Folger Book Club returns on Thursday, September 7 with a discussion of The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. To get ready for the conversation, we’ve compiled some introductory information on this New York Times bestseller.
What is The Personal Librarian about?
The remarkable, little-known story of Belle da Costa Greene, J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian—who became one of the most powerful women in New York despite the dangerous secret she kept in order to make her dreams come true, from New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict and acclaimed author Victoria Christopher Murray.
In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture on the New York society scene and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps build a world-class collection.
But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.
The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths to which she must go—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.
“Benedict and Murray had almost instant chemistry, and as a result, the book’s narrative is seamless . . . I became hooked.” – NPR
“A fascinating story!”
— Real Simple
“Every element of this blockbuster historical novel is compelling and revelatory, beginning with the bedazzling protagonist based with awestruck care on Belle da Costa Greene… a novel of enthralling drama, humor, sensuality, and insight. … [a] resounding tale of a brilliant and resilient woman defying sexism, classism, and racism during the brutality of Jim Crow. Benedict and Murray do splendidly right by Belle in this captivating and profoundly enlightening portrayal.”
“A powerful take on the accomplishments of J.P. Morgan’s librarian…. Benedict and Murray do a great job capturing Belle’s passion and tenacity as she carves a place for herself in a racist male-dominated society. This does fine justice to a remarkable historical figure.”
— Publishers Weekly
Why did we choose this book?
The Folger Shakespeare Library’s collection explores not only Shakespeare’s life and works, but also the plays’ historical context, source material, critical and performance histories, and the ways in which they inspire and are adapted by contemporary novelists.
Belle da Costa Greene is an important historical figure whose work in establishing the Morgan Library’s collection offers another perspective on the world in which the Folgers were operating.
About the authors: Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
Adapted from Wikipedia and author websites
Marie Benedict is the pen name of Heather Terrell, a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms. She found her calling unearthing the hidden historical stories of women. Her mission is to excavate from the past the most important, complex and fascinating women of history and bring them into the light of present-day where we can finally perceive the breadth of their contributions as well as the insights they bring to modern day issues. Terrell published her first novel, The Chrysalis, in 2007, after which she left her work as a litigator and began writing full time. Her novels include The Other Einstein (2016), The Only Woman in the Room, (2019), Lady Clementine (2020), and Her Hidden Genius (2022). Terrell’s novels have been translated into twenty-nine languages.
Victoria Christopher Murray is native of Queens, Victoria earned a B.A. in Communication Disorders from Hampton University and an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. Victoria spent ten years in Corporate America before launching her entrepreneurial venture, a Financial Services Agency for Aegon, USA where she managed the number one division for nine consecutive years. Dubbed a Christian Fiction writer because no one else was writing novels filled with drama but with God in the center, Victoria trailblazed the literary scene penning more than 30 novels, co-writing with other authors, and ghostwriting for top talent across the country. Victoria lives in Washington, D.C and a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
The Personal Librarian includes references to potentially sensitive subjects. Expand below for a full list of content.
- Emotional abuse
- Death of parent (mentioned)
- Incest (mentioned)
September’s Bookstore Partner
This month, we are excited to again partner with MahoganyBooks, located in DC’s historic Anacostia neighborhood. MahoganyBooks believes in social entrepreneurship and is dedicated to meeting the literary needs of readers in search of books written for, by, or about people of the African Diaspora.
Order online, or by calling 202.844.2062. Visit the FAQ page for additional questions.
To learn more, visit mahoganybooks.com.
We would like to thank the following organizations for their generous support of this program
Join us for an upcoming event
DC & Me: Community Mosaic Visual Arts Workshops
Folger Book Club: Daughters of the Deer
Early Music Seminar: Music of Medieval Spain
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