Cover Image: The Gilded Edge

The Gilded Edge

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Member Reviews

A Tragic Love Affair at the end of the Gilded Age

Nora May French was a brilliant young poet. She yearned for recognition, but kept getting entangled with powerful men who wanted a lover more than a competitor. Carrie Sterling wanted a comfortable life as a wife. Her family was poor and her idea of a good match was someone with a stable bank account. She married George Sterling and from then on was caught up in his life which included alcohol and women. 

George with Carrie’s help started the Carmel Writer’s Colony. This is where the trio met. George became infatuated with Nora and brought her to live with them in the area he was trying to people with poets and writers. This was a situation that was designed for tragedy when Nora took her own life dying in Carrie’s arms. 

The author did a great deal of research to bring the story of these three people to life. She was particularly interested in Nora who was an acclaimed poet in her era, but was always overshadowed by the male poets and writers. Carrie was also a tragic figure looking for stability and being tied to a man who couldn’t give her the support she craved. 

The book told a story about people I had never heard of and was interesting from that standpoint. However, I thought the author did too much invention when presenting the thoughts and feelings of the women. She wanted to make the point that women were beginning to have careers and be independent, but their lives and work were overshadowed by the men in their lives. It made the book somewhere between historical biography and historical fiction. 

I received this book from Dutton for this review.
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I really enjoyed this book! I’m not gonna lie, I knew absolutely nothing about the any of the people or events mentioned in this book going in. I was flying fully by the vibes of the cover and the summary. The writing was lovely, and it’s very clear that Prendergast did an amazing amount of research, especially considering how poorly documented women of the gilded age are.

My only nitpick would be that there was perhaps a bit too much supposition on the feelings of Nora May and Carrie. The author points that we must fill in the blanks of under documented lives and events, and I can agree to an extent. There are certain conclusions we can draw based on the accounts of others in the same or similar situations. However, I find the very detailed statements of action or thought or feeling - especially feeling - to be a bit of a stretch. It’s easy to superimpose our own reactions and emotions onto others, which can be pretty detrimental to the painting of one’s character. We tend to be sympathetic to those we can compare to us, but without facts backing these feelings, we are simply making these women into what we want of them, and does that not make us just as bad as the bohemian men that used and then slandered them?

For me, it places this book in a weird middle ground where it’s not completely non-fiction, but it’s not historical fiction either. It’s some highbreed that makes the book very readable, but it also makes me a bit hesitant to accept some of the statements made. Often, Predergast will later reveal that there is in fact outside information supporting what initially may have first read as a supposition, which can relieve some of the uncertainty but has also left me even more confused as to what is and is not ture.

Regardless, this book is so very clearly chock full of information that can’t be found by a casual (or not so casual, if you have a tendency to hyper focus like moi) Google search. I have to 1000% recommend this book. It is so clearly a labor of love on Prendergast’s part. And make no mistake - it was clearly what anyone would consider a labor. She describes the different libraries and archives she visited; the transcripts she had to make of documents when photographs of documents had a limit placed on them and the frustration of having to dig through collections of papers by men whose names are memorialized despite their work being no more known than women’s.

4.5 rounded up to 5 for GoodReads because I honestly adored this read and my only nitpick was also one that honestly served the book's readability and reminded me that these long(ish) dead people were in fact that - people. Not characters. Can’t wait to purchase a physical copy for my personal collection.
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In her gripping THE GILDED EDGE, Catherine Prendergast uses the love triangle of poet Nora May French, author and real estate developer George Sterling and Sterling’s wife Carrie Sterling—a relationship tangle that ultimately ended in three suicides—to explore the way female aspirations collided with gender and class constraints in early 20th-century America. Prendergast’s compelling and deftly researched account speaks insightfully to the complex social landscape of the Gilded Age as well as to attitudes and conflicts that still persist today.
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I absolutely love this book on this gilded age murder.  This is actually one of my favorite time period in history.  So this basically combined history and true crime which are my favorite things.
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