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A Lady of Good Family
By Jeanne Mackin
Publisher: NAL (Penguin Random House)
Release Date: June 2, 2015
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 352 Pages
About the book:
Raised among wealth and privilege during America's fabled Gilded Age, a niece of famous novelist Edith Wharton and a friend to literary great Henry James, Beatrix Jones is expected to marry, and to marry well. But as a young woman traveling through Europe, she already knows that gardens are her true passion. How she becomes a woman for whom work and love, the earthly and the mysterious, are held in delicate balance is the story of her unique determination to create beauty while remaining true to herself.
EXCERPTI will never marry, Beatrix thought. NeverShe had passed through the first heady years of womanhood, the first balls, first waltzes, first dancing card and house party invitations, quickly discouraging any serious suitor. “My mother,” she had simply explained when any young man tried to call on her a little too frequently. Now that most of those young men had already wed, she felt she could easily avoid the issue permanently.She jumped up, eager to be away from the table. “I need to walk,” she said to the others.Still, they might never have met, the Italian and the American.Beatrix could have walked in the opposite direction, away from the temple. She could have strolled through the rose garden or gone into the casina. But she chose the temple, that eerie replica of pagan passion.The gardens were full of Americans; the young man who had just been soundly berated by his family lawyer disliked the sounds of their voices, so full of German consonants, not at all soft like his own Italian. The sounds of conquerors, he thought, laden with wealth and greed and taking much of his homeland back with them when they returned to New York and Boston and Chicago. That’s what the visit to his lawyer had been about: selling artworks.Empires rise and fall. He lived in a land of fallen empire. Ahead of him, on the path, was an example of the fall of empire, a group of boys, begging, grimy hands snaking into folds and pockets of passing men and women. They had surrounded a young woman and were practicing their street skills on her. He saw her face, the terror behind the forced calmness of a tight smile. He changed direction and headed toward her.Still, they might never have met. He could have waved from a distance, yelled a threat, driven the boys off with words. But he kept walking toward her.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Jeanne Mackin ‘s latest novel, A Lady of Good Family, explores the secret life of gilded age Beatrix Jones Farrand, niece of Edith Wharton and the first woman professional landscape design in America. Her previous novel, The Beautiful American, based on the life of model turned war correspondent and photographer, Lee Miller won the CNY 2015 prize for fiction.
She has published in American Letters and Commentary and SNReview and other publications and is the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers. She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. She lives with her husband, Steve Poleskie, in Ithaca.
A mixture of literary fiction and historical romance, A Lady of Good Family by Jeanne Mackin, tells the story of real life landscape architect Beatrix Jones Farrand. Written in third person narrative, Ms. Mackin’s tale paints a picture of both America and Europe as both continents experience the last days of the Gilded Age, the ramping up of the Women’s Rights movement and the never ending battle between “old money” and the “Nouveau Riche”. Clearly a lover of gardening herself, Ms. Mackin’s descriptions of the gardens and landscaping Beatrix Jones Farrand would have visited, studied and eventually designed herself, remind me of the simple beauty and peace one can find when working with plants.I believe Ms. Mackin does a good job introducing us, via reflection by a secondary character, to the young woman Beatrix Jones could have been during the time the story takes place; a young woman from a rich upper class society expected to marry but unwilling to do so. A “handsome”, well-educated and liberated woman, Beatrix is a study in contrasts. While she comes from old money, and a coveted social standing, she’s very aware of the how the world is changing and refuses to be tied down to a traditional role like many of the women she knows. Ms. Mackin’s easy to follow writing style made it very easy to connect with Breatrix and to root for her to be able to forge her own path.Ms. Mackin’s secondary characters are very well developed and I really enjoyed getting to know Beatrix’s mother Mary (aka Minnie), who devoted her life to “giving back to the world” to make up for her failing marriage, her aunt Edith Wharton, a writer I have to admit I’ve never read, and the fictional narrator and confidant of all three women, “Daisy Winters”, the only woman who had a loving and truly functional marriage, though it too had issues. I also thought Ms. Mackin did a good job developing Amerigo Marrismo, the young Italian gentleman Beatrix meets and becomes attracted to while visiting the Villa Borghese Gardens while in Rome. The attraction Beatrix and Amerigo begin to experience, which develops over chance encounters, is unfortunately soon offset by the conflict in the paths they want their lives to take and the interference of another wealthy American woman.Will Beatrix choose to put her plans for landscape design and professional gardening aside for a future with Amerigo or will the different paths their lives are taking tear them apart before too much emotional damage can be done? And if Beatrix walks away, who will she become? You’ll have to read A Lady of Good Standing to find out. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of Ms. Mackin’s work in the future.