So, this week I have been sat in the sun by the sea (very apt given the setting) reading one of the most interesting books I have read for a while. And whilst I still a few pages to go, I have to tell people what an enjoyable and informative read it is, and I have learnt alot about the high and lows of society life in this fascinating era. Highly recommend this title to anyone with an interest in history or the marriages of the rich and famous.
About the book
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
Before handed over to the author Julie I need to thank fellow blogger Joanne Robertson for bringing it to my attention in the 1st place – proving blogging does work. And the local library now have an addition to their shelves, so everyone’s a winner.
Guest Post from Julie Ferry.
As a journalist I was always interested in writing about women. I had interviewed some inspirational women for The Guardian over the years and really enjoyed understanding what it was that made them tick. I guess The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau is just an extension of that interest, with the added historical element. I was actually researching another potential book project when I came across Minnie Paget and her role as an unofficial marriage broker for American heiresses who sought a British husband with a title. I was intrigued by her entrepreneurial spirit in a time where upper class women were incredibly restricted in terms of what they were allowed to do. I just had to find out more. Then, when I began to research and found all these women who had come over to England with their fortune as their only recommendation, I couldn’t wait to hit the archives and uncover their stories.
Writing a group biography requires a lot of research, as not only do you have to get a sense of what each woman was like and the important events during their life, but in the context of my book, I wanted to see how much contact they had with each other, as I knew that high society at that time was a small circle. I began by visiting the British Library and travelling to places like Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, which held the personal papers and letters of Consuelo, Duchess of Manchester, who was also a marriage broker. However, I quickly found that although there is no substitute for actually holding historical documents in your hands, researchers are now very fortunate that a lot of archives are digitised and are available to access online. For me that was a lifeline, as I have two young children, and at the time of writing, one still at home, so it was difficult to carve out time for long research trips. Having lots of information available online enabled me to work in the evenings, and yes, until the wee small hours and meant that I wasn’t restricted by library opening hours or school pick up times.
However, I did manage one big research trip! I visited New York, the home of many of my heiresses and spent time engrossed in newspapers, microfilm and costume ball photographs, while also wandering the streets discovering any architecture from the period. It was an immersive experience and really helped me to understand the world that these women inhabited.
When I returned home, I visited stately homes, such as Blenheim Palace and found myself imagining how terrifying it must have been for an eighteen-year-old Consuelo Vanderbilt to see such a vast estate come into view from her carriage, knowing that one day she could be its mistress. I absolutely believe that there is no substitute for walking in the footsteps on your subjects when writing a biography, however life for a biographer is now significantly easier and more accessible for all thanks to the diligent work of librarians and archivists around the world.
Once again huge thanks to both Julie and Joanne.