The Two Mrs. Grenvilles

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Ann Arden, a showgirl and would-be actress meets the young William Grenville, Jr., son of an old and monied New York family. She wins a proposal of marriage from Billy through use of her beauty and sexual wiles but meets resistance from his sisters and his aristocratic indomitable mother, Mrs. Alice Grenville. Determined to be a part of Billy’s family and the society of which she has always dreamed, Ann bears Billy two children, and she and Billy become THE society couple--a society composed of endless parties and inhabited by people with names such as Bratsie, Junior, and Kay Kay.

Yet, as Ann’s rise in society occurs, her marriage falls by the wayside as she and Billy indulge in extramarital affairs. Her secure position is threatened when Billy demands a divorce after uncovering a secret from Ann’s past. One night, shortly after arriving home from a party, Ann shoots Billy to death in her darkened bedroom, claiming afterward that she thought he was a prowler.

So begins the conspiracy of silence between the two Mrs. Grenvilles, Ann and her mother-in-law. The Grenville family will back Ann’s story and protect her as long as she, herself, never divulges what really happened.

Dunne, a contributing editor of VANITY FAIR magazine, gives a vivid and detailed account of life among the very rich that only a keen observer of society could produce. With characters that are well developed and memorable, Dunne effectively conveys the feeling of an outsider looking in. The self-destructive Ann Grenville, never fully accepted by the society to which she so desperately wanted to belong, is in a sense a victim as much as was her husband. Most readers of fiction should find this book enjoyable.