Consuelo & Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Mother and Daughter in the Gilded Age

Written by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart
Review by Cas Stavert

This intriguing biography combines the stories of mother and daughter, allowing us to see how the one influenced the other. It opens with the wedding, in 1895, of Consuelo, one of the greatest heiresses of the late 19th century, to the 9th Duke of Marlborough. The marriage was arranged by Alva, and Stuart carefully outlines the evidence that a degree of force was used to induce Consuelo to marry the duke. In order to explain this, Stuart then backtracks to cover both Consuelo’s and Alva’s early lives before moving forward again to cover the gradual breakdown of the Marlboroughs’ marriage over the next ten years.

                We are given a detailed character analysis of both these strong-willed women, and much space is given to their activities outside marriage. Following the death of her second husband, Alva became a radical suffragist, and worked hard for the cause. Consuelo, following her separation from the duke in 1906, devoted much time to philanthropy, particularly during the Great War, and was known as a moderate suffragist.

                This is an accomplished book; it is well researched, and has a good bibliography for further reading, index and notes.