The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family

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9780385319423: The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family
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Book by Lessard Suzannah

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When I was a little girl, I liked to go into a formal garden of box bushes that lay just to the west of my grandparents’ house. The box garden, as it was called, was on a terrace that was significantly lower than the house and thus apart, in a zone of its own. The hedges that lined the paths had grown high and billowy, so that they were over my head, and in some places had grown so close together that I had to push my way through. The bushes would then spray me with their gritty dust, and I’d smell the sharp-smelling box-bush decay rising from the damp ground where no sun reached, and see up close the way the leaves were bunched in kernels like tiny loose cabbages. It seems to me now that my family story was all there always, everywhere, layered away, as in the kernels of box, and that I absorbed it somatically—took it in through my pores with the gritty box dust.
 
At the center of the garden was a circular space, also hedged by box, in which there was a shallow, round pool, with a crouching marble statue of Venus in the middle, her nude back roughened with exposure. The weedy gravel around the pool was also spongy with yew needles, and in one spot there was a bronze flower-shaped lid, light-catching with verdigris, that covered a small well. Removing this cover, I would then reach down till my armpit was crushed against the edge, through dampness and maybe bugs, to turn a rusty wheel at the bottom. Then water would spurt from four jets around the statue into the sky.
 
Beyond the box garden was the estate that my great-grandfather Stanford White had designed—the Place, as we called it in the family. That Stanford was a famous Beaux-Arts architect, notorious for being murdered in scandalous circumstances, was part of the environment too. He was, however, rarely mentioned on the Place. He was latent. The silence about him was something dark right there in the light. When I was a child, the Place was very bright. In that brightness, silence extended to the horizon like the sea, or like his fame: it was everywhere so that you didn’t notice it, like the air.
 
The Place was sixty miles from New York on the North Shore of Long Island, in the village of St. James, which was part of the town of Smithtown. It consisted of sixty acres—a plateau on which the dwellings stood, and steep wooded hills that fell to Stony Brook Harbor. The principal feature of the Place was the main house called Box Hill—occupied by my grandparents in my girlhood. There was also a cluster of barns, also designed by Stanford, plus some older barns and farmhouses from earlier times. There were nodes on the Place—a temple in a laurel wood, a statue among pines on a hill—connected, either explicitly, by roads and pathways, or implicitly, by the way they were placed in relation to each other. The harmony and symmetry and the balanced interrelation of spots created an atmosphere of providential protection. This rationality and integration is typical of Beaux-Arts design, in which the landscape is an extension of the architecture and the smallest detail is connected to the vision of the whole. Thus, the silence notwithstanding, there was hardly a spot on the Place in which Stanford was not present.
 
It’s not true that Stanford was never mentioned, however. I remember times in the Box Hill library, way, way back—winter scenes, with the sun pouring in, with sherry for the grown-ups and cheddar spread on Ritz crackers, and a fire on the hearth in sunlight—when my grandmother would mention Stanford in a happy way, having to do with his hair, which was red: intimate allusions, in which she would point out how Stanford’s hair had turned up in my grandfather’s red mustache, disappeared for a generation, and then popped up on me.
 
As I grew I gradually went farther and farther afield, establishing an emotional residence in the landscape which for a long time would be what I remembered of my childhood—would become what I thought of as my real life. Eventually I found my way down through the woods to the harbor. Sometimes the water in the harbor was a feral blue and choppy in a way that made it look like fur roughed backward, while the trees on the far shores glowed. Or the water might be pewter and as flat as a mirror and the shores slate. Or there could be mists rising off the water with swans swimming out of them under a pink sky.
 
A short way along the shore, to the west, standing on a high bank above the beach there was a windmill, designed by Stanford, shingled and very tall in order to catch the prevailing south wind. Its petal-like vanes were like a halo. The windmill had been built to pump spring water to the houses on top of the hill. Indeed, springs ran out from under the bank all along the beach there, the water so cold that the sensation would shoot up my legs like the notes of a trumpet. As I neared it the windmill’s dark mass loomed upward, too close to see whole—an enormous, moldy derelict in a sunless place. Inside, the stairs zigzagged upward to infinity in a gray light that came in through holes in the sides where storms had blown shingles away. Inside, was a creaking sound—the vanes, connected to the pumping mechanism, changing direction with slight shifts in the wind.
 
I have come to see family history as similar to architecture in certain ways. Like architecture, it is quiet. It encompasses, but does not necessarily demand attention. You might not even notice that it’s there. Like architecture, too, family history can suddenly loom into consciousness. For example, you can sit in the New York Public Library at Forty-second Street—designed by Carrère & Hastings, and perhaps the greatest building in New York—with your nose in a book, or busy with the catalogue and transactions with clerks, all the while oblivious of the splendid interior around you. You can forget it utterly, or perhaps not have noticed it at all that day, and then, casually looking up, be astonished, even momentarily disoriented by what you see. So it is with family history. One can go about one’s life with no thought of the past, and then, as if waking from a dream, be astonished to see that you are living within its enclosure. I was in my thirties when I began to perceive that my own life was encompassed in this way. At first this seemed to be a form of bondage, but it turned out to be a gift, and all family history, it seems to me, must be a gift in a similar way.
 
The legacy of real architecture is that it can affirm aspects of sensibility that otherwise might lie fallow, unsuspected. Chartres draws into salience the faculty of awe that in our secular age might never be awakened. An eighteenth-century drawing room makes one aware of one’s innate dignity, which might easily be forgotten in the age of the mall. The correlation between architecture and interior life allows us to relive past visions by simply entering the architecture those visions produced.
 
In a similar way, there was for me a correlation between the architecture of my family history and my inner life. In both something was hidden. In the beautiful environment of the family past, there was a magnificent figure who had gone out of control in ways destructive to those on his course—including his family—and ultimately to himself. Behind my memories of a blissful childhood in a beautiful place, there were also destructive forces that were blind and out of control, but unacknowledged. Yet to this inner truth and all its ramifications I had no access. This was the great role of family history to me. It made my hidden experience resonate, and by so doing delivered to me a whole self.
 
The family architecture also taught me how short time is, how close the generations are, how powerfully lives reverberate down through the structure of family, deeply affecting each other. This is the other part of the imperative to go back into the architecture of time, for with our response to those reverberations, whether witting or unwitting, we in turn create the unseen structure within which our children must live.

Présentation de l'éditeur :

The story of Stanford White--his scandalous affair with the 16-year-old actress Evelyn Nesbit, his murder in 1906 by her husband, the millionaire Harry K. Thaw, and the hailstorm of publicity that surrounded "the trial of the century"--has proven irresistable to generations of novelists, historians, and biographers. The premier neoclassical architect of his day, White's legacy to the world were such masterpieces as New York's original Madison Square Garden, the Washington Square Arch, and the Players, Metropolitan, and Colony clubs. He was also responsible for the palaces of such clients as the Whitneys, Vanderbilts, and Pulitzers, the robber barons of the Gilded Age whose power and dominance shaped the nation in its heady ascent at the turn of the century.

As the century rolled on, however, the story of Stanford White and Evelyn Nesbit came to be viewed as glamorous and romantic, the darker narrative of White's out-of-control sexual compulsion obscured by time. Indeed, White's wife Bessie and his son Larry remained adamantly silent about the matter for the duration of their lives, a silence that reverberated through the next four generations of their extended family.

Suzannah Lessard is the eldest of Stanford White's great grandchildren. It was only in her 30's that she began to sense the parallels between the silence about her great-grandfather's life and the silence about her own perilous experience as a little girl in her own home. Thus she became drawn to the remarkable history of her family in order to uncover its hidden truths, and in so doing to liberate herself from its enclosure at last. The result is a multi-layered memoir of astonishing elegance and power, one that, like a great building, is illumined room by room, chapter by chapter, until the whole is clearly seen.

Les informations fournies dans la section « A propos du livre » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.

Autres éditions populaires du même titre

9780385314459: The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family

Edition présentée

ISBN 10 :  0385314450 ISBN 13 :  9780385314459
Editeur : Bantam Dell Pub Group, 1996
Couverture rigide

9780297819400: The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family

Weiden..., 1997
Couverture rigide

9780297820031: THE ARCHITECT OF DESIRE: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family

Weiden..., 1997
Couverture souple

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Description du livre DELTA, United States, 1999. Paperback. Etat : New. Reprint. Language: English. Brand new Book. Suzannah Lessard grew up on Box Hill, the Long Island estate built by her great-grandfather, Stanford White, the premier architect and social impresario of the Gilded Age. In 1906, on the rooftop theatre of the original Madison Square Garden, White was shot dead by the Pittsburgh millionaire Harry K. Thaw, whose wife, the showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, White had seduced when she was sixteen. The highly publicized scandal, and the "trial of the century" that ensued, came to be mythologized in our culture and made ever more glamorous and romantic as the century rolled on. But on Box Hill, where four generations of the Stanford White family lived side by side, a tension-filled silence surrounded the eminent, charismatic figure in the family past. Lessard is the eldest of Stanford White's great-granddaughters. It was only in her thirties that she began to sense the parallels between the silence about her great-grandfather's life and the silence about her own perilous experience as a little girl in her own home. Thus she became drawn to Stanford's story and, by extension, the story of her clan in order to uncover its unacknowledged truths and to recognize the unacknowledged truths of her own life. As she delved deep into her family's past, one thing became unassailably clear; that behind both the family's silence and the romantic mythology that surrounded her great-grandfather's life lay an untold narrative of sexual compulsion gone out of control. N° de réf. du vendeur APC9780385319423

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Description du livre DELTA, United States, 1999. Paperback. Etat : New. Reprint. Language: English. Brand new Book. Suzannah Lessard grew up on Box Hill, the Long Island estate built by her great-grandfather, Stanford White, the premier architect and social impresario of the Gilded Age. In 1906, on the rooftop theatre of the original Madison Square Garden, White was shot dead by the Pittsburgh millionaire Harry K. Thaw, whose wife, the showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, White had seduced when she was sixteen. The highly publicized scandal, and the "trial of the century" that ensued, came to be mythologized in our culture and made ever more glamorous and romantic as the century rolled on. But on Box Hill, where four generations of the Stanford White family lived side by side, a tension-filled silence surrounded the eminent, charismatic figure in the family past. Lessard is the eldest of Stanford White's great-granddaughters. It was only in her thirties that she began to sense the parallels between the silence about her great-grandfather's life and the silence about her own perilous experience as a little girl in her own home. Thus she became drawn to Stanford's story and, by extension, the story of her clan in order to uncover its unacknowledged truths and to recognize the unacknowledged truths of her own life. As she delved deep into her family's past, one thing became unassailably clear; that behind both the family's silence and the romantic mythology that surrounded her great-grandfather's life lay an untold narrative of sexual compulsion gone out of control. N° de réf. du vendeur APC9780385319423

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Description du livre DELTA, United States, 1999. Paperback. Etat : New. Reprint. Language: English. Brand new Book. Suzannah Lessard grew up on Box Hill, the Long Island estate built by her great-grandfather, Stanford White, the premier architect and social impresario of the Gilded Age. In 1906, on the rooftop theatre of the original Madison Square Garden, White was shot dead by the Pittsburgh millionaire Harry K. Thaw, whose wife, the showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, White had seduced when she was sixteen. The highly publicized scandal, and the "trial of the century" that ensued, came to be mythologized in our culture and made ever more glamorous and romantic as the century rolled on. But on Box Hill, where four generations of the Stanford White family lived side by side, a tension-filled silence surrounded the eminent, charismatic figure in the family past. Lessard is the eldest of Stanford White's great-granddaughters. It was only in her thirties that she began to sense the parallels between the silence about her great-grandfather's life and the silence about her own perilous experience as a little girl in her own home. Thus she became drawn to Stanford's story and, by extension, the story of her clan in order to uncover its unacknowledged truths and to recognize the unacknowledged truths of her own life. As she delved deep into her family's past, one thing became unassailably clear; that behind both the family's silence and the romantic mythology that surrounded her great-grandfather's life lay an untold narrative of sexual compulsion gone out of control. N° de réf. du vendeur LIE9780385319423

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