The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau By Julie Ferry
Aurum Press ~ Feb 2017
Review ~ J A Warnock
On 6 November 1895 Consuelo Vanderbilt married Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough. Though the preceding months had included spurned loves, unexpected deaths, scandal and illicit affairs, the wedding was the crowning moment for the unofficial marriage brokers, Lady Minnie Paget and Consuelo Yzanga, Dowager Duchess of Manchester, the original buccaneers who had instructed, cajoled and manipulated wealthy young heiresses into making the perfect match.
Fame, money, power, prestige, perhaps even love – these were some of the reasons for the marriages that took place between wealthy American heiresses and the English aristocracy in 1895. For a few, the marriages were happy but for many others, the matches brought loneliness, infidelity, bankruptcy and divorce.
Focusing on a single year, The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau tells the story of a group of wealthy American heiresses seeking to marry into the English aristocracy. From the beautiful and eligible debutante Consuelo Vanderbilt, in love with a dashing older man but thwarted by her controlling mother, Washington society heiress Mary Leiter who married the pompous Lord Curzon and became the Vicereine of India, Maud Burke, vivacious San Francisco belle with a questionable background, this book uncovers their stories. Also revealed is the hidden role played Lady Minnie Paget and Consuelo Yzanga, Dowager Duchess of Manchester, two unofficial marriage brokers who taught the heiresses how to use every social trick in the book to land their dream husband.
The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau dashes through the year to uncover the seasons, the parties, the money, the glamour, the gossip, the scandal and the titles, always with one eye on the two women who made it all possible.
Review By J A Warnock
Did you ever read an account of a historical event and think “Wow, I wish I had a seat at that dinner table” or “To have been a fly on that wall…”? If your answer is no then ‘The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau’ by Julie Ferry probably isn’t for you. If you answered yes, read on.
There is no question that a stupendous amount of research has gone into the production of this book but there is also a fair bit of imagination. Ferry uses fictitious scenes of her own imagining to stitch together biographical accounts, contemporary journals, letters and social commentary into a giant (I do mean giant; it is not a short book) patchwork of a story. This makes for a style of writing that not everyone will take to. The flow of more traditional narrative storytelling is regularly interrupted by this or that opinion on the subject and, while it is interesting and reinforcing, it can get a little distracting.
The narrative meanders around the topic of the business of Transatlantic Marriage brokering and its key players with no real predictable structure. There is no attempted to build suspense rather events are presented a historical fait accompli sometimes all at once. It reminded me a little of those stand up comics who start a story at the opening of the show and distract themselves go off on tangents, have moments and asides then have to come back on for an encore because they didn’t actually ever get to the point. Although certainly planned and undoubtedly clever, this can be tiresome and a little disconcerting.
On the whole, Ferry offers up a fascinating insight into an industry (for that is truly what it was) about which I for one knew very little. Rather than provide a dry historical account, her imaginative spice makes this a hugely readable book. Her ideas about what might have gone behind closed doors add both colour and interest and help the reader to identify with characters that may otherwise have felt aloof and unreachable. She offers a fly on the wall view of events and invites you to a seat at several high powered dinner tables as the story unfolds.
Thank you to Julie Ferry and Aurum Press for the ARC copy for review.
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