Anita Hemmings is a senior at Vassar in 1897, a gifted Greek and Latin scholar, a beautiful soprano in the Glee Club, a fierce debater, voted most beautiful in her class, and roommate to one of the most popular (and wealthiest) students. We learn that Anita is passing as white to attend Vassar, as African-Americans are not allowed as students at Vassar. Wellesley and Radcliffe admit African Americans, and in fact, one of Anita’s friends from home in Roxbury, Massachusetts attends Wellesley.
Here is Anita during her Vassar days.
The Gilded Years recounts Anita’s senior year, her desires and goals for future studies, and always the underlying anxiety about being discovered. She is outed near the end of the book, but I won’t tell you who discovers her secret or the ramifications of this big reveal. The article below is just the kind of notice Anita feared her classmates or professors might see.
The Gilded Years is very enjoyable historical fiction, and a quick read. What makes it stand out for me is that the author is a Vassar alum and Anita Hemmings was a real person. Despite a great deal of research, there is limited information about her, which, as the author notes in her afterword, makes her story a perfect candidate for historical fiction.
For more information about Anita Hemmings story, here is an article from the Vassar Magazine:
Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club, has just published another love letter to reading and to readers, called Books For Living. I almost lost my breath when I learned Schwalbe had a new book coming out. I savored every word of The End of Your Life Book Club, recommended it to countless friends and family members, and always put my “staff pick” book mark in it when it is on our library shelves. When I opened Books For Living, I felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend, with someone I’d shared a significant time in life, some one I listen to. I began tabbing pages with post-it notes that had sections I wanted to re-read, remember, share.
In each chapter, Schwalbe connects a book he read with the meaning he derived. One thing I love is that the books are from a variety of genres and publication dates: Gone Girl, Stuart Little, Gift From the Sea, Reading Lolita in Tehran… His comments are meaningful, poignant, sometimes funny and very relatable. You probably have read many of the books he mentions, or at least know of them and may want to read them. Case in point, the book The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang is a chapter and then is referred to throughout the book. It is now on my hold list.
What I take away from this read is the connections books create between people. I have long loved reading, and always had a book or two with me. (When trying to unsuccessfully downsize my pocketbook, my youngest asked how many books I was trying to cram in.) I am always bringing home books for my family, regularly supplying my mother with the non-fiction she loves, the fiction I love, and occasionally books we read in common. I love it when a library patron asks for a recommendation, for the sheer joy of connecting them to what it sounds like they want to read. I love writing to friends with book lists, and especially love when they share theirs. A Jesuit friend and voracious reader of everything used to share his summer reading list with me each August, a unique gift that I cherished until he passed away. A conversation about a book both a friend and I have read is delicious-it is another shared experience in our biography. It is a way to express what I don’t always have words for, but am always quite grateful for: connection, family, friends. I hope you will have a similar reaction!
Emile Nouguier is a French engineer working on the Eiffel Tower with Gustav Eiffel, for completion by the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. His mother would like him to run the family glass business, to marry, and to provide her with grandchildren, all before her imminent death. Caitriona Wallace is a young Scottish widow from Glasgow, living when her only options were to remarry (no prospects) or become a nanny. She is hired to accompany a sister and brother as they travel the continent and again as the brother begins work for Eiffel. Emile and Caitriona meet on a hot air balloon ride, in the sky where the playing field, so to speak, is level. They find themselves instantly attracted, but because of their different social classes, take a long time to fall in love. The third part of their flirtation is Emile’s lover and then ex-mistress Gabrielle, who manages to embroil herself with the brother and sister Caitriona minds.
To Capture What We Cannot Keep is a classic Victorian love tale reminiscent of a Bronte or Jane Austen, and a historical sketch of the limits and opportunities afforded men and women in the late 1800s, all with the backdrop of the construction of a landmark. In fact, for more information about the Eiffel Tower, and to take their 360 degree panoramic tour, go to www.toureiffel.paris. It will really put you in the mood for this good read or for a call to your travel agent.