The lives of the rich and famous hold great fascination for us regular folks. Yes, I love to watch the movie stars on the red carpet and critique gowns and suits. When it comes to books, I sometimes take similar pleasure in learning about the lives of celebrities. However, I’m not looking for a gossipy tell-all or dishy memoir. (Real Housewife Brandi Glanville’s “Drinking and Tweeting” is not on my to-read list.) I lean toward fictional portraits of past greats – writers, artists, scientists – and the lives of people around them. Apparently I am not alone, as books like “The Aviator’s Wife” shoot up the bestseller lists. In this historical fiction, author Melanie Benjamin portrays Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of pilot Charles Lindbergh, who was also a talented pilot in her own right. Place a hold on this book, and then make your wait more enjoyable by picking up one of these other fictional works based on intriguing and extraordinary women in history.
“Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb” by Melanie Benjamin (2011)
Mercy Lavinia “Vinnie” Warren Bump, the nineteenth century little person and wife of Gen. Tom Thumb, tells her life story in this spirited fictionalized autobiography. Vinnie comes of age in the antebellum south before being invited to join the P. T. Barnum circus. This is an entertaining book, full of Americana and offering up plenty of behind-the-scenes looks at show business.
“Girl in a Blue Dress” by Gaynor Arnold (2008)
Subtitled, “A Novel Inspired by the Life and Marriage of Charles Dickens,” Arnold’s book begins with the widowed Dorthea reflecting on her marriage to and separation from author husband Alfred Gibson (read: Charles Dickens). “From very early on in our marriage it seemed as though I could possess only what the world had left behind—the cuffs and coattails of his existence.” Told in a series of flashbacks, her tale explores motherhood, marriage and the effects of celebrity in Victorian England.
“Loving Frank” by Nancy Horan (2007)
The Frank of the title is Frank Lloyd Wright, who in 1904 designs a house for Edwin and Mamah Borthwick Cheney, an upstanding young couple in Oakpark, Illinois. The public is scandalized when Wright and Mamah then leave their families to live together in Europe. There Mamah is exposed to feminist ideas about the confining role of women and marriage, and Frank eventually convinces her to return with him to the US to tragic end. Flawed characters, romance, and discussions of feminism and architecture make this a compelling read.
“Marrying Mozart” by Stephanie Cowell (2004)
In this literary romance, the lives of the four Weber sisters are changed by the arrival of 21-year-old Wolfgang Mozart, a young man struggling to find his place in the eighteenth-century musical world. A richly textured portrayal of this passionate musician and the women who inspired his art and captured his heart.
“The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain (2011)
Hadley Richardson meets the brash “beautiful boy” Ernest Hemingway in 1920s Chicago, and after a brief courtship, they marry and 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. Details of Jazz Age Paris and elbow-rubbing with cultural icons like Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein make an entertaining backdrop, but the focus of this well-crafted tale is the sympathetic Hadley.
What are your favorite works of historical fiction based on the lives of famous (or infamous) people? Share with us in the comments!