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The Personal Librarian   Leave a comment

The story of Belle da Costa Greene is important on many levels: her contributions to the art world; her success as a female in the male-dominated society of the early 1900s; and achieving the above as a woman of color.

Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray have crafted a novel based on da Costa Greene, nee Belle Marion Greener the daughter of Black parents. Their fair skin tones were passed along to their children allowing them to pass as Caucasians. The deceit led to the Greeners’ divorce, but allowed Belle and her siblings to live free of racial prejudices.

J.P. Morgan hired Belle as his personal librarian to curate rare books, art, manuscripts and more. Belle proved herself to be a formidable negotiator at auctions when she was often the only woman in the room. The J. Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City holds invaluable collections thanks to Belle’s acquisitions. She was also instrumental in ensuring the library be a public one.

The fast-paced narrative is taut with tension. The importance of Belle hiding her identity is paramount as her prominence among the rich and powerful grows. Although her role as personal librarian allowed her to provide well for her mother and siblings, this was much more than a job to Belle. It was her passion.

The authors allude to speculation that Belle and Morgan had more than a professional relationship; but that remains a mystery. Nonetheless, the shared passion for the one-of-a-kind works was the mainstay of their bond.

The Personal Librarian

Four+ Bookmarks

Berkley, 2021

341 pages (includes author’s notes and acknowledgements)