I visit Newport a surprising number of times during a year. Never of my own volition, but periodically I find people say, “You know where you’d be happy? Newport!” And I say, “Yes, okay,” because they’re not wrong. My favorite thing about Newport are the cake truffles at a bakery called the Newport Cookie Company. I am dead serious about this/them/the existence of cake truffles.
My second favorite thing is probably the weird little old movie theater? It’s nice. Sometimes they give you free cocktails! Also, the pub across the street has excellent nachos. And biking along the cliffs is really pleasant. Do you like to listen to music on your iPhone as you bike? I do. It makes me feel really heroic.
If you went far down on my list of favorites, you would find that I enjoy touring the historic homes. I think you reader people will assume I love the tours much more than I do, but I’ve seen all of the houses now. None of them are likely to let me move in. Still. I appreciate marble and little bronze statues. Hell, who doesn’t?
You know what I hate? Visiting Marble House – Alva Vanderbilt’s Newport “cottage” and being told how much I must love Alva Vanderbilt.
I don’t. She sucks.
When people say that I must love Alva, I realize they understand that I like 1) wealthy people and 2) historical women. They know those two affections and absolutely nothing else about my personality. They think I am someone who would tie her daughter’s hair to the back of a chair to keep her posture perfectly straight before selling her into a loveless marriage.
Seriously, Alva was pretty much a monster.
But it’s fine. Marble House is spectacularly beautiful, and I enjoy being there, and I usually have a belly stuffed with four or five cakeballs, so I just kind of nod during the tour as if to indicate that, yes, she was some lady.
And look, she did have accomplishments! If you like having the right to vote, Alva was directly responsible for that. She was an adamant suffragette. She hosted fundraisers at Marble House to anyone who wanted to visit provided they made a donation to the cause. She also held rallies in the backyard, where women sat on carpets so they did not have to touch the grass, which is just a very proper ladylike idea.
Incidentally, because I keep mentioning Marble House, this is what it looks like:
Allowing working women into their homes for a small donation wasn’t customary, and the fact that Alva hosted these events helped break down class boundaries. That was progressive, although whenever I see the “Votes for Women” china that Alva used to serve all the women at the rallies, I can’t help wondering how the scullery maid felt about the cause.
I suspect she’d have traded it for a few less teacups to clean.
But that’s not a criticism. The impact of a woman of Alva’s social station lending her support to the Suffragette cause can’t be overstated. (Alva once even quipped that women should “Pray to God. She will help you.”)
The feature that bothers me about Alva is that, since she lived in a certain age and was wealthy, many of the things that she did that suck are dismissed as being charming or interesting.