The English Wife: A Selected Bibliography

February 10th, 2018

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips? Lauren Willig will discuss The English Wife on Saturday, February 17th, 3pm at 57th Street Books.

The Murder of the Century, by Paul Collins - No one expects a headless torso. (Well, hardly anyone?) When pieces of a body started popping up around New York in the hot summer of 1897, both police and reporters swung into action, in a competition to see who could solve the crime first. Aside from being fascinating in its own right as both a murder mystery, and a look at the less-traveled immigrant corners of Gilded Age Manhattan, this book provided me with a great deal of color about the workings of the tabloid press in late 19th century New York. Of course, the murder in "The English Wife" doesn’t involve dismembering (just saying), and it’s set among New York’s Knickerbocker elite rather than the German immigrant community, but this book was part of what inspired me to make one of my main characters, James Burke, a reporter at The World, drawn into an uneasy alliance with the sister of the murdered man as they both search for the truth.

The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton - The classic novel about the perils of being a woman among the elite in Gilded Age New York-- and how fast and how far one can fall when one breaks the rules. Wharton's brilliant portrait of the snobbery and hypocrisy of her set directly influenced my "English Wife". As a nod to Wharton, I couldn't resist having one of my characters mention Ruth Mills, whose Hudson Valley home was said to be the inspiration for Judy Trenor's Bellomont.

A Season of Splendor: the Court of Mrs. Astor in Gilded Age New York, by Greg King - For anyone who ever wanted to be one of Mrs. Astor's Four Hundred (or just gossip about them as though you were), this book provides a close look at life among the upper echelons in Gilded Age New York.

The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery - "The Blue Castle" is the story of downtrodden Valency Stirling, the awkward cousin and perpetual poor relation, who finally kicks over the traces and blossoms into her own person, horrifying her family and delighting readers. But what, you may ask, does a novel set in rural Canada have to do with a murder suicide in Gilded Age New York? Janie Van Duyvil, one of the two narrators in "The English Wife", is Valency's kindred spirit. Like Valency, she's a quirky character who has been cowed into conformity by an overbearing mother, freed by the catalyst of a traumatic event: in Janie’s case, the murder of her brother, disappearance of her sister-in-law, and savaging of her family’s reputation. So that’s why "The Blue Castle" is on this list. Also because it’s one of my favorite books of all time and everyone should read it, right away.

About Lauren Willig: Lauren Willig is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Pink Carnation series and several stand alone works of historical fiction, including The Ashford Affair, That Summer, The Other Daughter, and the collaborative novel, The Forgotten Room. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association's annual list of the best genre fiction. After graduating from Yale University, she embarked on a PhD in English History at Harvard before leaving academia to acquire a JD at Harvard Law while authoring her Pink Carnation series of Napoleonic-set novels. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.

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