossing successor to 2013's Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, again showcases her genius for seeing beyond the myths of iconic women. In 1874, 21-year-old Alva Smith and her three sisters have impeccable antecedents but no money. Marrying well being the only way to keep her family secure, Alva sets her sights on railroad scion William K. Vanderbilt. Her effort pays off William inherits $65 million in 1885 though she finds neither love nor sexual pleasure with her amiable, self-absorbed husband. Wealth offers scope for Alva's formidable leadership skills: in the same years she bears three children, wins the parvenu Vanderbilts a position in elite society, and collaborates with architect Richard Hunt on a series of influential projects. Impeccably virtuous and self-disciplined, Alva nevertheless faces frequent censure for her lack of feminine deference, particularly when, in her 40s, she refuses to ignore her husband's infidelity. Instead, she negotiates a divorce, weathers the scandal, and finds new fulfillment. The novel doesn't sentimentalize its subject's unsympathetic moments and qualities, and Fowler puts Alva in a clear context, revealing the narrow constraints of her era, class, and gender, and the fierce courage and creativity with which she negotiated them. 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. 100,000-copy announced first printing.

Customer Reviews


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A Well-Behaved Woman
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  • $2.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Historical
  • Published: Oct 16, 2018
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Seller: Macmillan
  • Print Length: 336 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: This book can only be viewed on an iOS device with Apple Books on iOS 12 or later, iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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