In late 1905, a Princeton University librarian named Belle da Costa Greene was interviewed by banker and financier J. Pierpont Morgan. Morgan was in the midst of building a library next door to his home on Madison Avenue in New York City. He needed a librarian to curate, archive and organize his collection of rare books, prints and art—and someone he could trust to represent him in acquisitions for his collection. Greene, a young woman in her mid-20s, was the perfect person for the job.
In The Personal Librarian, novelists Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray explore the years where Greene worked daily at the beck and call of J.P. Morgan. Greene herself was often the only woman bidding at auctions in the United States and Europe, among men who could be unscrupulous in their business practices. All of this she did while maintaining a secret that could ruin her career, if revealed, while also financially supporting her mother and siblings. Readers will learn the secret in the early pages of the novel; however, knowing it does not remove the worry it weaves into the arc of the story.
Through extensive research, the authors weave the emotional and personal details of Greene’s life into the historical reality of her work. They build a story fraught with tension around the possibility of misstep or revelation. This is historical fiction at its finest.
Contributed by Maureen Millea Smith, a librarian and reader’s advisor at the Edina Library and a Minnesota Book Award–winning novelist. You can find her books at maureenmilleasmith.com.