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The Princess of Albemarle: Amelie Rives, Author and Celebrity at the Fin de Siecle by Jane Turner Censer

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I’ve always been confused about Amelie Rives Troubetzkoy (1863-1945), so I’m delighted that a book now exists that straightens it all out. The emphasis in this book is on her life in Albemarle County, Virginia, at the Castle Hill estate not far from Charlottesville. Although she was born in Richmond, she lived at Castle Hill most of her childhood, although her family moved to Mobile, Alabama, during her teenage years. While still a teen, she moved back to Castle Hill while spending time in Newport, Rhode Island, Europe, and other haunts of the wealthy. She was considered a beautiful, though capricious and unconventional, Southern Belle. 1888 she published her first novel, The Quick or the Dead? which was considered scandalous because her protagonist, a young widow, expressed her erotic passions for her late husband’s cousin. Of her twenty-five subsequent books, none gained more attention and sales. Of those, the most clearly evocative of the Appalachian Mountains near her estate, was Tanis the Sang-Digger (1893). I remember being delighted when I bought a used copy of that book and then sold it to Eliot Wigginton who read portions of it to his high school students in class discussions of stereotypes of mountaineers and those of other backgrounds. The year the The Quick or the Dead was published,1888, Rives married John Armstrong Chanler. Most of their seven years as a couple, they lived apart, and their marriage was considered scandalous and unhappy and coincided with her becoming addicted to opioids. Four months after their divorce, she married a Russian artist and Prince, Pierre Troubetzkoy. They mostly lived together at Castle Hill until his death in 1936. She continued to live there until her own death nine years later. “An elegant and engaging multifaceted portrait of Amelie Rives as a white southern aristocrat, author, celebrity, artist, socialite, drug addict, divorcee and more. Censer offers a shrewd and persuasive assessment of Rives and her accomplishments that situated her notoriety in an era that is strikingly similar to yet different from our own.” W. Fitzhugh Brundadge. “Jane Censer’s engaging biography introduces modern readers to a fascinating Virginian – a best-selling author and international celebrity in her day who virtually disappeared from public memory following her death in 1945. Her remarkable story reveals a talented and ambitious woman navigating the cultural constraints of her day while making the most of opportunities to challenge and expand society’s views of women’s appropriate place.” Sandra Gioia Treadway. The author, Jane Turner Censer, is Professor Emerita of History at George Mason University. She wrote The Reconstruction of White Southern Womanhood, 1865-1895.

Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2022. 336 pages with an Index, Notes, Selected Bibliography, and illustrations. Hardback in dust jacket.