The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.
This week I'm starting a new book -
American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, The Birth of the "It" Girl, and the Crime of the Century by Paula Uruburu
By the time of her sixteenth birthday in 1900, Evelyn Nesbit was known to millions as the most photographed woman of her era, an iconic figure who set the standard for female beauty, and whose innocent sexuality was used to sell everything from chocolates to perfume. Women wanted to be her. Men just wanted her. But when Evelyn’s life of fantasy became all too real and her insanely jealous millionaire husband, Harry K. Thaw, murdered her lover, New York City architect Stanford White, the most famous woman in the world became infamous as she found herself at the center of the “Crime of the Century” and a scandal that signaled the beginning of a national obsession with youth, beauty, celebrity, and sex.
Evelyn Nesbit was born Florence Evelyn, to loving parents in a city just outside Pittsburgh, PA. By all accounts, she had a lovely childhood - her father was somewhat progressive for the times, and gave her a good education, and she was lively and vivacious and engaged with life. Her father's early death was a shock to the whole family, forcing her mother to move in with various relatives and leave Evelyn and her brother behind as she looked for work. When Evelyn was a young teen, she was "discovered" and put to work as an artist's and later photographer's model. She was soon supporting the family, and her mother chose to exploit her daughter's moneymaking ability rather than allow her to finish growing up. She was soon to be "discovered" by the rich and famous in New York, changing her life unalterably forever.
So far, I'm still in Evelyn's growing-up years - she's just started posing for photographs, and hasn't yet moved to New York to begin her career in earnest. Her story has already become tragic, however, with the death of her father and the subsequent poverty of her family. It's sad to think what this bright, bubbly young girl could have become had she been able to have the normal childhood she started out with. Uburu describes how lonely Evelyn feels, even just starting out in her modeling career - she's isolated from other girls her own age, and forced to live apart from the friends she should be making.
"There was something magnetic and haunting about her large, smoky eyes and almost mournful half smile. It was an expression Evelyn adopted without effort - and without any prompting from the artists. Virtually all those who came into contact with her or saw her image tried to articulate what that expression meant, but were left unsatisfied. It is perhaps the greatest irony that in describing in her memoirs what she was thinking or feeling during those long hours of posing, Evelyn recalled that initially she was thinking about the most mundane things one could imagine. Or absolutely nothing."
This book has been quite interesting so far - Uburu has an interesting writing style that almost feels gossipy at times, but is the perfect tone for the events she is describing. I'm thoroughly engaged in Evelyn's story, and I haven't even arrived at the good parts yet!