The Glitter and the Gold
In her autobiography, Consuelo Balsan, the former Duchess of Marlborough, describes with humor and insight the Gilded Age of her youth for the benefit of future generations. The pages of this memoir are replete with anecdotes involving monarchs, aristocrats, politicians, artists, and writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Edward VII, Queen Alexandra, Tsar Nicholas II, Queen Marie of Romania, Winston Churchill, H.G. Wells, and J.M. Barrie, to name only a few.
An heiress of the Vanderbilt fortune, Consuelo was married as an unwilling teenager to the Duke of Marlborough, who needed her money for the upkeep of his ancestral estate at Blenheim Palace. Although Consuelo dutifully fulfilled her role as wife and mother as well as bountiful lady of the manor, her marriage to the Duke was one long misery, later to be annulled. Consuelo eventually married to her true love, dashing French aviator Jacques Balsan, with whom she shared many happy years. Throughout the course of her life, Consuelo endowed and managed many charities, especially those which aided women and children in need. One of the highlights of the book is her escape from the Nazis during World War II. In spite of the lavish descriptions of balls, banquets, mansions, villas, gowns and jewels, Consuelo shines as a person of integrity and humility, one who was able to discern the difference between the glitter of riches from the gold of genuine happiness.