Harriman is one of ten women Brenner profiles in this fascinating book. (Several profiles were originally written as magazine articles.) They’re all of the generation that survived the Great Depression and World War II—when vanity wasn’t a vice and independence wasn’t a virtue. “They were strange, rare birds with strong emotions,” Brenner writes, “. . . but, always, they had a patina—they were grand and they were gallant. They dressed up the world.”
Some of them lived in Washington. As you read about Harriman, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and Clare Boothe Luce, the parallels with Hillary Clinton can be unnerving. All of these women hitched their stars to difficult men—often men who were blatantly unfaithful. These women defied the label “wife of” and accomplished a great deal on their own.
The difference is that the Great Dames were always charming, often clever, and they maintained their dignity. Clinton is of the generation that scoffed at womanly wiles. She could have learned a lot from the Great Dames.