An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew

Written by Annejet van der Zijl
Review by Viviane Crystal

Allene Tew embraced life with panache and fortitude, never allowing personal tragedies the chance to curtail her future. Before her story begins, there’s an introduction to the immigrant experience of the Tew family, who started in America with literally nothing. This experience shaped Allene’s love of nature and the simple life, even though she later acquired financial prosperity. This is not just the story of the Tew family but also the story of the American nation as it grew industrially and financially in significant leaps and spurts. The book passes through Victorian times and the Gilded Age, during which the Tews indirectly achieved social and financial recognition. In a sense, the Tew family’s fortunes paralleled America’s development, with its notable growth phases and its plunges downward, albeit brief.

Allene married five times and lost two children and the one love of her life. Her attitude to loss is startling: things happen, but one must go on, always looking to the future. This is a tribute to the Victorian and American spirit which has survived and risen above some ignominious events. What is notable about Allene’s story are the actions she takes to obtain her finances, but which take second place to her total embrace of life, culture and friends. Even her disappointments are muted as she had a surprising attitude to those who chose their own destiny: love them no matter what they do. Readers will relish every page of this book about fine friends, food, dress, art, design, and nature. This is both Allene’s and America’s story, and it reads like historical fiction.