Today’s team review is from Frank. Find out more about Frank here https://franklparker.com/
Frank has been reading Landscape Of A Marriage by Gail Ward Olmsted
I imagine that most Americans are aware of the man who designed and oversaw the creation of Central Park in New York. And they will know, too, that he went on to create many parks for cities, institutions and private individuals across the USA in a career spanning over 30 years. What, however, do any of us know of the woman he married at the height of that first project and remained beside him for four decades? What do any of us know about the wives of any of the men who made an indelible mark on our history?
In writing her imagined biography of the wife of Fred Law Olmsted, Gail Olmsted* has created a work that gives a fascinating insight into the lives of upper middle class American families in the second half of the nineteenth century.
She has chosen her title well. After close on 58years of marriage I can testify that a long marriage does indeed contain many of the characteristics of a landscape. There are sunny uplands, deep dark valleys and everything in between. Surviving them requires the emotional equivalent of the physical resilience demanded of the intrepid traveller in unfamiliar, and occasionally hostile, territory.
Whilst the Olmsteds were blessed with an income that enabled them to maintain a large house, with servants to lighten the physical load placed on Mary’s shoulders, the couple encountered tragedies that would break many a less solid pair.
Fred was a workaholic who frequently spent many days, weeks even, away from the family home. He had a high public profile and was in constant demand. Ms Olmsted accurately observes the pressures this can place on a marriage. That the marriage survived despite recurring tragedies is a testament to the strength of the love between the two.
This is a book that some may be tempted to consign to the category of ‘Women’s Fiction’, a category whose existence I have queried elsewhere. But, if you are a man hoping to learn about techniques of landscape design and architecture you will be disappointed. I do believe, however, that it should appeal to the general reader who appreciates the opportunity to explore the lives of the people who helped create the world in which we live.
It is certainly historical fiction. The political background of Civil War, the rise of the suffragette movement and the arrival of such innovations as the telephone is evoked without intruding too heavily onto the narrative. So, too, is the debate over the funding of conservation. Fred regularly rails against the committees of bureaucrats and politicians who constantly sought to frustrate the realisation of his dreams for the green lungs that generations of citizens since have come to take for granted and which he pioneered.
But it is, above all, a story about the resilience of a woman supporting her husband and her children: emotionally, as they face various tragedies together, and in practical terms, as she takes on the reorganisation of record keeping in what quickly becomes a family business. The portrait that emerges is of a woman very much ahead of her time; courageous, resilient and devoted to her husband and his work.
*Gail Ward Olmsted is married to a descendant of Frederick Law Olmsted’s brother.
A marriage of convenience leads to a life of passion and purpose. A shared vision transforms the American landscape forever.
New York, 1858: Mary, a young widow with three children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law Frederick Law Olmsted, who is acting on his late brother’s deathbed plea to “not let Mary suffer”. But she craves more than a marriage of convenience and sets out to win her husband’s love. Beginning with Central Park in New York City, Mary joins Fred on his quest to create a ‘beating green heart’ in the center of every urban space.
Over the next 40 years, Fred is inspired to create dozens of city parks, private estates and public spaces with Mary at his side. Based upon real people and true events, this is the story of Mary’s journey and personal growth and the challenges inherent in loving a brilliant and ambitious man.
Great review, Frank. I wondered about this book, and after reading your review, I’m convinced I’d enjoy it as well.
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