The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly

The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly

by Kerri Maher

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Overview

A life in snapshots…

Grace knows what people see. She’s the Cinderella story. An icon of glamor and elegance frozen in dazzling Technicolor. The picture of perfection. The girl in white gloves.

A woman in living color…

But behind the lens, beyond the panoramic views of glistening Mediterranean azure, she knows the truth. The sacrifices it takes for an unappreciated girl from Philadelphia to defy her family and become the reigning queen of the screen. The heartbreaking reasons she trades Hollywood for a crown. The loneliness of being a princess in a fairy tale kingdom that is all too real.

Hardest of all for her adoring fans and loyal subjects to comprehend, is the harsh reality that to be the most envied woman in the world does not mean she is the happiest. Starved for affection and purpose, facing a labyrinth of romantic and social expectations with more twists and turns than Monaco’s infamous winding roads, Grace must find her own way to fulfillment. But what she risks—her art, her family, her marriage—she may never get back.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451492074
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/25/2020
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 42,917
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

KERRI MAHER is the author of The Kennedy Debutante, which People magazine described as “a riveting reimagining of a true tale of forbidden love,” and This Is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World under the name Kerri Majors. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and founded YARN, an award-winning literary journal of short-form YA writing. A writing professor for many years, she now writes full-time and lives with her daughter and dog in a leafy suburb west of Boston, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

 The Girl in White Gloves
A Novel of Grace Kelly
By Kerri Maher
 

***This excerpt is from an advance, uncorrected proof***

Chapter 1
 
1969
 
            Forty.   She’d never felt tempted to run and hide on a birthday until this one.  It was still months away, and Rainier and the children and the entire staff of the palace wanted to know how Her Serene Highness would like to celebrate.

            “I wouldn’t,” she told Rainier in the chauffeured black Mercedes on the way to another official dinner.  Small enclosed spaces, shuttling between events—these seemed to be the only circumstances under which they saw each other these days.

            “Come now, Grace, that’s not like you,” said Rainier, putting his hand on hers.  She withdrew it and set it on her lap, which was cocooned in peach silk shantung.  The dress would be featured in all the columns the next morning, columns that would focus entirely on the fine stitching and embroidery of her ensemble and say little or nothing about the books she’d read to sick children at the hospital that morning, or the many tedious hours she was spending on the upcoming Red Cross gala, practicing the art of tedious diplomacy to ensure no donor’s toes were stepped on, and everyone important was appropriately flattered.

            “Forgive me, Rainier,” Grace said, employing her most dulcet tones, “I’m just … Not myself, I suppose.”  Vagueness was her best strategy with her husband.  He wasn’t interested in depth of feeling or her womanly thoughts.  For so long, this had eaten at her, this sense that he misunderstood her and wasn’t even interested in understanding her.  Recently though, she’d come to realize how much easier his limitations made her life in Monaco.  If he didn’t ask, she didn’t have to explain herself; that way, she could preserve her strength for the times when they did disagree.

            “Could you try to be back to yourself by November the twelfth?” he asked.   “Because our subjects would very much like to pay tribute to their princess on her special day.  I fear they won’t understand if there is no celebration.” His tone was patient enough, but she knew it would not be in another week if she didn’t relent.  For now, he knitted together his dark brows, and pursed his full lips in a pouty smile meant to suggest that of course he knew why she was feeling impatient with having to share a private moment with a principality, but they both knew what was best, what must be done.
             
            “Do what you think is best, Rainier,” said Grace with a light sigh, knowing it was pointless to delay her acquiescence.  Something else she’d learned: give in when she could, and as soon as possible.  Doing so made everything move more smoothly, made for fewer uncomfortable discussions.  “I’m sure that between them, Marcy and Meredith”—she said, referring to both their secretaries—“will throw a lovely party.”

            “Is there anything special you’d like?” he asked, approval making his voice warm and suggestive.  She recoiled inside—it was a good thing he’d be too exhausted for anything more than sleep after this dinner.

            “Peace on earth?  Good will toward men?” she quipped, dodging the amorousness as skillfully as she had with Hitch and everyone else all those years ago.  Little had she known then what good training for wifeliness her years in Hollywood would be.  At the time, she’d thought the opposite.

            Rainier smirked, his slim moustache curling up on the right.  “I was thinking of something more public.  A small public garden for your beloved flowers?  Or maybe a statue along the promenade?”

            “Please, Rainier, nothing for me, or of me,” she said, making her voice both alarmed and embarrassed, hoping this conversation would not spiral out of control.  “If you must, donate something in my name.  A new wing of the library, a series of plays at the theater…”

            “So that you can star in them?” he asked jokingly, but the familiar derisiveness was unmistakable. 

            She laughed, keeping it amused and fizzy.  “I should think not!  Who wants to see an old broad like me on the stage?”

            Though the wisecrack she’d made at her own expense gave her a momentary flutter of regret in the pit of her stomach, it calmed quickly when she saw that she had succeeded and the conversation was over.  Rainier nodded, then turned to look out the window of the car into the neon-lit night.  How she hated those lights—every one of them a blight on the dramatic coastal beauty of her adopted homeland.  Thank goodness Rainier had finally seen sense and halted the building of more such abominations.

            “Don't forget your glasses,” he said when the car stopped at its destination.  The swell of people and cameras readied themselves outside their car.  She frequently forgot she was even wearing her glasses, as the pleasure of actually being able to see more than five feet in front of her seemed perfectly natural when she had them on.  But Rainier never forgot that she should take them off in public.  Heaven forbid his princess should be anything other than the movie star he married.

            “Thank you, Darling,” came her automatic reply, as she plucked the tortoise shell spectacles off her face and set them in the discreet leather box between them.  Immediately the world went fuzzy, and when the door was opened for her, she was glad for the usual explosion of flashbulbs so that she had an excuse to squint as she smiled and waited for Rainier’s arm to lead her into the night.

 
**
 
            Few things were as soothing to her as the sight of her tidy desk.   With the stationary, pens, ink, tissues, clips, and all other instruments of correspondence neatly stored in small containers within its drawers, the top surface was simply a glossy, inviting expanse of varnished wood.  She breathed a sigh of relief at its simplicity.

            The morning had been something of a scene, with Stephie refusing to go to the palace kindergarten, an overwrought phone call from the president of the American Leche League, harping on about some new incident of a young mother harassed out of a park for breastfeeding in public, and Caroline asking to go to a party in Nice that weekend.  Grace was sure the hostess’s parents were out of town, hence the party, and when she suggested as much to her twelve year old daughter, Caroline had flounced away from breakfast in a huff of threatening tears.

            At least she had no engagements that day, and could sit in her upholstered chair in the luxurious comfort of her softest jeans, bare feet, and cotton cable knit sweater.  She took out a stack of paper and her favorite fountain pen, given to her by her Uncle George when she left Henry Avenue for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1947.  Like all well-made things, it still worked as well as the day it was given to her twenty-two years ago.  

           “I want you to write and tell me all your adventures,” Uncle George had said.  “Even the naughty ones,” he’d added in a low, conspiratorial voice to the dagger-eyed annoyance of her mother.  Grace had giggled girlishly at his mischievous remark, hardly able to fathom what sort of naughtiness he might be talking about.

Imagine. 

           Now she was worried about Caroline getting into the same kind of trouble.  And unlike her own mother, who really had little foundation for worry in Grace’s case, Grace had every reason in the world to be concerned about willful, strident Caroline.  Not even a teenager and the girl was already a handful.  She didn’t even want to consider what Caroline might be like at seventeen, the age Grace had been when she left home.  And the world around her had changed so much, too—forget the relatively innocent naughtiness of her own youth!  Grace shuttered to think what debauchery lay in wait for her oldest child.

           Though Grace had many other more pressing matters to attend to, she decided to take a few minutes to write a quick note to Uncle George in California, narrating the latest anecdotes about the children and asking how he had celebrated his own fortieth birthday.  He’d always been an inspiration to her—perhaps he could give her a few ideas for her unwanted fete.
  
            Hours passed in contented, productive silence; she even managed to read most of The New York Times for once, and found herself completely absorbed in an article and related opinion pieces about a court case in California about no-fault divorces.  It appeared that the courts were tired of the parade of women sobbing and pleading “cruelty” as the reason they were seeking divorce. 
  
           Well, thought Grace, the husbands ought to stop being cruel, then.  A part of her tensed in solidarity with the women who had been getting their days in court, rewarded for their guts and independence with their children and enough money to begin again, their husbands having being shown to be, in fact, cruel.  But she could also see the benefit of the new no-fault law, which would free women from bad marriages without the mudslinging that inevitably affected the children.  Fat lot of good it would do me, though, she couldn’t help thinking.  Princesses are outside the law.  Then, feeling jittery and wound up, she turned her attentions to the Arts section to sooth herself.

           When she’d calmed down, she started to feel hungry, so she wandered into the kitchen she’d insisted on having in their wing of the palace, a kitchen where no servant was allowed unless explicitly invited.  She made herself a peanut butter and jam sandwich that she ate standing up, leaning cross-legged against the counter and looking out the large window at the sparkling sapphire blue of the Mediterranean that met the paler blue of the sky at the horizon.  

           At the peripheries of both sides of her vision were the craggy slopes of their piece of the cote d’azur, gradual green climbs up and up, with red tile roofs and ancient stonework nestled among the flora. 

           The water was dotted by white yachts of varying sizes, though from her height and distance they all looked roughly the same, except for Aristotle Onassis’s behemoth, the Christina.  

           At this time of day, the sunshine was bright white and glinted off the water like thousands of tiny, glimmering gems.

           Washing her sweet, sticky lunch down with a glass of cold milk, Grace experienced one of those precious and rare moments of feeling that life was, well, fine.  In the last seven years, since she’d said her official goodbye to acting in that wrenching time when she’d had to turn down Hitch’s offer to do Marnie, she’d built just this life for herself: a daily schedule of correspondence and meetings in the mornings, mostly about the children and her charity work—the hospital, the Red Cross, AMADE, and her flourishing foundation for the arts.  She found patronizing dancers and artisans to be satisfying work, even if it did not touch that same part of her soul that acting had.

           And in the afternoons, she tried to be as available to her children as possible, for they did touch the most tender parts of her.  

           In a few hours, she and Stephie would attend their weekly music class with some other   Monegasque mothers and children, after which they would drift to a playground, and then home for dinner with Caroline.  Grace enjoyed their simple little dinners together.  Noodles and carrots, fish sticks and French fries, tickling and laughing—all manner of casual American impropriety in which she liked to indulge when it was just her and the girls.  Pity Caroline was almost too old to enjoy these sorts of silly moments, but Grace planned to cling to them as long as possible. 

           She pushed the thought of Albie, in school and its related sports teams, for all the daylight hours, out of her mind, as it was too painful to think about.  He came home late, utterly exhausted, only to kiss his mother on the cheek and collapse into bed.  How much her boy would enjoy dinner with his mother and sisters.  How much she wished he was there.
  
           Would she also see Rainier in the evening?  It was hard to say, and she tried not to dwell on the question and its inevitable and depressing answer too long. 

            Just as she returned to her desk, her private line rang.

            “Hello?” she said, her heart speeding up as it always did in that fragment of a second between her greeting and hearing the voice of the person on the other end of the line.  Who could it be?  What escape might the call provide?

            “Gracie?  It’s Prudy.  How are you?”  Her friend’s voice was buoyant, effusive in its long American vowels.  She was pleased to have reached her friend on the first ring. 

            Grace blew out a gust of air and slouched back in her chair.  She, too, was glad to be speaking to an old friend.  A small but wonderful escape.  “I’m alright, Prudy. Can’t complain, except about turning forty in a few months.  Rainier’s after me for a gift and a party.”

            “You know you sound like a princess, right?” Prudy teased.

            “Oh I know, and the worst kind, too.  I’m hardly Cinderella, and no one ever lets me forget it.  Still.  This business of getting older is nothing to sneeze at.  What did you do for your fortieth?”

            “I took myself to a movie and ate a tub of popcorn in the dark, then went home and drank a bottle of very good red wine.”

            “You mean Arthur didn’t do anything for you?”

            “I told him not to.  Careful what you ask for.  If I were you, I’d ask for a trip to India.  You used to love to travel to exotic places.  Or Egypt.  See one of the seven wonders.”

            The trumpeting whine of an elephant and the windy flap of its ears flashed to Grace’s mind.  She’d gone all the way to Africa just to make a movie with Clark Gable and celebrated her twenty-third birthday in the French Congo.

  “You know, you’re right,” said Grace, feeling something inside her loosen.  Then it tightened as hard as a rock.  Rainier preferred not to travel much further than the States, and she suspected that going to India by herself would raise far too many eyebrows.  But, “I’ll think about it,” she told Prudy.

            The two friends talked more about what each of them had been up to—Grace was very interested to hear about Prudy’s foray into flower arranging.  She was even to have the honor of arranging a large vase of winter branches and berries to be prominently displayed in town hall during the holidays.  Grace had always loved flowers, and was learning more about them by working closely with the head gardener to rehabilitate the plantings around the palace.

            “And it’s just terrible about Josephine, isn’t it?” Prudy eventually said.

            For a moment, Grace was confused, almost as if she’d just woken up and still needed a cup of coffee.  “Josephine?”

            “Baker.  Remember, we met her at the Stork Club years ago?”

            “How could I forget? She was treated abhorrently.”  Grace felt the grip of injustice in her chest just as she had then, when one of the world’s greatest singers was barred entrance to the snobby club because of the color of her skin.  “What’s happened to her recently?”

            “I read in the paper that she’s been evicted from her home in France.  Some castle or other.”

            “What?” Grace exclaimed indignantly, her hand tightening around the receiver of the phone.  

            “She and all her children,” Prudy affirmed.

            Grace opened the lower desk drawer where she kept her enormous, frayed fabric address book, which was stuffed to bursting with envelopes and business cards.  She was sure she had Josephine’s number in here somewhere.  She licked her finger and thumb and began paging through.

            “Gracie?   You still there?” came Prudy’s voice in her ear.

            “Yes, yes, I’m here,” she said distractedly.  “I’m trying to find Josephine’s number.  I have an old one under Baker, and I’m sure that’s not it, but …” Aha!  “Yes!  I found her last Christmas card.”  And it had what looked like her most recent phone number.  Hopefully it hadn’t been disconnected.

            She could hear Prudy laughing on the other end of the line.  “That’s the Gracie I know and love,” she said, “not the one who feels bested by a birthday.  Go get her, Tiger.”

            It took a few days of phone calls to real estate people who spoke such accented French she could barely parse a word, to the gendarmes in the Dordogne where Josephine’s chateau was located, and to former neighbors both sympathetic and utterly prejudiced who referred to her as just le négro.  Grace was infuriated with them, and with herself for losing touch with Josephine.  Knowing exactly why she’d let it happen made it more unforgivable, and made her more determined to find and help her.  

           Fearless, and iconoclastic, with a decades long list of stage and musical credits, not to mention France’s highest honor for service during the second world war, to say nothing of the broken hearts she’d left in her wake, Josephine Baker had long reminded Grace too much of what she was not.  

           She also knew Rainier was skeptical of Josephine’s risqué performances and now, paradoxically, her large family of adopted children from places as far away as Japan and Columbia.  Dealing with his mistrust had always felt like too much of a hurdle to clear.  She’d allowed the demands of the Three Ms, as she’d begun to refer to them to herself—motherhood, marriage, and monarchy—to be her excuses for not seeing Josephine as much as she might have, even though her old friend lived in France, much closer to her than many she saw far more often. 

            This had been a mistake, and one that needed to be remedied, Grace realized with a determination she felt in her gut and her limbs.  Maybe it was turning forty that allowed her to see her selfishness in making Josephine a Christmas card friend, made her want to rectify it even if it did mean introducing a layer of difficulty with Rainier.  But also, she remembered Fordie, her parents’ longtime chauffer—and how she’d wanted to help him when she was young, but lacked the moral fortitude.  She’d been more concerned with getting married than she had in helping the man who’d been nothing but kind to her all her life.  Grace snorted with derision at herself.  So much to rectify, thought Grace.  Good thing I don’t feel old!

            When at last she got Josephine on the phone, Grace found herself blathering and hoping for forgiveness, almost like she was in a confession box, “Oh, Josephine, I’m so sorry I’ve been out of touch.  As soon as I heard what happened to you and your children, I’ve been trying to reach you.  I want to help, how can I help?”

            “Grace!  What a surprise!  Don’t feel bad!  Goodness, don’t you have a country to run?”  She laughed, in that smooth, musical voice of hers that remained unaffected and American despite all the years of living abroad.  “Tell me all about you and those gorgeous children of yours.”

            Grace raced through her usual highlights—Albie’s intensifying interest in track and field, Caroline’s budding interest in politics, and little Stephie’s free spiritedness—then said, “And I want to know more about your own children, so we should look at our calendars and schedule a time to meet.  But first, I want to find out where you are living and if you need … help.”  It was such a sticky thing.  She didn’t want to presume too much, nor to embarrass this legend, her friend.  But she couldn’t stand by while the same legend might become homeless, either.

            “You’ve always been very kind, Grace.”

            “I wish I’d been more than kind, I wish I’d been a better friend,” said Grace.

            “Hush, you,” said Josephine.  “Now then.  I can’t possibly ask you to put up my entire brood, not even if you do live in a palace.”

            “What if I could find you another place?  Someplace big enough, and close by, and …”

            “Affordable.”

            “We’ll sort that part out later.  I’d like to help you in any way I can,” Grace paused, her heart beating loud in her ears and chest.  “If you’ll accept my help,” she added.  “I’d understand if you couldn’t, or didn’t want to.”

            For a few beats, there was silence on the other end of the line, and Grace gripped the receiver, waiting for a reply.

            When it came, Josephine’s voice was quieter, wetter, rockier.  “I can’t think of it as charity, Grace.  I’ll need to pay you back.”

            “You can pay me back by singing again,” Grace replied, feeling that the full truth—it’s me that needs to make some repairs, Josephine, repay some debts—would only create more discomfort between them.  “Have you been singing?”

            “Well … I’ve been meaning to get back to it.”

            “I hope I can help,” said Grace, her body filling with a humming kind of gratitude that felt a little like taking a bow after a strong performance. 

            Once she’d gathered enough information, she prepared to ask Rainier.  She made a point of serving him a favorite dinner after the children were in bed, and over the roasted chicken and zucchini he commented, “You seem happier this week.  Have you given any more thought to your birthday?”

            Carefully, she smudged a shine of chicken fat from her lower lip, then set the pressed white napkin back in her lap.  She had purposely not changed out of the boucle suit she’d worn to the Red Cross earlier in the day, to remind her husband of the good she did every day in Monaco, in his name. “I hope I seem happier when I’m working for others.”  She smiled.  “You remember my story from long ago about Josephine Baker?”  She was referring to the moment Prudy had reminded her of, when Grace had spoken to the managers of the Stork Club and told them in no uncertain terms that if they were going to give Josephine Baker a hard time about patronizing the club, she and all her friends would leave as well—and never come back.  Thankfully, by 1951, she had just enough clout in town to pull off such a maneuver.

            “I do.  I admired you for it.”  He smiled at her, and in his smile she glimpsed what was best in him—the charity in his heart, his desire to be part of positive changes in Monaco, the father who wanted all that was best for his children.

            “Thank you,” said Grace.  He seemed to be in good humor.  Now was as good a time as any to make her request.   “Well, I'd like to help her out. You see, it seems she and her children have lost their home in the Dordogne.”

            Ray frowned.  “Her Rainbow Tribe?”

            “You don’t have to say it like that.”

            “She has twelve children of different nationalities.  I heard she had to sell tickets to her chateau and show off her tribe like zoo animals just to make ends meet.”

            “She hardly treats her children like animals, Rainier.  And anyway, how can you say that as if your own zoo animals aren’t the most important things in the world to you?”  Careful, Grace, she warned herself.  He knows you don’t love the palace zoo as he does, and you don’t want to put him on the defensive.  “Anyway,” she went on, shaking her head and pushing out all thoughts of zoos. “Josephine wanted to make a point with her family, a profound point if you ask me, that people of any color and background can live together happily.  And she sold tickets to see the gardens.”

            “You can believe that if you like, Darling, but it will be a belief, not a truth.”

            Oh, he could be so arrogant and patronizing!  She told herself to stay focused and not lose her temper; that would not get her what she wanted and what her friend needed.  “You’re always saying,” she went on carefully, “that you want to show the people of Monaco that you want to help even the smallest among them.  That you want them all to live peacefully and prosperously, not just those who make a great deal of money.  It’s a mission I share, and believe in just as passionately.”

            “And you want to help Josephine Baker.”  His face was so hard to read.  It was a mix of disdain for Josephine’s maternal choices, but also pause and consideration of Grace’s points.
           
“Yes,” she said, at last playing her trump card: “It would be the most wonderful birthday present you could give me.  A home for my friend near Monaco, ensuring that a French and American national treasure is preserved.”

            She’d done it—she could see it in the way he sat back in his chair, his right index finger pressing on his lips, his gaze fuzzy as he thought.

            “I’ve looked into some properties,” she ventured.   He liked it when she did her homework.  She told him about the lovely villa in Rocquebrune, just up the hill from the Larvotto.  Then she breathed slowly and silently, waiting.

            “Alright,” he finally agreed.  “If it will make you happy.  But we must also come up with a more public gift, something I can give you in front of our subjects.”

            Grace leapt up from her seat and went around the table to kiss Rainier on the cheek, then kneel beside his chair with her hand on his.  She felt truly happy, her chest full of fizzy bubbles rising like those in a champagne flute. 

            “You can give me anything you like,” she said.  “If I know Josephine and her children are safe, I can bear any statue.”

            He smiled and ran a finger down her jaw.  For the first time in a long time, it sent a shiver of something approaching desire down her spine.  Approaching.  Not quite reaching.  But it would be enough to carry her through and make him happy that night.

            She kissed him on the lips this time, and tightened her fingers around his palm.  “Thank you,” she whispered.

            He turned in his seat, then slid off of it to so that he, too, was kneeling, and they were facing each other.  He put his arms around her and pressed his body against hers as they kissed.  Grace closed her eyes and reached deep into her memories to find a moment, a sensation akin to this one, and when she found it, she kissed Rainier harder and let him pull her to the floor.

Reading Group Guide

Readers Guide
The Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher

Questions for Discussion

1. The Girl in White Gloves alternates between the point of view of a young Grace and an older Grace. Why do you think the author decided to tell the story this way?

2. Grace and Kell had a lot in common in terms of the way they both strove to win the admiration of their complicated parents. Why do you think Kell fell apart so publicly, while Grace did not?

3. How do you think Grace’s family life affected her romantic choices, and vice versa?

4. What was the role of fashion in Grace Kelly’s life, and what was her attitude toward it? How did fashion help shape her internal character and public persona?

5. What do you think Grace loved so much about acting, on the stage and on-screen?

6. How many Grace Kelly movies have you seen? What is your favorite, and why?

7. Would you have made the same choices as Grace in 1956 when she married Prince Rainier, and again in 1962 when she stayed in the marriage after the Marnie disappointment?

8. If Grace had lived to an older age (she would be ninety-one in 2020), what do you think her life might have looked like?

9. If Grace had been born twenty or forty years later (she was born in 1929, so that means 1949 and 1969), how different do you think her life and choices might have been? Do you think today’s women are empowered to make different choices than the ones Grace made?

10. What struggles does Prince Rainier appear to be wrestling with that impact his relationship with Grace?

11. Before reading The Girl in White Gloves, if you knew anything about Grace from biographies or articles you’ve read, how did reading this fictional account of her interior life change or validate what you thought you knew about her? What surprised you about her life in this novel?

12. Many people look at movie stars and other celebrities as untouchables whose lives are virtually unrelatable; but as the epigraph suggests, Grace Kelly was very much a real woman, and wanted to be seen as such. Grace struggled with this paradox her whole life. What do you and the Grace Kelly portrayed in this novel have in common?

13. In many ways, Grace Kelly and the characters she played on-screen helped define midcentury American femininity. In what ways did her real life fulfill those norms, and in what ways did it defy them?

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