One book leads to another. As I read Angela Gheorghiu’s autobiography, she mentioned the most famous cake in the world: the Sacher torte from Vienna. This lead me to discover a whole series of books about rich desserts and wealthy people. Talk about a unit study. That is how I discovered a historical novel titled The Second Mrs. Astor by Shana Abe.
Have you ever wondered who the richest man on the Titanic was and if he made it out alive? The answer is John Jacob Astor IV (net worth $2.6 billion in today’s money) and no, he did not. He put his wife on Lifeboat #4.
Astor asked to be allowed to accompany her into the lifeboat because she was “in a delicate condition,” i.e. she was expecting. They denied his request because only women and children were allowed onto the lifeboats. He stayed on the Titanic and perished. She survived and gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
Later, when the Carpathia picked up Mrs. Astor, she saw a lot of men from the Titanic, who had boarded other lifeboats. No one knows for sure how those men put themselves on these lifeboats in order to survive. But she had lost her husband forever.
Madeleine Force Astor was his second wife, hence the book title. They fell hard for each other, despite the 29-year age gap. The book details their courtship, which happened a few years after his divorce from his first wife, as well as their honeymoon in Europe and Egypt. Then, they returned home on the Titanic and the rest is tragic history.
Astor IV had two children from his first marriage. The son was the same age as his second wife. Awkward… And yes, that word adequately describes the relationship between the son and the step-mother from the beginning until the end. Talk about in-law issues.
As she deals with high-society snobs, Maddy learns from her mother that “kinder hearts are stronger.” And because Maddy needed to be strong, she decided to be kind to all those who shunned her and disapproved of her. A good lesson for us all.