Friday, July 25, 2014

The 1914 Memoirs of Evelyn Nesbit...

Young. Beautiful. Charles Dana Gibson's favorite Gibson Girl.
Innocent. Intriguing. Scandalous. Sensational. Notorious.

Each of these adjectives describe Evelyn Nesbit and her life. She became an artist's model at fourteen, a chorus girl on the stage in New York at fifteen. Then she met Stanford White, New York's most famous architect. He wined and dined her; invited her to parties; bought her gifts. And then he drugged and raped her.
"White is to me a memory as of a great experience. One remembers an earthquake without blaming or condemning the seismic forces that produced the phenomena. White was an earthquake that shattered to the foundations the fabric of innocence."
A few years later, a rich playboy, Henry Thaw, pursued and married her. Then, on June 25, 1906, he shot Stanford White in cold blood and Evelyn Nesbit found herself involved in the murder trial of the century. She wrote this memoir in 1914. It's her story, told in her voice, but it feels a bit removed and impersonal. She's candid at times, but more often she's evasive and glosses over the most interesting events in her life. Which was frustrating. I wanted to know more about her and her life than she chose to reveal. Bits of her personality did come through, however, especially in her "Philosophy of Life" listed at the end of this short memoir. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Happy is the woman who can say, "I know the worst that can happen to me--I've had it."
  • Plain women often have plain sailing; pretty women find the sea of life pretty rough.
  • The way out of life is trouble; the way out of trouble is work.
  • Women's steps are hell ward, because men are the road makers.
  • Beware of the disinterested man who wants to help you; pay cash--it will come cheaper in the long run.
  • It is much easier to be rich than strong, and much better to be strong than rich.
  • Regrets are useless. You can't repair the foundations from the roof.

While this book fits nicely in with my summer of Reading 1914 books, what it did most of all is make me want to read American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford white, The Birth of the "It" Girl and the Crime of the Century by Paula Uruburu. Maybe then I'd get the real story.

Happy Reading!


  1. Oh, this sounds fascinating! Love her maxims that you've shared. Her story always makes me think of the musical "Ragtime", when her character sings "Crime of the Century". What an earworm!

    1. She definitely led an incredible life. This book just gives you a taste...and leaves you wanting more.

  2. I'm with Melwyk. I immediately thought of Ragtime.

    Nesbit is such a fascinating person. I will be interested to see if the second book gives you more answers!

    1. I just checked it out of the library. Fingers crossed the biography is as interesting to read as the life Nesbit lived.

  3. Wow! I was not familiar with Evelyn Nesbit at all. What a roller coaster life! Hope the biography is good!