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

“Perfect for fans of Grace Kelly, royal-watchers, and fans of biographical fiction alike."—PopSugar
 
A Library Reads Pick and Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choice!

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.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451492074
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/25/2020
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 254,245
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Kerri Maher is the author of The Girl in White GlovesThe Kennedy Debutante, and, under the name Kerri Majors, This Is Not a Writing Manual: Notes for the Young Writer in the Real World. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and was 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

Chapter One

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 staff of the palace wanted to know how Her Serene Highness would like to celebrate. 

"I wouldn't," she told Rainier in the chauffered 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 on the fine stitching and embroidery of her ensemble and say little or nothing more about the books she'd read to sick children at the hospital that morning, or the many 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 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.

Still, Grace felt the irony of her own birthday so strongly: if Rainier made too big a fuss, she would be perceived as self-aggrandizing and even less recognized for her hard work in the principality. A veritable Marie Antoinette with an Hermès bag and diamond tiara. But if she were to do nothing for her birthday, and simply go out for burgers with her family dressed in her favorite jeans and sweater, which her old friend and favorite costume stylist, Edith Head, referred to as dumpy Debbies, she wouldn't be doing credit to her chic principality—the subjects of which expected her to look like a fashion plate at all times.

She found it amazing and depressing that after thirteen years of marriage and sovereignty she was still dealing with this catch-22. Just last week, she had gone to the hospital, which she'd renovated and modernized with the same care and attention most women applied to the building of their own homes, transforming Monaco's medical establishment from ill equipped to enviably advanced. Knowing she'd be photographed as she visited patients on the cancer ward, she had dressed in a tidy summer skirt suit, along with her chambray Keds—her "ugly" sneakers as twelve-year-old but still fashion-conscious Caroline insisted on calling them. She asked the photographers not to capture her feet, explaining that she'd worn the sneakers instead of heels so that she could visit as many patients as possible without landing herself in the orthopedic ward!

She'd thought the joke would lighten the mood, but she noticed several attending nurses frowning, and one shaking her head so that Grace could see her disapproval. That nurse had been very old, the lines from many summers spent on the beach carving deep grooves into her tanned face. Grace stifled a sigh at this common and often conflicted reaction to her presence—reverence for her motherhood but judgment of her educational choices; gratitude for her charity but resentment of her wardrobe; and most of all, pleasure in her beauty but animosity that it hailed from a country across the ocean, a nation they resented as imperial and in cahoots with France, which sought to keep Monaco under its thumb. 

The mixed reactions these days were, she supposed, better than the outright hostility that Rainier had sensed early in their marriage, and used as a reason to ban all her movies in the principality. But Grace despaired that the Monégasques would never truly embrace her as one of them, no matter what she did as their Princess; they had proved much tougher to impress than the moviegoers she'd longed to captivate as an actress.

But then one of the youngest nurses, who spoke French with a strong accent, chuckled and pointed to her own large white shoes, saying, "You're not alone, Serene Highness."

Grace replied with as warm a smile as she could conjure, and said, "Thank you for understanding." Perhaps this younger generation would be the one to make her feel at home.

"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, as soon as possible. Doing so made everything move more smoothly, made for fewer uncomfortable discussions. "I'm sure that between them, Marta 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? Goodwill toward men?" she quipped, dodging the amorousness as skilfully 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 feared the opposite. 

Rainier smirked, his slim mustache curling up on the right. "I was thinking of something everyone can share. 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 Garden might be nice. Or a new wing of the library, a series of plays at the theater that might be free and open to all..."

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

She laughed, keeping it amusing 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, 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 slowed 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 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.

"Thank you, darling" came her automatic reply, as she plucked the tortoiseshell 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 stationery, pens, ink, tissues, clips, and all the 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 sign of relief at its simplicity.

As she had no engagements that day, she 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 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 bright, willful Caroline. 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 had changed so much, too—forget the relatively innocent naughtiness of her own youth! Grace shuddered to think what debauchery lay in wait for her oldest child, with the vulture paparazzi always ready to capture it on film.

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 fête.

Hours passed in contented, productive silence, and when she started to feel hungry, 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 Côte 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 O. At this time of day, the sunshine was bright white and glinted off the water like thousands of tiny, glittering 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 in 1962, 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. She didn't admit that last part to many people. To anyone? No, she wouldn't dare. The last thing she'd want anyone to think was that she was ungrateful.

And in the afternoons, she tried to be as available to her children as possible. In a few hours, she and four-year-old Stéphie would attend their weekly music class with some other Monégasque 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—she liked to indulge in all manner of casual American impropriety when she was with 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 son would enjoy dinner with his mother and sisters—after all, he was only a boy, just eleven years old! How much she wished he were 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 disappointing 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 that 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. They had been talking on the phone for nearly twenty years, since the end of their Barbizon days when they'd lived down the hall from each other, and Grace was so grateful for this piece of plastic that allowed them to stay in touch across continents and oceans.

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 all right, 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. 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 at the suggestion that she could be that girl once again.

Then it tighetened as hard as a rock. Rainier preferred not to travel much farther than the States, and she suspected going to India by herself would raise far too many eyebrows. But, "I'll think about it," she told Prudy, and wondered if her old friend knew she was lying.

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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