The Barbizon by Paulina Bren
**We received an advanced copy of this via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book came out on March 2nd. We’d like to thank Paulina and S&S for the opportunity**
Reviewed by GGGinny
What I drank: Little bit of champagne little bit of white wine. I felt like celebrating and I had a great night with Sam where we had a few drinks and watched a few cheesy movies.
From award-winning author Paulina Bren comes the first history of New York’s most famous residential hotel—The Barbizon—and the remarkable women who lived there.
WELCOME TO NEW YORK’S LEGENDARY HOTEL FOR WOMEN
Liberated from home and hearth by World War I, politically enfranchised and ready to work, women arrived to take their place in the dazzling new skyscrapers of Manhattan. But they did not want to stay in uncomfortable boarding houses. They wanted what men already had—exclusive residential hotels with daily maid service, cultural programs, workout rooms, and private dining.
Built in 1927 at the height of the Roaring Twenties, the Barbizon Hotel was intended as a safe haven for the “Modern Woman” seeking a career in the arts. It became the place to stay for any ambitious young woman hoping for fame and fortune. Sylvia Plath fictionalized her time there in The Bell Jar, and, over the years, its almost 700 tiny rooms with matching floral curtains and bedspreads housed Titanic survivor Molly Brown; actresses Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Ali MacGraw, Jaclyn Smith, Phylicia Rashad, and Cybill Shepherd; writers Joan Didion, Diane Johnson, Gael Greene, and Meg Wolitzer; and many more. Mademoiselle magazine boarded its summer interns there, as did Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School its students and the Ford Modeling Agency its young models. Before the hotel’s residents were household names, they were young women arriving at the Barbizon with a suitcase and a dream.
Not everyone who passed through the Barbizon’s doors was destined for success—for some it was a story of dashed hopes—but until 1981, when men were finally let in, the Barbizon offered its residents a room of their own and a life without family obligations or expectations. It gave women a chance to remake themselves however they pleased; it was the hotel that set them free. No place had existed like it before or has since.
Beautifully written and impeccably researched, The Barbizon weaves together a tale that has, until now, never been told. It is both a vivid portrait of the lives of these young women who came to New York looking for something more, and an epic history of women’s ambition.
Drunk Overview: This book is non-fiction and covers the life of the Barbizon hotel from it’s inception until it was turned into condos. The women-only hotel was closely paired with Mademoiselle magazine, and hosted a number of famous women.
Drunk Thoughts: I really enjoy books that give you a small glimpse into life at the time, and this book did that. While I think that the book focused a little more on Mademoiselle magazine than it did the hotel, there were so many interesting facts about cultural norms.
- My favorite parts of this book didn’t focus on the famous alumni, instead it focused on the people who didn’t “make it”.
- The lost women, or whatever they were called, were infinitely more exciting to me.
- I can imagine moving to New York at any time and then not “making it” in a traditional sense. And I have to believe that is a much more common story.
- But even more, the way society treated women-only hotels, and the guidelines the hotel’s needed to enforce are kind of fascinating.
- I could have read an entire book about hotel’s during prohibition. I think it’s a fascinating time period and the short chapter about it in this book was fantastic.
- Again, this book focused a lot on the sister magazine. To the point where I got as sick of hearing about Sylvia Plath as I’m sure a lot of the Mademoiselle interns did.
- I liked reading about the comraderie of the Mademoiselle interns and the living situations they found themselves in.
- Parts of this hotel sounded like a dorm room situation, and it can be hard to imagine some of the superstars at the hotel staying in those conditions.
- And yet, this book makes it to easy to imagine what it would have been like as a young woman in that time period. Especially in the case of those leaving home for the first time.
- This book did a bit to romanticize a period in time that wasn’t great for women; limited options, limited rights, and overall limitations on everything.
- If it’s not clear, I really did enjoy this book, complete with the sense of disappointment that the era had ended, even though it had reached it’s obvious conclusion.
- Bren does a great job of finding the personal stories that make a book like this worth it.
- Like I said, this book does a great job of taking a sliver of history and making it easy to read.
What I’d Pair it With: Mint Julep, it strikes me as fittingly traditional.