Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Fairytale Life

Hugette Clark, the youngest daughter of W.A. Clark, the Copper King, lived a reclusive life. The fabulous amount of money inherited from her father allowed her to live exactly the way she wanted which included having two homes and three apartments that she didn't visit for over 20 years or more. One, Bellosguardo, was kept ready for an immanent visit for nearly forty years.

She collected dolls, paintings and musical instruments. She paid for doll houses built to her specifications and gave away large sums of money to people she liked, sometimes to people she didn't know.

Empty Mansions is a sensitive portrait of a very private woman. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her childhood in the immense mansion in New York City, about her time with her adored mother, Anna, at Bellosguardo near Los Angeles, and her interest in art and music.

The story becomes bizarre when in her 80s with several cancerous tumors on her face she is taken to Doctors Hospital. She's cured, but refuses to leave the hospital preferring to remain there with a private duty nurse rather than resume life in her beautiful homes.

Predictably her death set off a scramble for her fortune. The family is convinced that the nurse, attorney and accountant exercised undue influence in having her sign a will cutting them out and setting up a foundation for the arts at Bellosguardo. It will be interesting to see it how it plays out.

I highly recommend this book for several reasons. It gives a well researched picture of one of the great American fortunes, it provides a glimpse of the remarkable Gilded Age, and it paints a portrait of a strange, reclusive woman.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.