The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel: A Story of Marriage and Money in the Early Republic***

theremarkableriseofelizajumelEliza was born in a brothel, but over the course of her lifetime became a very wealthy woman who took substantial joy in rubbing shoulders with the bourgeoisie in the USA, and in getting as close as she possibly could to the royal family in France. This scholarly biography is her story. Thank you to Net Galley and Chicago Review Press for the DRC. The book will be for sale November 1.
Eliza Bowen moved to New York at an early age and shed her last name and identity, realizing that socially and economically, she had nowhere to go but up. Her ambition was limitless, and her intentions entirely fixed upon her own well being. She married Stephan Jumel, a wealthy Frenchman living in the USA, and set to work spending his fortune. No home was too grand for her tastes, and once she had the place, she set to work making improvements beyond ordinary repairs and redecoration. Her husband trusted her business acumen sufficiently to put real estate in her name in some instances, and this was nearly unheard of during the period in which they lived.
When the Jacobins and Napoleon had been defeated and the Bourbons were back on the throne, Jumel wanted to go home and stay there. His wife had other plans. After his death, she married the notorious former vice-president Aaron Burr. The marriage was short-lived, and they divorced after only about a year of marriage.
The documentation and research Oppenheimer has done is excellent, once her story really gets rolling. The initial ten percent or so, during which Eliza’s predecessors and early life are covered, is almost entirely surmise, and so we constantly read “might have”, “probably”, and finally, “…we can only speculate.” Given the opportunity, I would edit that out completely. The story stands without it, and so it really is unnecessary filler. My recommendation to the reader is to skim up to the point where she meets and marries Jumel.
Eliza Jumel is not an appealing individual, and since the nature of Oppenheimer’s narrative is expository, she makes no excuses for Eliza’s avaricious and sometimes unprincipled behavior. The woman was more than a survivor; she was a predator. But Oppenheimer has been thorough in providing us with a picture of her climb, financially and socially, and she is meticulous both with details and documentation.
Jumel’s life story isn’t a particularly enjoyable read, but for particular aspects of research, mostly topics steeped in women’s history within the US, it is a very useful resource. Scholarly and well documented, students of women’s history in the US will benefit from it.

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