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Annotated Bibliography for Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan

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Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan Main Page

Annotated Bibliography

Andrews, Wayne. “The House of Vanderbilt Enters Society.” The Vanderbilt Legend: The Story of the Vanderbilt Family, 1794-1940. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1941. 241-321.

More a description of the American branch of the Vanderbilts than Consuela herself, the book tells of the generations of Vanderbilts leading from “The Commodore” to William Henry. This chapter describes the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. William Kissam Vanderbilt (Consuelo's parents) to enter into society, mainly by pushing their daughter into coming out in New York in order to marry the Duke of Marlborough. It details the lavish amounts of money spent on banquets and homes in order that the Vanderbilts, still somewhat nouveau-riche, could gain a name for themselves as well as a connection (through the manipulation of Consuelo, a common thing at the time) to a British rank.

Bush, Julia. “Lady Lives? Upper Class Women's Autobiographies and the Politics of Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain.” Literature & History. 10.2 (2001): 42-62. EBSCOhost. 26 April 2009 <http://web.ebscohost.com.proxy.uchicago.edu>.

The article focuses on autobiographies of upper-class women who, while ostensibly engaging in self-writing, portray their lives through descriptions of the people in their lives rather than their personal activities. Consuelo Balsan is especially guilty of this, as she spends the majority of her autobiography describing the famous and important personages in her life. Bush asserts that these upper-class women's autobiographies constitute the changing political contexts, which, especially in the Victorian and early Modern periods, were very tumultuous.

Helsinger, Elizabeth K., Robin Lauterbach Sheets, and William Veeder. “Law.” The Woman Question: Society and Literature in Britain and America, 1837-1883: Volume 2, Social Issues. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989. 3-55.

The authors discuss, in this chapter of the book, the laws affecting both married and unmarried women in Victorian England. The most important of these were the rights to property of the married woman and the rules regarding divorce, which did not become easy or fair until the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857. Consuelo herself, when she sought divorce from Marlborough and remarriage with Jacques Balsan, had to battle laws of the nations of Europe as well as laws of various Churches, in addition to the stigma against divorcees in the late Victorian era.

Ostrander, Susan A. “Upper Class Women: The Feminine Side of Privilege.” Qualitative Sociology. 3.1 (1980): 23-44. EBSCOhost. 26 April 2009 <http://web.ebscohost.com.proxy.uchicago.edu>.

This study analyzes the words of upper-class women themselves to delineate their roles as “mother, wife, and community volunteer.” The main expectation of the upper-class woman is that she would perpetuate the privileged mentality, status, and culture through education of her children and through charitable actions, which result from the guilt and tradition coming from being in the upper class. As well, as a wife, she is expected to support her husband at the top of the power structure. This last role is most relevant to Balsan, who, as the Duchess of Marlborough, had to make sure her actions (meeting the Queen, hosting parties) were fit for such a privileged woman, whose entire life is under public purview and of whom much is expected.

Peterson, M. Jeanne. “No Angels in the House: The Victorian Myth and the Paget Women.” American Historical Review. 89.3 (1984):677-709. EBSCOhost. 26 April 2009 <http://web.ebscohost.com.proxy.uchicago.edu>.

Peterson describes the myth of the Angel of the House in the Victorian period—that is, upper- and upper-middle-class women who were responsible for the care (within the house) of their husbands and sons while being, in turn, protected and worshipped by their men—using an account of the Paget family. While certain assumptions are reinforced (classical education, religious charity, etc), other aspects of the myth are debunked (these women handled money and went out of the house for their education). The picture—persistent, yet incomplete—of the “model of the clinging, dependent, reliant wife” full of “angelic piety” sheds light on the character expected of Consuelo Balsan, who, while attempting to fulfill the role of the perfect Victorian wife, yet criticized many of these expectations.

Stuart, Amanda Mackenzie. Consuelo & Alva: Love and Power in the Gilded Age. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2005.

Stuart gives perhaps the most comprehensive history available of Consuelo Balsan and her mother, Alva Vanderbilt. She takes the reader through their individual and combined lives, leading them from the most inmost thoughts to the most public records. Her analysis is at once unbiased and sympathetic, and it gives a comprehensive supplement to Consuelo's own narrative in her autobiography.

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