Black Knight, White Knight

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The “rich,” F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “are different from us.” Nevertheless, those who pursue the saga of “Little Gloria” Vanderbilt as she progresses from age seventeen to thirty in BLACK KNIGHT, WHITE KNIGHT will be struck by the ordinary and quite mundane aspects of her life. A young woman chafing under a strict regime imposed by an elderly aunt, she seizes the occasion of a visit to her mother to indulge herself socially and sexually in the glitz and glamor of the big city. When even her indulgent mother takes notice of her excesses, she undertakes an escape into marriage.

Still, despite all the trappings of adulthood, marriage, a home, and a husband, Vanderbilt does not find happiness. She escapes again, to a new marriage to a man much older than she, one whose life-style can accommodate a woman as an adornment but not as a friend or a lifetime companion. Ultimately, she breaks out of the gilded cage of her second marriage in one last, desperate attempt to live a life of her own making.

Vanderbilt’s story is duplicated in the lives of countless women who inhabit the welfare lines and the continuing education classes of this nation: Women who, devoid of education and marketable skills, attempt to make a life for themselves and their children away from the physical and emotional abuse of men unable to see women as anything other than a source of physical pleasure or unskilled labor. This, however, is the life of Gloria Vanderbilt, who has associated with the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin, Howard Hughes, and Leopold Stokowski. This is the “Little Gloria” of the most celebrated custody battle of the century.

It is possible to read this work as one would the sensational publications that thrive on gossip about the rich and famous. BLACK KNIGHT, WHITE KNIGHT, however, is the story of countless thousands of women who, unlike Gloria Vanderbilt, possess neither the literary skills nor the influential connections to secure an audience for an examination of their odyssey.