Therese Anne Fowler’s Historical Women in Fiction

guest post by Mary

I like to read a good historical fiction novel, but I love to read historical fiction novels with a female protagonist. Two of my favorites are Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald and A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts, both by Therese Anne Fowler. The women portrayed in these novels lived in different periods, but I found similarities between the two. The most prominent: they were two women living in a world that was not made for them.

“Won’t we be quite the pair?—you with your bad heart, me with my bad head. Together, though, we might have something worthwhile.”

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, focuses on the life of Southern Belle, Zelda Sayre, and her marriage to the up and coming writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was not the marriage prospect Zelda was looking for, but after his first success as a writer they marry and enter a life of fame during the Jazz Age. Zelda finds herself amidst Fitzgerald’s success and soon realizes her role as Jazz Age Princess does not protect her from the cruelty she will ultimately endure. Touching on the themes of marriage, mental health, family and love, Fowler illuminates Zelda’s life in a way never done before.

“Once there was a desperate young woman whose mother was dead and whose father was dying almost as quickly as his money was running out. It was 1874. Summertime. She was twenty-one years old, ripened unpicked fruit rotting on the branch.”

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A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts, dives into the affluent world of Gilded Age New York City. Alva Smith must find a suitable husband in order to save her family from financial ruin. She meets William Vanderbilt, whose family is in trouble with high society. The two marry and Alva finds herself on a journey to make her mark, no matter the conventions the world wants her to form to. Touching on themes of woman’s suffrage, family, love and betrayal, Fowler brings Alva Smith to life through the page.

Also available in Large Print.

In both novels, Fowlers use of dialogue drives the narrative and creates a personal connection to the story. After reading both novels, I found Alva and Zelda to be similar. Both women married men in the hopes to better their lives. They both experienced the ups and downs of being in the spotlight of high society, as well as the struggles of keeping a happy and healthy marriage. Finally, Alva and Zelda struggled with being a woman in a culture that valued their lives less than their husbands.

I recommend these novels for lovers of historical fiction and those interested in the roles of wives during the Gilded Age and Jazz Age.

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