The Women of Biographical Fiction

In March the book club at the Twin Rivers Branch read The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty.  The novel is about the friendship between an adolescent, pre-movie-star Louise Brooks and 36-year-old Cora Carlisle, who in 1922 chaperones her to New York City for a summer. If you are like me, you like to dig into the facts behind the fiction.  I wanted to know if Cora was real and learn more about Louise Brooks.   I found an interview with Laura Moriarty who said she read about a trip Louise took to NYC with a chaperone. Knowing what she knew about Louise, she could only imagine what kind of time the chaperone must have had watching out for her.

This got me thinking about a number of other books that have been popular lately in the subgenre of fiction called biographical fiction.  Below are a few other titles about some “famous” women.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Therese Anne Fowler
A tale inspired by the marriage of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, follows their union in defiance of her father's opposition and her abandonment of the provincial finery of her upbringing, in favor of a scandalous flapper identity that gains her entry into the literary party scenes of New York, Paris, and the French Riviera.

Zelda Fitzgerald was an author in her own right and considered by many to be the first flapper.  Her marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald was a battlefield in private but, in the public eye, they were the icons of the Jazz Age.  Many feel that the stress of her marriage played a part in her eventual mental decline.  In 1930, Zelda was admitted to a sanatorium. In 1936, she was moved to a mental hospital.  Zelda died in 1948 when the mental hospital caught fire.

The Aviator's Wife: A Novel
Melanie Benjamin
Despite her own major achievements--she becomes the first licensed female glider pilot in the United States--Anne Morrow Lindbergh is viewed merely as Charles Lindbergh's wife. The fairy-tale life she once longed for will bring heartbreak and hardships, ultimately pushing her to reconcile her need for love and her desire for independence, and to embrace, at last, life's infinite possibilities for change and happiness.

Like Zelda Fitzgerald, Anne Morrow was an aviator in her own right as well as an author.  She was born in Englewood, NJ to a prominent family.  She married Charles Lindbergh in 1929, the same year she had her first solo flight.  In 1930, Anne became the first American woman to become licensed as a first-class glider pilot.  Two years later would be the infamous Lindberg kidnapping at their home outside of Hopewell, NJ.  Anne and Charles would go on to have five more children.  Anne was awarded a number of honors during her life in both aviation and literature.  She passed away at the age of 94 from a stroke in 2001.

The Paris Wife: A Novel
Paula Mclain
Meeting through mutual friends in Chicago, Hadley is intrigued by brash "beautiful boy" Ernest Hemingway, and after a brief courtship and small wedding, they take off for Paris, where Hadley makes a convincing transformation from an overprotected child to a game and brave young woman who puts up with impoverished living conditions and shattering loneliness to prop up her husband's career.

Hadley Richardson was the first wife of author Ernest Hemingway.  Shortly after they were married, they moved to Paris.  They had a son John in 1923.  Two years later, Hadley discovered that Ernest was having an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer (his second wife) and asked for a divorce.

The Painted Girls: A Novel
Cathy Marie Buchanan
In belle époque Paris, the Van Goethem sisters struggle for survival after the sudden death of their father, a situation that prompts young Marie's ballet training and her introduction to a genius painter.

Marie van Goethem was born in Paris. Throughout her young life, she lived close to the studios of artist Edgar Degas.  In 1878, she was accepted to the dance school of the Paris Opera and started to model for Degas until 1881.  She is the model for a number of his ballet works: “Dancer with a Fan,” “Dancing Lesson,” and “Dancer Resting.”  Marie is also the model for the well-known sculpture, La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans (Little Dancer of Fourteen Years). In 1880, she was accepted into the Paris Opera Ballet but only stayed a few years. There is no record of her later years and death.

- Amelia R.


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