Saturday, May 03, 2008


Loving Frank, Nancy Horan, Random House Inc, 2007, 359 pp

From 1907 to 1914, Frank Lloyd Wright carried on a love affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney. They were both married to others when the affair began and both had children. It caused a great scandal in Chicago as well as around the country, which resulted in added suffering for all involved. Loving Frank is a fictional account of this affair.

Having always been an admirer of Wright as an architect, I now know plenty about him as a person, due to this book and the biography I read. He sounds like a hard man to be in love with. But for Mamah Cheney, a highly educated and extremely intelligent woman, he brought excitement, passion and a full life. She had married at 29 years of age to a man she did not love and had a son and daughter. The husband was not a bad guy, but motherhood and middle-class life proved to be stifling for Mamah, who suffered a year of postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter.

Horan did a fine job of telling this story. I was annoyed, as I always am, by dialogue that sounded modern: I am pretty sure that people did not talk that way in the early 1900s. But I was drawn into the story. In today's world, not many would be shocked by such an affair. Mamah would not have had the added battle of fighting the mores of the time, which rebounded on her children.

While in Europe with Frank, Mamah met Ellen Key, a famous Swedish feminist of the times, and became her translator. Again this turned out to be a blessing and a curse. Very hard time to be a woman, but despite all the grief and tragedy, it must have been thrilling as well.

Last year a book came out entitled Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich; a book which is on my TBR list. Mamah Borthwick Cheney was a very badly behaved woman in her day but contributed to changing history for women. I am glad her story has been told.

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