Raised among wealth and privilege during America's fabled Gilded Age, a niece of famous novelist Edith Wharton and a friend to literary great Henry James, Beatrix Farrand is expected to marry, and to marry well. But as a young woman traveling through Europe, she already knows that gardens are her true passion. How she becomes a woman for whom work and love, the earthly and the mysterious, are held in delicate balance is the story of her unique determination to create beauty while remaining true to herself.
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I will never marry, Beatrix thought. Never
She had passed through the first heady years of womanhood, the first balls, first waltzes, first dancing card and house party invitations, quickly discouraging any serious suitor. “My mother,” she had simply explained when any young man tried to call on her a little too frequently. Now that most of those young men had already wed, she felt she could easily avoid the issue permanently.
She jumped up, eager to be away from the table. “I need to walk,” she said to the others.
Still, they might never have met, the Italian and the American.
Beatrix could have walked in the opposite direction, away from the temple. She could have strolled through the rose garden or gone into the casina. But she chose the temple, that eerie replica of pagan passion.
The gardens were full of Americans; the young man who had just been soundly berated by his family lawyer disliked the sounds of their voices, so full of German consonants, not at all soft like his own Italian. The sounds of conquerors, he thought, laden with wealth and greed and taking much of his homeland back with them when they returned to New York and Boston and Chicago. That’s what the visit to his lawyer had been about: selling artworks.
Empires rise and fall. He lived in a land of fallen empire. Ahead of him, on the path, was an example of the fall of empire, a group of boys, begging, grimy hands snaking into folds and pockets of passing men and women. They had surrounded a young woman and were practicing their street skills on her. He saw her face, the terror behind the forced calmness of a tight smile. He changed direction and headed toward her.
Still, they might never have met. He could have waved from a distance, yelled a threat, driven the boys off with words. But he kept walking toward her.
Jeanne Mackin ‘s latest novel, A Lady of Good Family, explores the secret life of gilded age Beatrix Jones Farrand, niece of Edith Wharton and the first woman professional landscape design in America. Her previous novel, The Beautiful American, based on the life of model turned war correspondent and photographer, Lee Miller won the CNY 2015 prize for fiction. She has published in American Letters and Commentary and SNReview and other publications and is the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers. She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. She lives with her husband, Steve Poleskie, in Ithaca.
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