Annejet van der Zijl
The American Princess
The personal story of an exceptional, courageous woman by the uncrowned queen of Dutch non-fiction
Annejet van der Zijl, Dutch ‘queen of narrative non-fiction’, now gives us the story of Allene Tew (1872-1955), the female Great Gatsby. An ambitious girl from the country, she had five husbands. Each marriage took her higher and higher into the wealthiest and aristocratic circles, and had her living ever more grandly, in a Park Avenue apartment in New York, for instance, to a château near Paris. It was her fourth marriage to a German aristocrat that gave her the nickname ‘the American princess’.
Her life reads like a rags-to-riches fairytale, yet it was far from being a princess’s dream. The young German aristocrat turned out to be a fascist, and out for her fortune. That she had such wealth in the first place is pretty remarkable, given that her first husband, the charming, reckless, moneyed Tod Hostetter, was an inveterate gambler who, at his death, left her with a million-dollar debt. In only one of her five marriages was she happy, to the engineer Anson Burchard. When he died, the society columns called her ‘the richest and saddest widow of the city.’
The greatest sadness of Allene’s life was losing her children. A daughter died in childhood. Her fighter-pilot son died during the First World War, another daughter in the Spanish-flu epidemic that followed. Time and again, death, treachery and disaster forced Allene Tew to pick up the pieces and start life again, in true American fashion. That coping with disaster is very much the theme of the book.
The American Princess is an engaging biography of a resilient woman, as well as a story of the making of twentieth-century America. It quickly became a major bestseller in the Netherlands, read by all sorts of readers.