Strong Passions: A Scandalous Divorce in Old New York

Barbara Weisberg

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Belletristik / Hauptwerk vor 1945


Shocking revelations of a wife’s adultery explode in an incendiary nineteenth-century trial, exposing upper-crust New York society and its secrets.

What could possibly go wrong in a wealthy matriarch’s country home when her dilettante son, his restless wife, and his widowed brother live there together? Strong Passions, rooted in the beguiling times of Edith Wharton’s “old New York,” recounts the true story of a tumultuous marriage. In 1862, Mary Strong stunned her husband, Peter, by confessing to a two-year affair with his brother. Peter sued Mary for divorce for adultery—the only grounds in New York—but not before she accused him of forcing her into an abortion and having his own affair with the abortionist. She then kidnapped their young daughter and disappeared.

The divorce trial Strong v. Strong riveted the nation during the final throes and aftermath of the Civil War, offering a shocking glimpse into the private world of New York’s powerful and privileged elite. Barbara Weisberg presents the chaotic courtroom and panoply of witnesses—governess, housekeeper, private detective, sisters-in-law, and many others—who provided contradictory and often salacious testimony. She then asks us to be the jury, deciding each spouse’s guilt and the possibility of a just resolution.

Social history at its most intimate, Strong Passions charts a trial’s twists and turns to portray a family and country in turmoil as they faced conflicts over women’s changing roles, male custody of children, and men’s power—financial and otherwise—over wives.



divorce, new york, marriage, court case, miscarriage, gilded age, infidelity, abortion, elite, edith wharton, high society, adultery, court, reproductive rights, womens rights, child custody