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The Gilded Edge: Two Audacious Women and the Cyanide Love Triangle That Shook America

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Astonishingly well written, painstakingly researched, and set in the evocative locations of earthquake-ravaged San Francisco and the Monterey Peninsula, the true story of two women--a wife and a poet--who learn the high price of sexual and artistic freedom in a vivid depiction of the debauchery of the late Gilded Age Nora May French and Carrie Sterling arrive at Carmel-by-t Astonishingly well written, painstakingly researched, and set in the evocative locations of earthquake-ravaged San Francisco and the Monterey Peninsula, the true story of two women--a wife and a poet--who learn the high price of sexual and artistic freedom in a vivid depiction of the debauchery of the late Gilded Age Nora May French and Carrie Sterling arrive at Carmel-by-the-Sea at the turn of the twentieth century with dramatically different ambitions. Nora, a stunning, brilliant, impulsive writer in her early twenties, seeks artistic recognition and bohemian refuge among the most celebrated counterculturalists of the era. Carrie, long-suffering wife of real estate developer George Sterling, wants the opposite: a semblance of the stability she thought her advantageous marriage would offer, now that her philandering husband has taken to writing poetry. After her second abortion, Nora finds herself in a desperate situation but is rescued by an invitation to stay with the Sterlings. To Carrie's dismay, George and the arrestingly beautiful poetess fall instantly into an affair. The ensuing love triangle, which ultimately ends with the deaths of all three, is more than just a wild love story and a fascinating forgotten chapter. It questions why Nora May--in her day a revered poet whose nationally reported suicide gruesomely inspired youths across the country to take their own lives, with her verses in their pockets no less--has been rendered obscure by literary history. It depicts America at a turning point, as the Gilded Age groans in its death throes and young people, particularly young women, look toward a bright, progressive, more egalitarian future. In an unfortunately familiar development, this vision proves a mirage. But women's rage at the scam redefines American progressivism forever. For readers of Nathalia Holt, Denise Kiernan, and Sonia Purnell, this shocking history with a feminist bite is not to be missed.


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Astonishingly well written, painstakingly researched, and set in the evocative locations of earthquake-ravaged San Francisco and the Monterey Peninsula, the true story of two women--a wife and a poet--who learn the high price of sexual and artistic freedom in a vivid depiction of the debauchery of the late Gilded Age Nora May French and Carrie Sterling arrive at Carmel-by-t Astonishingly well written, painstakingly researched, and set in the evocative locations of earthquake-ravaged San Francisco and the Monterey Peninsula, the true story of two women--a wife and a poet--who learn the high price of sexual and artistic freedom in a vivid depiction of the debauchery of the late Gilded Age Nora May French and Carrie Sterling arrive at Carmel-by-the-Sea at the turn of the twentieth century with dramatically different ambitions. Nora, a stunning, brilliant, impulsive writer in her early twenties, seeks artistic recognition and bohemian refuge among the most celebrated counterculturalists of the era. Carrie, long-suffering wife of real estate developer George Sterling, wants the opposite: a semblance of the stability she thought her advantageous marriage would offer, now that her philandering husband has taken to writing poetry. After her second abortion, Nora finds herself in a desperate situation but is rescued by an invitation to stay with the Sterlings. To Carrie's dismay, George and the arrestingly beautiful poetess fall instantly into an affair. The ensuing love triangle, which ultimately ends with the deaths of all three, is more than just a wild love story and a fascinating forgotten chapter. It questions why Nora May--in her day a revered poet whose nationally reported suicide gruesomely inspired youths across the country to take their own lives, with her verses in their pockets no less--has been rendered obscure by literary history. It depicts America at a turning point, as the Gilded Age groans in its death throes and young people, particularly young women, look toward a bright, progressive, more egalitarian future. In an unfortunately familiar development, this vision proves a mirage. But women's rage at the scam redefines American progressivism forever. For readers of Nathalia Holt, Denise Kiernan, and Sonia Purnell, this shocking history with a feminist bite is not to be missed.

30 review for The Gilded Edge: Two Audacious Women and the Cyanide Love Triangle That Shook America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    The Gilded Edge: Two Audacious Women and The Cyanide Love Triangle That Shook America (2021) written by Catherine Prendergast is a fascinating must read true historical account of the Bohemian literary culture in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California at the turn of the twentieth century. The lesser-known founder and poet, George (Robert) Sterling (1869-1926) never attained the status and fame he craved, as his friend’s Jack London and Upton Sinclair. Through meticulous study and research, the two women The Gilded Edge: Two Audacious Women and The Cyanide Love Triangle That Shook America (2021) written by Catherine Prendergast is a fascinating must read true historical account of the Bohemian literary culture in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California at the turn of the twentieth century. The lesser-known founder and poet, George (Robert) Sterling (1869-1926) never attained the status and fame he craved, as his friend’s Jack London and Upton Sinclair. Through meticulous study and research, the two women that loved Sterling: his wife, Caroline Rand Sterling (1872-1918) and the beautiful poet Nora Mae French (1881-1907) sacrificed their lives for Sterling’s art; this unfortunate yet common sacrifice is the focus of the book. The “suicide” death of French was featured in newspapers across the nation, but it was never fully investigated as a suspicious criminal case. All the scandalous details including funeral arrangements were handled by the Sterling’s, who actually used the tragedy to shamelessly promote their real estate business during press interviews. French’s writing and belongings were burned the day after her death. George, a notorious womanizer and hopeless alcoholic, often featured Nora as his muse in his published poetry, and carried an original handwritten poem by Nora until the day he died. Prendergast uncovered troves of previously unknown and deliberately concealed facts of Nora’s, Carrie’s and George’s Cyanide poisoning deaths and related events. Readers must decide, given the facts, if Carrie Sterling was a victim or villainess of her time when women artists and creatives downplayed their own gifts and talent to exclusively support promote their men: a socially engineered and expected practice in American culture with few opportunities for independent women. **With thanks to the Seattle Public Library.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I’m not sure if the title, salacious as it is, is quite accurate. It’s a love triangle that is merely speculated about and cyanide deaths that occurred years apart. But, I gave it the four stars for the choice of subject matter, detail of the rime period, and for the way the author sometimes inserts themselves at just the right moments. I always like when an author gives you a glimpse behind the curtain on their methods and true thoughts.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    This was a completely compelling book to read; I am in awe of how Prendergast took her extensive research and crafted such an engaging (and at times infuriating) story of women’s art and women’s lives trampled by men. It has me considering early twentieth century literature rather differently now. As well as the roots of west coast bohemian lifestyles.

  4. 5 out of 5

    LB

    I really loved this book. It's well researched and the writing is very engaging. It was the kind of book I wanted to keep reading past my bedtime, which isn't always the case with history (much as I do love it, it often helps me *fall* asleep). I have two caveats: the first is something I personally liked but other readers may not. Often in history we're trained to remain impartial and removed. You can make a point and back it up with facts, but that's different from editorializing or including I really loved this book. It's well researched and the writing is very engaging. It was the kind of book I wanted to keep reading past my bedtime, which isn't always the case with history (much as I do love it, it often helps me *fall* asleep). I have two caveats: the first is something I personally liked but other readers may not. Often in history we're trained to remain impartial and removed. You can make a point and back it up with facts, but that's different from editorializing or including your personal feelings on the matter. Throughout the book the author makes it very clear who she admires and who she loathes in the story-- she certainly backs this up with fact, but where a historian might lay out the bare *facts* of George's terrible behavior and let you come to the conclusion that he was a terrible waste of air on your own, Prendergast straight up *tells* you he was a miserable philanderer who didn't deserve the loyalty that the women in his life offered him. The first few times she inserted asides about her experience researching the book I was a little thrown (again, not typical for history), but I came to really like the passages where she includes her experience and opinions. Sometimes it was to highlight the difficulty of finding sources for certain events (because no one thought to preserve records not directly related to famous men), so she was very honest about where she was making educated guesses or exactly what evidence she did or didn't have when it came to certain details or reactions. She also highlights some of her experience as a woman in the literary field and shows how the same double standards were applied to the women of the bohemian set (she brings that experience nicely full circle in the conclusion). But while I liked this aspect, I can see how other readers might find this breaking of the fourth wall off-putting. Second, this may be more the fault of marketing, but I expected this to be more of a true crime story. The front cover proclaims it the story of the "cyanide love triangle that shook America," and the jacket calls it "a gothic tale of the last bohemians." In reality I found it to be more of a history/biography of the bohemian writers who circled around the periphery of the Carmel colony. It certainly focuses centrally on the Sterlings, and for the first half on Nora, but the actual suicides are more incidental than a central focus of the story. The description seemed to insinuate that there was a string of closely linked suicides, but all three died years or decades apart, the only link was that they used the same method. There is a tiiiiny hint of speculation/insinuation surrounding Nora's death, but it's not a focus. The only major scandals are several unwed pregnancies, but from the book description I was thinking it was going to be something more along the lines of murder or murder-suicide. I get why a publisher would want to push that angle instead, since crime sells better than literary history, but it did set expectations that weren't really met. Apart from that, I loved learning about new historical figures I had never come across before. I knew Jack London and Upton Sinclair only by their famous works, but nothing about their lives, and most of the rest not at all (which, honestly, did most of them deserve to be remembered anyway? Certainly not pretentious, mediocre George). The author's overarching point is that we all know these famous men, but not the women in their lives who did all the labor that made their writing possible, who supported them even while their own genius was overlooked. Since I had never heard of Nora or Mary Austin or Vera Connolly it's a very good point, and I am glad that I now know them. Overall I thought it was an entertaining and informative read, if not exactly what I was expecting.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    I really liked this, especially for Prendergast's observations on how women disappear from history and the difficulties of uncovering their experiences. Solid narrative nonfiction. I really liked this, especially for Prendergast's observations on how women disappear from history and the difficulties of uncovering their experiences. Solid narrative nonfiction.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Holly Dowell

    In this riveting narrative nonfiction, Catherine Prendergast pieces together the lives of Nora May French and Carrie Sterling, two women at the center of Bohemian poet George Sterling’s gallingly imprudent life. Right from the get-go, you know that all three meet their respective ends by their own hand via cyanide. What you don’t know is the salacious story of their messy entanglement. The Sterlings were some of the OG influencers, hired to lure other artsy types out to the fledgling colony of C In this riveting narrative nonfiction, Catherine Prendergast pieces together the lives of Nora May French and Carrie Sterling, two women at the center of Bohemian poet George Sterling’s gallingly imprudent life. Right from the get-go, you know that all three meet their respective ends by their own hand via cyanide. What you don’t know is the salacious story of their messy entanglement. The Sterlings were some of the OG influencers, hired to lure other artsy types out to the fledgling colony of Carmel-by-the-Sea. George was infamous and deeply entrenched in the literary circles of the Gilded Age, nicknamed “King of Bohemia.” He was a notorious philanderer & his long-suffering wife Carrie was made to play host in this new (and fairly rudimentary) place while George drank heavily and flirted with every beautiful woman in sight. Prendergast’s book is a master class in research. Throughout, she sporadically reflects on the misogynist injustice imbedded even in seemingly innocuous things like archival structure. Each woman — and Nora May particularly — was exceptional on their own, but their histories were intentionally (and in some cases maliciously) folded into into the records of the era’s famous men. The methodic persistence required to compile such a complete and compelling account is truly noteworthy. The first half is a bit dense, mapping out a dense array of relationships that requires discipline to keep track of. But the second half is a serious page-turner, especially after a midpoint big reveal. Note: this book is fascinating but it’s also pretty bleak, even verging on macabre, not by any fault of Prendergast but due to the nature of the story. Please pay attention to the content warnings.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Emily Rose

    *I received this book as a digital ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review* Thank you NetGalley, Catherine Prendergast, and Penguin Group Dutton for approving my request for this book. 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, es *I received this book as a digital ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review* Thank you NetGalley, Catherine Prendergast, and Penguin Group Dutton for approving my request for this book. 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.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mary Elizabeth Campbell

    Instead of an engaging illumination of the fraught nature of relationships between writers at the end of the Gilded Age, this is a crass, informal, muddied account that left me groaning after each page. To write a whole chapter about a day in the life of someone and then clarify, "Well, maybe that happened or maybe it didn't" at the end is just ridiculous. Where's the credibility? Not only that, but the writer felt the need to include anecdotes from her own life at random moments. Honestly, I do Instead of an engaging illumination of the fraught nature of relationships between writers at the end of the Gilded Age, this is a crass, informal, muddied account that left me groaning after each page. To write a whole chapter about a day in the life of someone and then clarify, "Well, maybe that happened or maybe it didn't" at the end is just ridiculous. Where's the credibility? Not only that, but the writer felt the need to include anecdotes from her own life at random moments. Honestly, I don't know how I finished this, and maybe I shouldn't have.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mike Mcnamara

    Incredible tales about remarkable women whose stories have been shuffled aside from history like too many before them.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Judith Squires

    Carmel is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the United States--outrageously expensive and exclusive, of course, but this fascinating book focuses on the development scheme that George Sterling, San Francisco real estate man (a job he loathed) and poet helped engineer by enticing wealthy Bohemians to establish an artists colony there. It is really a story, however, of the women--his wife, Carrie and one of his many lovers, the beautiful poet Nora, who committed suicide while living in Carmel is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the United States--outrageously expensive and exclusive, of course, but this fascinating book focuses on the development scheme that George Sterling, San Francisco real estate man (a job he loathed) and poet helped engineer by enticing wealthy Bohemians to establish an artists colony there. It is really a story, however, of the women--his wife, Carrie and one of his many lovers, the beautiful poet Nora, who committed suicide while living in the Sterlings' Carmel bungalow. Sterling's best friend was literary star Jack London and he was also very close to Ambrose Bierce, who encouraged his poetic efforts. The other non-human character is the rampant abuse of alcohol that fueled so much bad behavior and took a costly toll on all of them. The author has a feminist point of view, which I very much enjoyed, considering the way women were treated in this culture.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Breanne

    Very well researched true story of a long list of compelling women and their philandering men cohorts from the turn of the 20th century. I love any type of nonfiction that reads like a novel so this was right up my alley. Can’t help but draw parallels to the struggles women STILL face in the workplace and domestic home life that speak to the pains these women encountered. Loved the poetry and gained a deeper appreciation for the works of unknown to me poet Nora May French.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    Prendergast states at the beginning of this book that it is a work of narrative nonfiction, which I greatly appreciate her doing before I got too far into the story. She did an amazing amount of research and pieced together various accounts from the people portrayed in this book, including from many personal letters. Despite all the documents she gathered, there’s no way she could know exactly what was done, said or thought in many of the interactions depicted, but she invents lightly enough, ne Prendergast states at the beginning of this book that it is a work of narrative nonfiction, which I greatly appreciate her doing before I got too far into the story. She did an amazing amount of research and pieced together various accounts from the people portrayed in this book, including from many personal letters. Despite all the documents she gathered, there’s no way she could know exactly what was done, said or thought in many of the interactions depicted, but she invents lightly enough, never over-dramatizing, and reminding us from time to time that she is very much interjecting her own educated assessments and imaginings. The subtitle of this book is a bit misleading (and too tabloid for my tastes). This book does explore the life and death of poet Nora May French and her relationships with many people, including that of George Sterling and his wife Carrie, but it explores far more than that. Prendergast examines American women’s lives at the time, their life options and the consequences of straying too far from societal expectations. She asks some important questions such as: Why are the personal documents of Nora May French, a writer who was well published during her short life and whose death made headlines nationwide, to be found in her abusive ex-boyfriend’s archive? Why doesn’t she have an archive of her own? So many of the men in this book have been exalted, while many of the women have been forgotten. She connects this to women’s lives now, particularly regarding her own experiences in academia. One of the most fascinating things in this book is how Prendergast explains away the persistent myth of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California’s bohemian legacy. Carmel is located on the Monterey Peninsula, one of my favorite places in the world. I much prefer moody Monterey itself along with beautifully scruffy Santa Cruz, directly across the bay. I have always known Carmel as a town for the very wealthy. This book examines how the creation of Carmel as it is today is the result of desperate real estate companies trying to sell the area as some sort of bohemian artists’ colony, hoping to attract people with lots of money who wanted to be associated with such a scene. As for the so-called bohemian scene itself, she really lays bare how some of the men involved, men who proclaimed to be creative, free and unconventional, were often just skirt chasers who wanted the free love offered by young bohemian-minded women (until they got pregnant, then “So long!”), but treated their wives as household drudges and secretaries. Other than womanizing, their main hobby was getting very drunk. Prendergast does a lot of reading between the lines in trying to make an argument for the so-called love triangle between Nora, George and Carrie and for a while I thought she was speculating too much. By the end of the book, however, I think her argument is well made. This book is a very enjoyable mix of gripping historical portraits, incredible research and great writing that brings everything together into a meaningful story. (*Side-note: In looking up the people in this book I found a portrait of George Sterling with Edna St. Vincent Millay in Carmel. I wonder why St. Vincent Millay wasn’t mentioned once in this book, especially considering that she was, and is, a famous poet?) “Archives can resemble graveyards, with marked tombs for men that also contain the scattered bones of various women. You have to do a lot of searching to reconstruct women’s lives.” “One doesn’t die but becomes an unknown woman, one mutilated sheet of paper at a time. I offer here a story within a story–on the one hand, the tale of the remarkable women in a Bohemian experiment that ended in disaster; on the other, the concerted efforts to make sure you would never hear about it.”

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    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 Carme 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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Virginia Van

    Nora May French was a young poet craving love and recognition. Carrie Sterling was the long-suffering wife of real estate developer and poet George Sterling known for his alcohol consumption and philandering ways. The two women meet in the newly formed artist colony of Carmel -by-the-sea, a deadly triangle forming as George falls in love with Nora. Wonderfully written and researched, Prendergast brings the woman to life showing them in a society which saw women as wife or harlot, in a community Nora May French was a young poet craving love and recognition. Carrie Sterling was the long-suffering wife of real estate developer and poet George Sterling known for his alcohol consumption and philandering ways. The two women meet in the newly formed artist colony of Carmel -by-the-sea, a deadly triangle forming as George falls in love with Nora. Wonderfully written and researched, Prendergast brings the woman to life showing them in a society which saw women as wife or harlot, in a community where the double standard is rampant. Read this book in one sitting.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Very interesting book, though not my usual genre. Prendergast gives us the context through her extensive research into personal letters and lets us ponder the outcomes. It was fascinating to read about the founding (and faking of) Carmel, as well as to understand that abortion was a common form of birth control at the turn of the century. The sad stories of the women supporting the "Bohemians" and those who tried to make their own art is a valuable lesson in the toll patriarchy takes on women's Very interesting book, though not my usual genre. Prendergast gives us the context through her extensive research into personal letters and lets us ponder the outcomes. It was fascinating to read about the founding (and faking of) Carmel, as well as to understand that abortion was a common form of birth control at the turn of the century. The sad stories of the women supporting the "Bohemians" and those who tried to make their own art is a valuable lesson in the toll patriarchy takes on women's lives and bodies.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    I wanted to love this book but I didn’t. It dragged for me. Felt overwritten and over dramatic. Very soap-opera-y. It’s clear the author did her research, as she often discusses it; unfortunately she doesn’t so much narrate the story as she interrupts it. Overall, I think it was a great idea fora book, there is indeed plot, but I wasn’t a fan of the writing.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    This book is fascinating. Part unsolved mystery, part family drama, part period piece. It's beautifully written, and I especially liked the author's asides and explanations of her research process. Highly recommended. This book is fascinating. Part unsolved mystery, part family drama, part period piece. It's beautifully written, and I especially liked the author's asides and explanations of her research process. Highly recommended.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey Fitz

    An absolutely gripping story. This is one of the best narrative nonfiction books I've read in a very long time. I can't wait to read more from Catherine Prendergast in the future. An absolutely gripping story. This is one of the best narrative nonfiction books I've read in a very long time. I can't wait to read more from Catherine Prendergast in the future.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

    Cathy’s writing is so clear and compelling I had trouble putting this one down.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Lee

    Incredibly researched & page turning read

  21. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Flowers

    Loved it. A smart page-turner.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Catharyn

    Amazing Book! So well researched. Reads like a novel, which I appreciate.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dick Hamilton

    Great story, the author interrupts her story at points to add clarity, with good results. All I can say is that it must have been awful to be a successful, intelligent woman in the early 1900s.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I received an ARC through Goodreads giveaways. A thrilling page turner involving a love triangle, betrayal and suicide that reads like a turn of the century soap opera. You can't help but feel sorry for the women involved. I received an ARC through Goodreads giveaways. A thrilling page turner involving a love triangle, betrayal and suicide that reads like a turn of the century soap opera. You can't help but feel sorry for the women involved.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brett Kaplan

    The Gilded Edge moves swiftly through the intertwined stories of Nora May French, Carrie Sterling, and George Sterling, to offer not only an intimate history of their lives, but a broader narrative about how archives engage in active forgetting when it comes to women’s stories, and how women—then and now—face all the grunt work and derive little of the glory. Prendergast’s writing gallops along so swiftly you can hardly set the text down (I read the whole book on a flight to and return from Illi The Gilded Edge moves swiftly through the intertwined stories of Nora May French, Carrie Sterling, and George Sterling, to offer not only an intimate history of their lives, but a broader narrative about how archives engage in active forgetting when it comes to women’s stories, and how women—then and now—face all the grunt work and derive little of the glory. Prendergast’s writing gallops along so swiftly you can hardly set the text down (I read the whole book on a flight to and return from Illinois to Colorado). She slides deftly between the past and present by evoking these gilded age characters while also describing her search among multiple archives for the truth of their deaths, all suicide, all cyanide. As Prendergast puts it, Nora May French “died covered in shame so that they could be remembered in glory” (170). French was a fine poetess, well regarded in her time, and published in multiple venues. Carrie Sterling was the daughter of an alcoholic father and an exhausted, overworked mother; despite these downtrodden beginnings, Carrie married up: enter George Sterling: worst poet in the universe, philanderer, drunkard, impregnator of many women to whom he wasn’t married. The Carmel Development Company engages George to be an influencer, to get supercool bohemian artist types to settle in the then desperate to sell colony by the sea. A friend of Jack London, George leverages these sorts of connections to make the company happy. It doesn’t work out so very well, but he keeps on trying. Nora, entwined in an engagement to an older man, ends up living in the Sterling’s guest house and…you guessed it…embarks on an affair with George. By far my favorite parts of the book are when Prendergast describes her many adventures in several archives or offers wry asides or fully justified digs at George. I can probably count on a few fingers the number of passive verbs in the whole book. It’s true, as the cover says: “astonishingly well-written,” which is absolutely no surprise given Prendergast’s long and august publication history. I went to University of California, Santa Cruz, and then (after a time in Brighton, London, and New York) to Berkeley for graduate school so the detailed descriptions of the Bay Area and Carmel brought back countless memories of trips down the coast to visit the Sea Otters, the bent and gnarled Cyprus trees, the salty sea. I could feel the thick ocean air and smell that briny odor as I read Prendergast’s scintillating prose. The only problem with the book is not Prendergast’s fault: it’s that we don’t know much about the texture of the love affair between Nora and George. All evidence indicates that, long after Nora’s death, the poetess held a privileged place in George’s heart. But, because any evidence of their illicit affair has been destroyed, we simply cannot know what it was like—what did they talk about on their rambles through the Cyprus trees in Carmel? As they kanoodled on a large rock while the sea otters frolicked and pounded oysters below? And, it’s impossible to like George so it’s very hard to sympathize with their deep love. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the gilded age in general, writers and writing, women’s history, archival work, Carmel, or a good story. Full disclosure (because it would not be ethical if I didn’t): I am friends and colleagues with Cathy Prendergast. But, because I am ethical, I would not write a glowing review if I did not authentically admire this book. Brett Ashley Kaplan 29 October 2021

  26. 5 out of 5

    Laura Prendergast

    In The Guilded Edge, Dr. Prendergast offers a richly detailed look at an artists' community in Carmel, California at the turn of the 20th Century. Her account is multi-faceted, with an uncompromising look at the circumstances of women on the cusp of a feminist revolution; how they dealt with philandering men, and the consequences of illicit sexual liaisons. Dr. Prendergast also paints a detailed portrait of the practical realities of marketing real-estate for the budding artist community. In The In The Guilded Edge, Dr. Prendergast offers a richly detailed look at an artists' community in Carmel, California at the turn of the 20th Century. Her account is multi-faceted, with an uncompromising look at the circumstances of women on the cusp of a feminist revolution; how they dealt with philandering men, and the consequences of illicit sexual liaisons. Dr. Prendergast also paints a detailed portrait of the practical realities of marketing real-estate for the budding artist community. In The Gilded Edge, Dr. Prendergast brilliantly weaves in the narrative of her own delving into the dusty archives that house letters and accounts of the community's affairs into her tales of the community itself. But by far the strongest aspect of the book is her offering of the suicide of a femme-fatale associated with the community along with the sensationalist coverage of the event in the media. Dr. Prendergast presents the characters involved with compassion thoroughness and even humor but declines a definitive statement regarding the motive for the suicide, allowing the reader to form his/her own conclusions, which are informed by the ample descriptions presented of the characters involved and their circumstances.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Oceana9

    3 1/2 stars—“good,” an enjoyable and intriguing read, with a couple of important reservations. Impressively narrated and meticulously researched; engagingly constructed. I was happy to learn more about the luminous Nora May French and her poetic talent and trailblazing Bohemian lifestyle. The beginning of the book really sets Nora up as the book’s focus, so I was disappointed when she ended up sharing the spotlight equally with the Sterlings, whom I find much less interesting. Also, as another rev 3 1/2 stars—“good,” an enjoyable and intriguing read, with a couple of important reservations. Impressively narrated and meticulously researched; engagingly constructed. I was happy to learn more about the luminous Nora May French and her poetic talent and trailblazing Bohemian lifestyle. The beginning of the book really sets Nora up as the book’s focus, so I was disappointed when she ended up sharing the spotlight equally with the Sterlings, whom I find much less interesting. Also, as another reviewer mentioned, this book is a good example of how a misleading, overeager title can mar an otherwise strong reading experience. Nora May French was definitely “audacious,” but Carrie Sterling showed only a couple of rebellious flashes and otherwise led a pretty meek life. By calling it a “cyanide love triangle,” you not only give away the fascinating thread that united these three even in death (subtitle contains spoiler!) but you also sort of mislead the reader into thinking these three ended up in some sort of suicide pact, which is far from the truth. The Gilded Edge: How Casual Misogyny Destroyed Women and Their Art the Early Twentieth Century

  28. 5 out of 5

    Terri

    There is not a single character in the whole book that makes me care what happens to him or her. The Bohemian lifestyle of the early 1900's is just a hot mess; it is not fascinating or interesting. It's just a bunch of self-serving writers who think too highly of themselves and their work. Round about page 100, I was done. I skimmed through the rest to see that Jack London remains a jerk. And so do all the other poets and writers. There is not a single character in the whole book that makes me care what happens to him or her. The Bohemian lifestyle of the early 1900's is just a hot mess; it is not fascinating or interesting. It's just a bunch of self-serving writers who think too highly of themselves and their work. Round about page 100, I was done. I skimmed through the rest to see that Jack London remains a jerk. And so do all the other poets and writers.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    This is a very bad book. It is melodramatic and overwrought, and far from being "painstakingly researched" it makes many errors of basic fact. The author presents rumors, innuendoes, the excesses of tabloid journalism, and her own bizarre fantasies as truth. DNF Nora May French deserves better. This is a very bad book. It is melodramatic and overwrought, and far from being "painstakingly researched" it makes many errors of basic fact. The author presents rumors, innuendoes, the excesses of tabloid journalism, and her own bizarre fantasies as truth. DNF Nora May French deserves better.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Stacey

    I was going to wait for winter break to enjoy this, but once I started, I couldn't stop. It's so well written, a joy to read, and the story of these "bohemians" is so fascinating. I was going to wait for winter break to enjoy this, but once I started, I couldn't stop. It's so well written, a joy to read, and the story of these "bohemians" is so fascinating.

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