American Lady: The Life of Susan Mary Alsop

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Overview

The fascinating story of one of the grand dames of Georgetown society and a true Washington insider

Henry Kissinger once remarked that more agreements were concluded in the living room of Susan Mary Alsop than in the White House. A descendent of Founding Father John Jay, Susan Mary was an American aristocrat whose first marriage gave her full access to post-war diplomatic social life in Paris. There, her circle of friends included Winston Churchill, Isaiah Berlin, Evelyn Waugh, ...

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American Lady: The Life of Susan Mary Alsop

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Overview

The fascinating story of one of the grand dames of Georgetown society and a true Washington insider

Henry Kissinger once remarked that more agreements were concluded in the living room of Susan Mary Alsop than in the White House. A descendent of Founding Father John Jay, Susan Mary was an American aristocrat whose first marriage gave her full access to post-war diplomatic social life in Paris. There, her circle of friends included Winston Churchill, Isaiah Berlin, Evelyn Waugh, and Christian Dior, among other luminaries, and she had a passionate love affair with British ambassador Duff Cooper. During the golden years of John F. Kennedy’s presidency—after she had married the powerful journalist Joe Alsop—her Washington home was a gathering place for everyone of importance, including Katharine Graham, Robert McNamara, and Henry Kissinger. Dubbed “the second lady of Camelot,” she hosted dinner parties that were the epitome of political power and social arrival, bringing together the movers and shakers not just of the United States, but of the world. Featuring an introduction by Susan Mary Alsop’s goddaughter Frances FitzGerald, American Lady is a fascinating chronicle of a woman who witnessed, as Nancy Mitford once said, “history on the boil.”

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A descendant of founding father John Jay and magnate John Jacob Astor, Susan Mary Jay (1918–2004) grew up a privileged member of the moneyed and connected Eastern Establishment, where her unloving mother and only sister’s teenage death cast a long shadow. When her marriage to diplomat Bill Patten brought her to Paris in 1945, she blossomed into a beguiling, inquisitive hostess, hobnobbing with the likes of Evelyn Waugh, Winston Churchill, and the duke and duchess of Windsor. She also fell madly in love with Duff Cooper, the womanizing British ambassador, continuing their long affair even after giving birth to a son that Cooper refused to acknowledge. After Patten’s death, Susan Mary married his Harvard chum, the famous political journalist Joe Alsop, aware that Alsop was a closeted homosexual. At this point one of Washington’s most sought-after hostesses, she split amicably from Alsop in 1974, launching a successful new career as an author. In 1995, under alcoholism treatment forced upon her by her family, she spitefully revealed to her son his father’s true identity. Despite French biographer de Margerie’s use of some 500 love letters to Cooper, Susan Mary, with her “unrelenting self-control,” remains mostly inscrutable, though this manages to be an engrossing, perceptive, and nuanced portrait of a celebrated socialite who once knew everyone worth knowing. (Dec.)
Library Journal
A descendant of Founding Father John Jay, Susan Mary hit Paris in 1945 with first husband Bill Patten and met everyone. After Patten's death, she married renowned columnist Joseph Alsop and with him became a legendary powerbroker, dominating Georgetown society for four decades. Interestingly, the author is a member of the Conseil d'État, the highest administrative court in France.
Kirkus Reviews
An engagingly restrained portrait of an aristocratic woman whose marriages propelled her post–World War II political reach and literary accomplishments. Descendant of the early American diplomat John Jay, Susan Mary (1918–2004), as she was always known, employed all the trappings of her privileged upbringing to create a purposeful, useful career. Raised largely abroad, as her father served as a diplomat around the world, Susan Mary demonstrated serious inquisitiveness at an early age and chose the men in her life with an eye to their power and influence. Her first husband, William Patten, served as economic analyst at the U.S. Embassy in Paris from 1945 to 1960, thus allowing Susan Mary a rare entrée into the difficult, exciting postwar remaking of Europe. There, she met Duff Cooper, British ambassador to Paris, who became her lover and fathered her first child. After Patten's death, she married Joe Alsop, the influential editorial writer for the New York Herald Tribune, intimate of JFK and homosexual (Alsop told her outright), with whom she set up her formidable salon in Georgetown. Thin, fashionable, well informed, yet a little wicked, Susan Mary had what it took to be talked about, and the Alsops' gatherings were the talk of Georgetown's "glory years." Eventually, Alsop's rabid defense of the Vietnam War estranged many, including his wife, and they separated. In her mature years, Susan Mary achieved literary success with her published letters to longtime friend Marietta Tree. Paris-based author de Margerie paints in bold, bright outlines the compelling story of this Jamesian heroine. Entertaining story of a dynamic literary woman who sparked a fascinating life from the changing currents of the age.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670025749
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/8/2012
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 535,002
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Meet the Author

Caroline de Margerie, a former diplomat, is a member of the Conseil d’Etat, the supreme administrative court in France. She lives in Paris.

Christopher Murray is an American translator and musicologist based in Paris.

Frances FitzGerald is the author of several nonfiction works, including the Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning Fire in the Lake. She lives in New York City.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 11, 2014

    I looked forward to reading this book and the beginning was inte

    I looked forward to reading this book and the beginning was interesting enough. It soon became tiring. I could barely get through the last chapter.

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