We Used to Own the Bronx: Memoirs of a Former Debutante

We Used to Own the Bronx: Memoirs of a Former Debutante

by Eve Pell
     
 

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"We Used to Own the Bronx tells the story of a woman born into the proprieties of an East Coast dynasty who nevertheless leaves her world of privilege for a career as an investigative reporter. Recounting her upbringing, Eve Pell offers an inside look at the bizarre values and customs of the American aristocracy, from debutante balls and the below-stairs hierarchy of… See more details below

Overview

"We Used to Own the Bronx tells the story of a woman born into the proprieties of an East Coast dynasty who nevertheless leaves her world of privilege for a career as an investigative reporter. Recounting her upbringing, Eve Pell offers an inside look at the bizarre values and customs of the American aristocracy, from debutante balls and the below-stairs hierarchy of the servant class to the fanatical pursuit of blood sports and private men's clubs whose members were cared for like sultans. In the patriarchal world of the upper crust, girls were expected to flatter and defer to boys and men: her scholar-athlete sister was offered a racehorse if she would refuse to attend college. A parade of eccentrics populates the book, from the cockfighting stepfather who ran away from boarding school with a false beard and a stolen motorcycle to the Brahmin great-uncle who secretly organized the servants in Tuxedo Park to vote for Teddy Roosevelt." But as she moved beyond the narrow world she was expected to inhabit, Pell encountered people and ideas that brought her into conflict with her past. Equally unconventional are the muckrakers and revolutionaries she met in the 1960s and 1970s, and her subsequent adventures and misadventures while working with radical activists to reform the California prison system. As Pell traces her absorbing journey from debutante to working mother, from the upper crust of the East Coast to the radical activists of the West, from a life of wealth and privilege to one of trying to make ends meet, she provides exceptional insight into the prickly and complex issues of social class in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this self-indulgent memoir, journalist Pell recollects her privileged East Coast upbringing and her gradual break with the affluence and expectations of her dynastic clan. As a young woman, Pell rode horses, spent time at her grandparents' Tuxedo Park villa ("with two enormous round towers and a long, splendid living room that you stepped down into from a double stairway") and shopped at Bergdorfs with relatives called Cooky, Pookie, Goody and Tinkie (Pell was nicknamed Topsy). Following her debut, Pell went to college "to be interesting to my future husband and to pass the time until he showed up," and it wasn't until she graduated and moved to the West Coast that she escaped the overweening pressure to fill the family-standard "snobbish foxhunting debutante" mold. Her eventual transformation to black sheep, unfortunately, is too little too late. Though her luxurious childhood is marked by genuine emotional pain, alienation and confusion, most readers will have a hard time empathizing with her personal issues or her upper-class guilt, particularly in the present financial climate.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

With cheeky wit and considerable bravery, Pell takes on her upper-crust upbringing of horseback riding and private schools. Gradually, the silver spoon began to taste bitter, and during the turbulent Sixties she took up with leftist writers and radicals on the West Coast. Readers fascinated by New York history and society will appreciate the entertaining stories of rich eccentrics and social movers and shakers.
—Elizabeth Brinkley

Too Much

We all know what poverty can do—to individuals, to families, to societies that look the other way ... But what about wealth? What can the possession of immense fortune, over time, do to us? Eve Pell knows. Eve Pell, in this riveting new memoir, tells. We should listen.

HeadButler.com

[Pell] tells [her] before-and-after story, briskly and with considerable flair ... If you've ever pressed your nose to the chintz-covered window of Old Money and wished you were born into a great American family, this is the book you need—Pell will take you inside the mansion and share every glorious and terrible secret of the aristocracy. (HeadButler.com

San Francisco Chronicle

In We Used to Own the Bronx, her revealing and riveting memoir, Eve Pell defies the dictates of her social class—to be charming but not to say what she felt—and bares all. She detonates bombshells and unmasks betrayals on almost every page.

truthdig.com

...refreshingly direct ... Pell ... uses her lively memoir of growing up in aristocratic style to ask a series of provocative questions: Is it possible to choke on a silver spoon? What good is a sense of entitlement? Are riches wasted on the rich? Her candid account of bristling at her birthright transcends the stereotype suggested by the subtitle to divulge the psychic pressures of living with inherited privilege in a meritocracy-mad country ... To her lasting credit, We Used to Own the Bronx is a graceful object lesson in how perspective is gained not all at once but by accretion, the reward of years of methodical observation.

New York Social Diary

...first-rate ... absolutely fascinating ... We Used to Own the Bronx is written from a rare combination of inside and outside. Both are essential.

Wall Street Journal

...a literary treat ... Pell gives us a kind of cultural anthropology of the closest thing in America to a landed gentry.

From the Publisher
“We all know what poverty can do—to individuals, to families, to societies that look the other way … But what about wealth? What can the possession of immense fortune, over time, do to us? Eve Pell knows. Eve Pell, in this riveting new memoir, tells. We should listen.” — Too Much

“[Pell] tells [her] before-and-after story, briskly and with considerable flair … If you’ve ever pressed your nose to the chintz-covered window of Old Money and wished you were born into a great American family, this is the book you need—Pell will take you inside the mansion and share every glorious and terrible secret of the aristocracy.” — HeadButler.com

“In We Used to Own the Bronx, her revealing and riveting memoir, Eve Pell defies the dictates of her social class—to be charming but not to say what she felt—and bares all. She detonates bombshells and unmasks betrayals on almost every page.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“…refreshingly direct … Pell … uses her lively memoir of growing up in aristocratic style to ask a series of provocative questions: Is it possible to choke on a silver spoon? What good is a sense of entitlement? Are riches wasted on the rich? Her candid account of bristling at her birthright transcends the stereotype suggested by the subtitle to divulge the psychic pressures of living with inherited privilege in a meritocracy-mad country … To her lasting credit, We Used to Own the Bronx is a graceful object lesson in how perspective is gained not all at once but by accretion, the reward of years of methodical observation.” — truthdig.com

“…first-rate … absolutely fascinating … We Used to Own the Bronx is written from a rare combination of inside and outside. Both are essential.” — New York Social Diary

“…a literary treat … Pell gives us a kind of cultural anthropology of the closest thing in America to a landed gentry.” — Wall Street Journal

“With cheeky wit and considerable bravery, Pell takes on her upper-crust upbringing of horseback riding and private schools … Readers fascinated by New York history and society will appreciate the entertaining stories of rich eccentrics and social movers and shakers.” — Library Journal

“Eve Pell gives us a fascinating glimpse into a secret world of unfathomable wealth and privilege. Hers is an unexpected and ultimately hopeful journey of rebellion and reconciliation.” — Jane Fonda

“An intriguing look at a world of arcane, white-gloved ritual and great privilege by a writer rebellious enough to leave it behind, wise enough to know that doing so is no quick and simple matter, and aware enough to know that the alternative worlds she discovers have their own moral complexities as well.” — Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost and Bury the Chains

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781438424972
Publisher:
State University of New York Press
Publication date:
02/05/2009
Series:
Excelsior Editions
Pages:
243
Sales rank:
714,250
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are saying about this

Adam Hochschild

An intriguing look at a world of arcane, white-gloved ritual and great privilege by a writer rebellious enough to leave it behind, wise enough to know that doing so is no quick and simple matter, and aware enough to know that the alternative worlds she discovers have their own moral complexities as well. (Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost and Bury the Chains)

Jane Fonda

Eve Pell gives us a fascinating glimpse into a secret world of unfathomable wealth and privilege. Hers is an unexpected and ultimately hopeful journey of rebellion and reconciliation.

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