Kristy Woodson Harvey Brings the Women of Biltmore to Life in New Historical Novel
With her latest novel, the bestselling author behind Under the Southern Sky and the Peachtree Bluff series, makes her first foray into historical contemporary fiction.
In The Wedding Veil, Kristy Woodson Harvey examines one of the most fascinating women in American history, Edith Vanderbilt, and her heroic efforts to save the Biltmore estate after her husband George's death in 1914.
With dual plot lines, Harvey weaves Vanderbilt's mission to preserve the iconic 250-room mansion with the present-day story of a fictional character named Julia Baxter, and the wedding veil her family has passed down for generations.
Harvey told Southern Living that the idea for the book came from an heirloom veil she wore for her own wedding and then passed to her cousin. She recalled putting it on her cousin's head and thinking about how amazing it was for them to share such a special connection with so many women they would never meet.
But that was only half of the story she was meant to tell.
Harvey had recently re-visited the Biltmore in Asheville and became newly "fascinated" by all the things Edith did to preserve her family's legacy after the death of her husband. Then one night, a random Google search led Harvey to a story about a wedding veil that Edith, her mother, three sisters and her daughter Cornelia had worn that mysteriously disappeared.
"I was sitting there are my computer and I think I said aloud 'sometimes the stories tell themselves,'" the North Carolina-native said. "I knew I had to write it."
Harvey pitched the book and planned to get to work on it in March 2020. She thought she would buy a pass to the Biltmore and spend time researching the Vanderbilt family in their famous home.
The world, however, had other plans. The Biltmore closed to guests due to the coronavirus pandemic and Harvey wasn't going anywhere.
"Thank goodness the world has the librarians," she mused. "I ordered every book that I could possibly find about the Vanderbilt family."
When restrictions finally lifted, Harvey returned to Biltmore to flesh out her tale by visiting parts of the home that are normally off-limits to guests. She was moved by accounts of the family's immense generosity and to learn that Cornelia had a talent for art and writing.
"I wouldn't have known it at the time, but it was the perfect way to write the book," she said. "I was able to read and research first."
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As for the mysterious veil?
"I just have this feeling that they'll find it someday," Harvey said.
The Wedding Veil by Kristy Woodson Harvey is available now.