Alva’s house

Some time ago, just this past summer, we went to Alva’s house. A certain book that I have been reading lately reminded me of this little visit, and I found myself searching for the pictures I took that day.*

But first, in a matter completely unrelated to my narrative, this is a picture of the vertiginous bridge we have to cross in order to get to her part of town:

:newportbridge IMG_6307

.

.

.

Alva Vanderbilt Belmont 1911
Alva Vanderbilt Belmont 1911

When one thinks of ambitious marriage plans,one thinks of Alva. As a young girl in Mobile Alabama, her wealthy family came up against some hard financial times. So stressful was this for the family, that her mother took ill and died. Alva didn’t like the feeling of helplessness that resulted as she was a very resolute and ambitious woman, so she arranged a introduction to one of the richest men in the world from whom she managed to get a marriage proposal. Alva proceeded to work her way into the highest of NY high society and set about building mansions. Her summer cottage, Marble House, a gift from her husband for her 39th, is in Newport and that is where we visited.

Marble House, Newport
Marble House, Newport
around the back
around the back

photo 2

Alvas boudoir. from my iphone
Alvas boudoir. from my iphone
a better picture
a better picture

Alva had a daughter, the lovely Consuelo and it was very important to Alva that her daughter align herself with the sort of money and prestige that would give her more options than the staid and suffocating drawing rooms of New York would provide. To Alva this meant marriage into the English aristocracy where wives could enjoy something of a life beyond the home; the title would come with a job-something to actually do.

It was decided that Consuelo would be married to the Ninth Duke of Marlborough. Poor Consuelo had fallen for a Mr Walter Rutherford of New York (a society dandy whom Edith Wharton called ‘the protagonist in all my early novels’), but Alva wouldn’t hear of it and used many methods of coercion until she finally got her way and Consuelo became Duchess of Marlborough. As this was going on, Alva was divorcing her own husband, a very challenging move socially, and the illustrious marriage of her daughter served also to subdue much of the scandal.

Duke of Marlboro Family John Singer Sargent 1905
Duke of Marlboro Family
John Singer Sargent 1905

Consuelo lived at Blenheim and took to her ducal (can that be used in the fem.?) responsibilities with grace and kindness, and although her husband was an oaf, she was much adored in her adoptive homeland.  Back at home Alva married another, lesser millionaire and moved into a smaller mansion, keeping Marble House for later use. After her second husband died she threw herself and her fortune into a cause she felt very strongly about:photo 5

part of Alvas service
part of Alvas service
rally at Marble House
rally at Marble House

Consuelo had two sons, stuck it out for as long as she could bear then left the Duke and married a French balloonist who made her happy.  Alva spent the rest of her life working to forward the cause of women’s suffrage and was president of the National Womens Party until her death.

A happy ending, and plenty of jewels and mansions along the way.

*in the end, I couldn’t find my pictures- downloaded into oblivion, I guess. Only a couple remained

4 thoughts on “Alva’s house

    1. There is an architecturally accurate tea house in the back yard overlooking the ocean that Alva built later-Oh I wish I could find my pictures!

      (Undine would have taken Sunny like a shot.)

      Like

  1. The boudoir looks just like Marie-Antoinette’s big-house hideaway at Versailles. Wow what a story, worthy of an Edith Wharton novel but with more interesting characters. I just discovered your blog and I’m so happy to have a new, engaging read. Thanks so much for participating in the Mop Philosophy book club today, I hope that you will become a regular member!

    Like

    1. Thank you very much Dani!
      Your post today on COTC was amazing-your analysis of EW was worthy of EW herself, but you were more penetrating!
      Alva did indeed use Versailles as inspiration and was very exacting about the design.
      It was gsl that encouraged me to join in on the book club and Im very glad that he did. Such wonderful dialogue! I will indeed be coming back for more

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s