The Wedding Veil by Kristy Woodson Harvey is the most charming book I’ve read in a long time. I was introduced to her books by retired librarian extraordinaire Susan Chatfield Griswold and was hooked on a preview of The Wedding Veil at the end of one of her Peachtree Bluff books. It was significantly more brilliantly and beautifully crafted than the Hallmark trilogy allegedly based on the book.
The mysterious provenance of a remarkable heriloom wedding veil is the only connective tissue between the book and Lacey Chabert’s Hall-mucked-up trilogy. Ms. Chabert wisely aired the trilogy before the book’s publication.
Edith Stuyvessant Dresser was Founding Father Peter Stuyvesant’s great-great-granddaughter. As a young girl, she dreamed of wearing her mother’s heirloom veil. On June 1, 1898, she married George Washington Vanderbilt II, who was one of the wealthiest men in America and a descendant of Commadore Cornelius Vanderbilt. After their honeymoon, he brought his bride home to his beloved Biltmore estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The couple had a daughter, Cornelia Stuyvessant Vanderbilt.
Sadly, George died in 1914. Edith struggled to preserve his legacy. Biltmore was Cornelia’s safe haven as a child. In 1924, Cornelia married John Francis Amherst Cecil and inherited Biltmore on her 25th birthday in 1925. After the stock market crash in 1929, Biltmore felt like an albatross.
In 1934, Cornelia dyed her hair pink and decided to accompany the couple’s sons George and William to boarding school in London. She wanted to live “somewhere where the press doesn’t know me, where I can be alone. . .free from all the trappings and stress of her life” The couple divorced:
Edith took her son-in-law’s hand. And she wondered how she could have had a daughter with dreams so big that even the whole of Biltmore Estate couldn’t hold them.
During her train ride from Asheville to New York, Cornelia introduced herself to a stranger as Nilcha. Glayds told Nilcha that her sweetheart had just proposed, but she didn’t know if she should accept. Nilcha responded:
“Everything is a risk.”
That’s what she was taking here. A risk to find herself again, to right her place in the universe. . .What was keeping Cornelia tethered to the past? What was tying her there and causing all this anxiety? She looked down at her lap. This veil. . .was a symbol of the women in her family whom she admired. But it was also a symbol of this great love between her parents that she could never live up to. It was a visible sign that she was failing at marriage. It was a sign that she was failing Jack. Failing the legacy she’d inherited. Feeling strong and brave, feeling the need to break free from all the chains of the past. Cornelia smiled at Gladys and handed her what was arguably her most priceless possession. . .This veil is a symbol of good luck in my family. Now, it will be good luck in yours. May all who wear it have long, happy lives and marriages.
Flash forward to the present day. Friends and family are celebrating Julia the day before her wedding at Biltmore. Julia had been fascinated with the estate since she was six years old. Her grandmother Babs surprised her with a book of photos of Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding. Julia whispered:
. . .don’t you think this looks like our veil?
. . .Babs was probably right: my Vanderbilt obsession had finally gotten the best of me.
The next morning Julia realized she didn’t trust Hayes enough to marry him. Babs advised, “better an unhappy day than an unhappy life” before whisking Julia away in her Cadillac.
Runaway bride Julia and her eccentric grandmother Babs have many delightful adventures on their way to finding true love. Who jettisons this magic for an obscure family of Italian lace makers and a trio of boring brides?
It is indeed unfortunate that the author’s agent allowed her to surrender creative control to Ms. Chabert. Since Ms. Harvey will be executive producer of the movie version of her Peachtree Bluff series, it appears she may have learned her lesson.