Happy 123rd anniversary to Archie Chaloner and the writer Amélie Rives, who were married on this day in 1888. Chaloner was born John Armstrong Chanler, actually, and into the hoity-toity Astor family, but he changed his name and otherwise spent much of his youth in the service of mischief. Rives, meanwhile, grew up “in a similarly prestigious but inconveniently impecunious Southern matriarchy.” I’m quoting Francine Prose there—who else would dare write “inconveniently impecunious”?—and Prose, in turn, is reviewing Archie and Amelie: Love and Madness in the Gilded Age (2006) by the encyclopedia’s very own Donna Lucey.
Prose tells us that Rives’s The Quick or the Dead? A Study, published in the same year as her marriage, “was a steamy account of a widow’s erotic passion for her late husband’s look-alike cousin. The novel sold an impressive 300,000 copies and, as might have been expected, won its lovely and unashamedly self-promoting author a remarkable amount of notoriety, including so much upsetting hate mail that she had to ask her publisher to screen her correspondence.”
As you might imagine, the Astors were aghast.
“The couple met in Newport,” Prose continues, “and the attraction between them sizzled as a consequence of an incident with a lost dancing shoe—an event that sounds like real life imitating Cinderella as reimagined by Margaret Mitchell. After a rocky courtship, the wildly ambitious and seductive Amélie finally said yes, and the pair were married in a hasty ceremony attended by only one member of Archie’s proper, fiercely territorial family.”
Shockingly, the union didn’t last, and Archie experimented in a sixth-sense-like something-or-other called “The X-Faculty,” was briefly institutionalized in New York, and became famous for his question, “Who’s looney now?” His neighbors in Albemarle County, one of whom he shot and killed, called him the “General.”
“Wait, what?” you ask. Now go read Donna’s book.
IMAGE: Amélie Rives (University of Virginia Library)