Taking a Page from True Love

North Carolina author novelizes romance at Biltmore Estate

The look is sunny, but the tone is all about Edith Vanderbilt’s grief.

Money can buy many things, including a 250-room mountain chalet. But, as socialite Edith Vanderbilt knew, the almighty dollar can’t soothe heartbreak. 

After the untimely passing of George Vanderbilt in 1914, Edith was left to shoulder the Vanderbilt legacy while mourning the loss of her beloved, a man whose vision and philanthropy forever changed the cultural fabric of Western North Carolina. 

“Some may argue that they married because of their station in life,” says author Kristy Woodson Harvey, “but they were truly well suited for one another. They both had a heart for other people.”

Harvey reveals the rawness of Edith’s grief in her latest novel, The Wedding Veil (Simon & Schuster). Released this month, the book affords visceral, though fictionalized, insight into Edith’s struggles to manage Biltmore Estate and prepare her devil-may-care daughter, Cornelia, to inherit it. 

The story also involves two unlikely protagonists: Julia Baxter and her grandmother, Barbara Carlisle. These modern-day women are bound to the Vanderbilts by a wedding veil: four yards of tulle and lace gifted to Julia’s great-grandmother in the 1930s. The nuptial garb is inspired by a real lace veil passed through the Vanderbilt family. Edith wore it at her 1898 wedding to George, Edith’s sisters wore the veil at their ceremonies, and Cornelia donned the same bridal attire when she was wed to John Francis Amherst Cecil in 1924. 

After conducting months of research, Harvey crafted a fictitious story around the veil and other seldom-told realities about the Vanderbilt family. However, there were some truths — like how Cornelia met her husband-to-be — that no amount of digging through archives could elucidate. 

“The story behind their relationship wasn’t obvious,” says Harvey. “But it was great to fictionalize — who doesn’t want to write some magical, beautiful love story?”

As a New York Times bestselling author, Harvey is in the business of writing love stories. She emerged on the Southern-fiction scene in 2015 with Dear Carolina, a book about two mothers — one biological and one adoptive — who bond over their love for a child. She has published eight novels since; four of them are being developed for TV by NBC Universal. 

The Wedding Veil steps out from these previous works, melding Harvey’s journalism degree from the University of North Carolina with her knack for breathing life into Southern characters. 

“Funnily enough, I never wanted to be an author,” says Harvey, who grew up in Salisbury and now lives in Beaufort, North Carolina. “Instead, I wanted to tell the stories of real people.”

Kristy Woodson Harvey (kristywoodsonharvey.com)will speak at the 1921 Lake Lure Inn and Spa (2771 Memorial Hwy.) on Wednesday, March 30, at 11am, as part of the Friends of the Mountains Branch Library’s “Books and Bites” series. The $25 admission includes a three-course lunch. To register, call 828-287-6392. Harvey will also speak at Henderson County Library (301 North Washington St., Hendersonville) on Monday, April 11, at 4pm. Free. For more information, call 828-697-4725. 

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