Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Thoughts - Love, Fiercely by Jean Zimmerman

Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance by Jean Zimmerman
published 3/13/12

Synopsis from publisher:

The New York love story of a beautiful heiress and a wealthy young architect, captured in a famous John Singer Sargent painting.

In Love, Fiercely Jean Zimmerman re-creates the glittering world of Edith Minturn and Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes. Contemporaries of the Astors and Vanderbilts, they grew up together along the shores of bucolic Staten Island, linked by privilege; her grandparents built the worlds fastest clipper ship, his family owned most of Murray Hill. Theirs was a world filled with mansions, balls, summer homes, and extended European vacations.

Newton became a passionate preserver of New York history and published the finest collection of Manhattan maps and views in a six-volume series. Edith became the face of the age when Daniel Chester French sculpted her for Chicago's Columbian Exposition, a colossus intended to match the Statue of Liberty's grandeur. Together Edith and Newton battled on behalf of New York's poor and powerless as reformers who never themselves wanted for anything. Through it all, they sustained a strong-rooted marriage.

My thoughts:

First Impression (3/15/12) - I think this book could be right up my alley. I love a good biography about a strong, passionate, intelligent woman, and Edith Minturn certainly seems to fit the bill. The writing has been nicely detailed, but not so much that I feel like I am reading a history textbook. And I appreciate the humor of an author who chooses to include things like the Stokes' family summer vacation checklist:

"....ten servants, Miss Rondell, one coachman, three horses, two dogs, one carriage, 5 large boxes of tents, 3 cases wine...stove pipe, 2 stoves, 1 bale china, 1 iron pot, 4 wash stands, 1 bbl. of hardware, 4 bdles. of poles, 17 cots and 17 mattresses, 4 canvas packages, 1 buckboard, 5 barrels, 1 half barrel, 2 tubs of butter, 1 bag coffee, 1 chest tea, 1 crate china, 12 rugs, 4 milk cans, 2 drawing boards, 25 trunks, 13 small boxes, 1 boat, 1 hamper..." (location 855)

(Seriously! And my dad thinks my mom packs too much to go to Arizona for the winter!)

I am currently 35% of the way through the book, and Edie has just refused Newton's first marriage proposal - can't wait to see how this love story continues!

Second Thoughts (3/21/12) - I am definitely still enjoying the story of Edith and Newton, but less because of their romantic relationship and more because of the fascinating times they found themselves living in. Newton is one of the leaders of the movement to provide safe, affordable housing for immigrants. Edith leads the way in the creation of kindergartens for all children. I am really finding the details about their lives and the work they choose to be quite interesting. Much of what they do is ahead of their time (who knew that legal adoption was almost unheard of during this time?). It's interesting to speculate on what makes them choose the specific paths they take.

However, I am not caught up in their supposed romantic relationship. In the prologue, the author calls their story "the greatest love story never told", but I am not getting the sense of that romance at all. If anything, I can see their relationship as a extremely pragmatic decision on Edith's part. She knew she couldn't survive in a traditional marriage, so she found someone she could see would allow her to still be the strong, independent woman she needed to be. I believe their relationship contained a great deal of mutual respect, and probably affection, but I'm still waiting for the great romance.

Final Word (3/27/12) - This was good, but not for the reasons I expected it to be. I think perhaps the title lead me to believe it would be a grand, sweeping romance, and it really wasn't - it was an interesting look at two people who lived in very interesting times. I'm glad I read it - I definitely learned much I hadn't known before, but do feel a bit let down that it didn't deliver on my first impression. Recommended for nonfiction readers interested in historical biographies.

Finished: 3/26/12
Source: review copy from publisher via Netgalley - thank you!
MPAA rating: PG - some adult situations, but nothing overt or explicit
My rating: 7/10


Zibilee said...

I can understand that you would be a touch disappointed by a book that bills itself a great romance, and then fails to deliver on that count, but I am glad that you found other things to like about this one. It sounds like this would be something I would enjoy, so thanks for the great review on it today!

Carolynn said...

Hey- this is the 2nd time in as many days I've seen this photo!


mar10123 said...

It seems that the author's definition of "love story" goes beyond a typical moon-in-June romance. Love as a conscious choice, which is adhered to for the rest of their lives. Based on friendship and mutual respect - not a bad formula, after all.

Elizabeth said...

Heather - I bet you would like it. Lots of interesting stuff in here.

Carolynn - how funny! Maybe you are supposed to learn more about her...

Mom - I would agree with you about that, except that there was SO LITTLE about their actual relationship in the book. She kept TELLING us how much they loved each other - "it's so obvious that they were in love" - but never SHOWED us anything in their lives that backed up that claim. That's what I found frustrating. If she would have showed us a deep friendship, I would have been on board with it - I just felt like she demonstrated convenience, and not much more.