RECOMMENDED READING: Fortune, frocks, fops and flops – a look at some British and American social history

Gilded Age interior historical library - historical books reading list

I’ve been getting a lot of requests asking about a) what I am currently reading, and for b) more Downton Abbey-related content, so here is an historical books reading list that might be of interest…

 

Historical books reading list - Consuelo Vanderbilt

 

Focusing largely on non-fiction – although I’ve included some fiction suggestions at the end of this post – I’m alternating between the Victorian-Gilded Age-Edwardian-World War historical biographies and books about society; in particular, the rise of American society/the fall of the British aristocracy and how they came to help each other out, ie. the newly rich Americans marrying off their daughters to poor-but-titled Brits.

 

Trotters-racing - vintage print drawing

 

As the British upper classes started to enjoy the US dollar cash injection from their newly acquired American heiress wives, and the repairs to their crumbling properties (those that were able to keep them), the world continued to change, with industrialists and working men coming into power with new ideas and methods.

 

Crumbling British castle

 

Two world wars, the Jazz Age, and a Depression changed things completely, including the role of women, liberating them from corsets and treatment as chattels, to women of independence, with the ability to make choices for themselves.

 

Dancing the Charleston

 

Clearly, a lot of these ideas are in line with the thinking of Julian Fellowes and the story development of his phenomenally successful TV series, Downton Abbey, so I figure I’m not the only one spending more time looking into these significant periods in history.

 

Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey

 

BTW, I was interested to learn that Fellowes is now writing the next series about how the American heiress Cora Levinson came to be married to Lord Grantham, therefore saving the Crawley family from economic and social demise.

 

Robert, Lord Grantham - Downton Abbey

 

 

See also this Downton Abbey post for further reading (and viewing) suggestions, as well as:

 
Downton Abbey - www.myLusciousLife.com - D2_Ep7_6.jpg

Historical style: Downton Abbey

This is our main Downton Abbey photo gallery, including the characters and locations featured in this acclaimed TV series.
Downton Abbey - Season 3 - Christmas special6.jpg

Downton Abbey - Season 3 - Christmas Special 2012

Photos from the Christmas Special episode of "Downton Abbey" - season 3
The Chronicles of Downton Abbey - A New Era by Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis.jpg

Historical style: Downton Abbey-related books and DVDs

Historical style: Downton Abbey-related books and DVDs
Downton Abbey and Highclere Castle interiors3.png

Historical style: Downton Abbey interiors

A look at the interiors and exteriors of Highclere Castle, the home of the fictional "Downton Abbey"
The Crawley Sisters - Downton Abbey photo - myLusciousLife.com - downton.png

Downton Abbey: The Crawley Sisters

Downton Abbey: The Crawley Sisters - photos of Michelle/Mary, Laura/Edith and Jessica/Sybil from the show and real life

 

 

Learn more about:

 

 

 

Boughton House, England

The rise of America: The Gilded Age

One of the best books for an overview of the American-heiress-marries-titled-British-pauper is To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace.

 

To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace

 

To be frank, I think the title is a bit silly (it sounds like a “how-to” guide), but it’s an excellent book, providing great insight into the late 19th century and early 20th century and how the social climbing nouveau riche American industrialists attempted to enter upper class British society by buying their way in, through marrying off their daughters.

 

The Jerome sisters - Jennie Clara and Leonie Jerome with their mother

 

 

Some of the most famous women during the Gilded Age to marry into British high society:

  • Doña María Consuelo Iznaga y Clement, a Cuban-American socialite (and godmother of Consuelo Vanderbilt, below) who married the fortune-hunting George Montagu, the 8th Duke of Manchester
  • Consuelo Vanderbilt of the famous Vanderbilt family was most unhappily married to Charles Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, but later divorced on the grounds that she was forced into it. She went on to marry Jacques Balsan.
  • The Jerome sisters, Clara, Jennie and Leonie, the most famous of whom was Jennie Jerome who also joined the prominent Spencer-Churchill family upon her marriage to Lord Randolph Churchill, and became the mother of Winston Churchill. She later married George Cornwallis-West and Montagu Phippen Porch.

 

 

The Breakers Newport

 

 

The Vanderbilt family:

 

 

Consuelo Vanderbilt and son

 

 

The Jerome-Churchill family:

 

 

Young Jennie Jerome

 

 

The Astor family:

 

 

Painting of Nancy Astor

 

 

Similar books about this era:

 

 

Rosecliff in Newport

 

 

The fall of British aristocracy

David Cannadine’s The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy is a great book, but rather heavy going in a scholarly way and not for the fainthearted. It really gets into the nitty gritty of what was going on politically, socially and economically, down to the detail of specific tax rates for specific people in specific counties.

I applaud Cannadine for his meticulous efforts, but I did skip quite a few pages when I realised that I could probably still absorb the gist of his argument. A must-read for academics, however!

 

 

David Cannadine - The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy

 

Here are some examples:

  • The Industrial Revolution (1760-1870) enabled industrious middle class and working class men to become successful in business, and some of them also became politicians, therefore redirecting the centre of power from traditional aristocratic landowners, making many of them largely redundant.
  • With previously-high land rental incomes now greatly reduced due to land taxes and the growth of industry, death duties incredibly high, and the cost of running a stately home on even the most basic level ever increasing, over 1000 of Britain’s great houses were demolished.
  • A huge amount of British men were killed during World War I but I wasn’t aware that around 20% of all titled young men and heirs to the great British houses were killed (eg. the Downton Abbey Matthew Crawleys of the day) and even more injured.

 

 

Bright Young Things of the 1920s

 

Books about the upper classes:

 

 

1920s style evening dress 

 

Books about life below stairs:

 

 

Downton Abbey servants lined up outside

 

 

Country houses of the United Kingdom:

 

 

Victorian servants photo

 

 

The Titanic disaster

Yes, there are millions of books about the Titanic, which sunk dramatically in April 1912, but it’s definitely worth including in this list because it was symbolic of the times, combining stories of wealth and greed, high society, the industrial age and the pursuit of power.

 

 

A luxury bedroom cabin on the Titanic 1912

 

 

There’s some great insight to be found in the book Gilded Lives, Fatal Voyage: The Titanic’s First-Class Passengers and Their World by Hugh Brewster.

Whilst I knew some of the famous names (Astor, GuggenheimStrausDuff Gordon…), it shed light on the very real lives of those I’d only ever seen portrayed in movies. Fascinating.

 

 

Gilded Lives Fatal Voyage The Titanics First-Class Passengers and Their World by Hugh Brewster

 

Note: There are also some an online, searchable databases of the passengers and crew on board the Titanic, which I consulted at the same time as reading the book. It’s good for learning what happened to the people mentioned in the book, if you’re interested in extra details.

 

The sinking of the Titanic

 

Similar books in this area:

 

Titanic aftermath 1912

 

Fashion from the times

Here are some suggestions for lovers of historical fashion, including the late 19th and early 20th century:

 

 

Vintage Edwardian fashion poster

 

Works of fiction

The American Heiress/My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin is fictional but essentially combines the stories of several of the most famous women  (especially Consuelo Vanderbilt) listed in To Marry an English Lord into one character, the American heiress, Cora Cash.

 

 

The American Heiress-My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin

 

 

Whilst it’s more popular fiction than Pulitzer Prize-worthy, I thoroughly enjoyed being taken down this historical path, playing it as an audio book in my car and sometimes continuing to drive simply to get to the end of a chapter, even when I had arrived at my destination. I suspect there will be a film adaptation at some point.

Note: The book has two titles for UK/US audiences, but it’s the same book.

 

 

The Duke of Marlborough and Consuelo Vanderbilt and family by Singer Sargent

 

 

Similar books about British and American society during this era:

 

 

Nineteenth Century Fashion in Detail by Lucy JohnstonAristocrats by Lawrence JamesBright Young People by D. J. Taylor1939 - The Last Season of Peace by Angela LambertBrideshead Revisited by Evelyn WaughChildren of the Sun by Martin B. GreenChatsworth The House by the Duchess of DevonshireDaisy Miller by Henry JamesDiana Cooper - The Biography of Lady Diana Cooper by Philip ZieglerDecline and Fall by Evelyn WaughDark Lady - Winston Churchills Mother and Her World by Charles Higham100 Dresses - The Costume Institute – The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Harold Koda1939 - The Last Season by Anne De CourcyA Season of Splendor by Greg KingAmerican Jennie by Anne SebbaArchie and Amelie by Donna M. LuceyGilded - How Newport Became Americas Richest Resort by Deborah DavisFive Sisters - The Langhornes of Virginia by James FoxAstride the Wall - A Memoir 1913-1945 by Ursula WyndhamBelow Stairs by Margaret PowellFashioning Fashion - European Dress in Detail 1700-1915 by Sharon Sadako TakedaConsuelo and Alva Vanderbilt by Amanda Mackenzie StuartDavid Cannadine - The Decline and Fall of the British AristocracyEnglish Country House Interiors by Jeremy MussonFashion - The Definitive History of Costume and StyleLady on the Hill by Howard E. CovingtonFirst Four Hundred - New York and the Gilded Age by Jerry E. PattersonFortune’s Children - The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt by Arthur T. VanderbiltGilded Lives Fatal Voyage by Hugh BrewsterHouses of the National Trust by Lydia GreevesIn a Gilded Cage - From Heiress to Duchess by Marian FowlerJennie -The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill by Ralph G. MartinLife Below Stairs by Sian EvansThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott FitzgeraldLife in the English Country House by Mark GirouardMrs. Astor Regrets by Meryl GordonNancy - The Story of Lady Astor by Adrian FortPark Lane by Frances OsborneRomantic English Homes by Robert OByrneRose -My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina HarrisonRules of Civility - A novel by Amor TowlesServants Hall by Margaret PowellShadow of the Titanic by Andrew WilsonSisters of Fortune by Jehanne WakeThe American Heiress-My Last Duchess by Daisy GoodwinThe Big Spenders by Lucius BeebeThe Buccaneers by Edith WhartonThe Chaperone by Laura MoriartyThe Edwardians by Vita Sackville-WestThe English Country House - From the Archives of Country LifeThe First Tycoon -The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. StilesThe Glitter and the Gold by Consuelo Vanderbilt BalsanThe Great Silence by Juliet NicolsonThe Last Mrs. Astor - A New York Story by Frances KiernanThe Long Week-End by Robert GravesThe Perfect Summer - England 1911 Just Before the Storm by Juliet NicolsonThe Richest Woman in America by Janet WallachThe Shooting Party - A Novel by Isabel ColegateThe Sisters - The Saga of the Mitford Family by Mary S. LovellThe Titled Americans by Elisabeth KehoeThe Vanderbilt Women - Dynasty of Wealth Glamour and TragedyThe Vanderbilts by Jerry E. PattersonThe Viceroys Daughters -The Lives of the Curzon Sisters by Anne de CourcyTitanic in Photographs by Daniel KlistornerTo Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. WallaceTwentieth-Century Fashion in Detail by Valerie D. Mendes and Claire WilcoxUnquiet Souls – The Indian Summer of the British Aristocracy by Angela LambertUp and Down Stairs by Jeremy MussonVictorian and Edwardian Fashion - A Photographic Survey by Alison GernsheimVile Bodies by Evelyn WaughVoyagers of the Titanic by Richard Davenport-HinesWhat the Butler Winked At by Eric HorneWhen the Astors Owned New York by Justin KaplanWicked Newport by Larry Stanford

 

 

I hope you find some of these suggestions useful. Do leave a comment about any other recommendations for a historical books reading list that you’d be happy to share with fellow Luscious Lifers.

 

 

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More posts and photos here:

 

Cheers, Natasha
www.myLusciousLife.com

 

 

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One Comment

  1. Diana Gomez April 23, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

    Good morning,
    Your paragraph on the above webpage, http://www.mylusciouslife.com/historical-books-reading-list-british-american-social-history/#comment-250655 reads……Doña María Consuelo Iznaga y Clement, a Cuban-American socialite (and godmother of Consuelo Vanderbilt, below) who married the fortune-hunting George Montagu, the 8th Duke of Manchester…….lists Consuelo’s name incorrectly. If you click on her name it takes you to the Wikipedia page which shows her name spelled correctly….Consuelo Yznaga, not Dona Maria Consuelo Iznaga y Clement. Please see the following links for additional proof of the correct spelling. I am also including your paragraph on Consuelo Vanderbilt so that you can see her Wikipedia page, and various books which show the spelling of her godmother as Consuelo Yznaga, not Dona Maria Consuelo Iznaga y Clement……• Consuelo Vanderbilt of the famous Vanderbilt family was most unhappily married to Charles Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, but later divorced on the grounds that she was forced into it. She went on to marry Jacques Balsan……..

    Links for Consuelo Yznaga which show her name spelled as Consuelo Yznaga and not Dona Maria Consuelo Iznaga y Clement.

    Wikipedia “Article” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consuelo_Montagu,_Duchess_of_Manchester
    Wikipedia “Talk” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Consuelo_Montagu,_Duchess_of_Manchester

    National Portrait Gallery/UK http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp97293/consuelo-montagu-ne-yznaga-duchess-of-manchester?search=sas&sText=Yznaga

    The Peerage http://thepeerage.com/p2748.htm#i27475

    Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=24UAYWZF0TZC&SMLS=1&RW=1430&RH=764

    John Singer Sargent Gallery http://www.jssgallery.org/Paintings/Consuelo_Yznaga.htm

    American of Royal Descent https://books.google.com/books?id=2i0BAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA119&dq=Natica+Yznaga&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAWoVChMIjYSF78rZxgIVjCuICh0OgQRc#v=onepage&q=Natica%20Yznaga&f=false

    Find A Grave for Consuelo Yznaga http://findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Yznaga&GSfn=Consuelo&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GRid=152995023&df=all&

    Links for Consuelo Vanderbilt showing the spelling of her godmother as Consuelo Yznaga, not Dona Maria Consuelo Iznaga y Clement.

    Wikipedia – Consuelo Vanderbilt https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consuelo_Vanderbilt

    Willie K. Vanderbilt II: A Biography
    https://books.google.com/books?id=CGRkHyO2JDQC&pg=PA246&dq=Consuelo+Vanderbilt&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CEUQ6AEwBzgKahUKEwjzrv2DmIfHAhVLHD4KHTMcBGo#v=onepage&q=Consuelo%20Yznaga&f=false

    To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sec and Snobbery by Gail acColl, Carol McD. Wallace https://books.google.com/books?id=rr7MRSed7h8C&q=Consuelo+Yznaga#v=snippet&q=Consuelo%20Yznaga&f=false

    Wikipedia – Alva Belmont https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alva_Belmont

    I respectfully ask that the name be changed from Dona Maria Consuelo Iznaga y Clement to her legal, official name of Consuelo Yznaga. Actually, her full name is Francisca Maria de la Consolacion (Consuelo) Yznaga, but she used only Consuelo Yznaga. If you require additional information (proof) I can send you her marriage certificate.
    Thank you,
    Diana Gomez

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