Skip to main content

Review: American Eve, by Paula Uruburu

On June 25, 1906, wealthy millionaire Harry K. Thaw killed his wife’s Evelyn Nesbit’s, former lover, the famous architect Stanford White, at Madison Square Garden. Evelyn, age 20, had spent the past five or six years of her life in the public eye as a model in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York, but nothing could have prepared her for the publicity that occurred in the aftermath of the killing.

American Eve is primarily about Evelyn’s life, and not quite so much about the murder and subsequent trial. Evelyn was born outside of Pittsburgh in 1885. After her father’s death, her mother tried to make ends meet by hiring Evelyn out as an artists’ model (as long as the artists were female or elderly men). Because of her timeless beauty, Evelyn soon found herself modeling in Philadelphia and New York, where she met much-older Stanford White, who set himself up as her father-figure and protector. Soon, however, he became much more.

Evelyn met her future husband Harry K. Thaw “of Pittsburgh” in 1903. Thaw was known for his erratic, almost sociopathic behavior, but she married his anyways two years later. Thaw was obsessed with Evelyn, to the exclusion of everything else. He was especially obsessed with Evelyn’s old relationship with White, whom Thaw considered the original exploiter of young, impressionable, virginal girls. Then, one sultry evening in the summer of 1906, Thaw shot White point blank, in front of hundreds of witnesses in the rooftop garden at Madison Square Garden. It led to “the trial of the century,” as Thaw was tried for the murder under the plea of insanity.

Uruburu tells the story from a feminist point of view, portraying Evelyn as victim rather than architect of her own fate. Every now and then, as in the chapter which discusses the selection of the jury, Uruburu puts in a little aside like, “…and women were excluded, of course.” Another thing I didn’t like about the book was the opening chapter. The author begins with a discussion of Gilded Age society, whereas I believe she should have begun with the murder, in order to grab the reader’s interest right away. And though I liked the photographs of Evelyn, I feel that there should be more of Stanford White (there’s only one reprinted here). Also, I wish that more had been said about Evelyn’s life after the trial.

But aside from these points, I really enjoyed Evelyn’s tragic story. Since Evelyn’s life was so public, a lot was known (and speculated) about her life, and Uruburu does a wonderful job sorting out the fact and fiction. The narrative is also easy to follow, which is also another major plus. Even without Uruburu’s contribution, Evelyn, the original “Gibson Girl,” and the girl for whom the term “je ne se quais” should have been coined, remains today an interesting and compelling persona.

Also reviewed by: Bookopolis, The Boston Bibliophile, Devourer of Books


AC said…
Thanks for reviewing this! I'm reading it right now and about 1/4 of the way through it. I completely agree about the opening; it was a little too pedantic and definitely should have opened with the murder. And Uruburu's little asides do get annoying.

If you liked this book, you might like "The Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century" by Harold Schechter. I think I like it better than "American Eve," at least so far. It's about a real-life, poison-by-mail murder trial that happened a few years before Thaw killed White.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy:, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy:, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…