Empty Mansions

A couple of years ago, while visiting a small book store in Newport Rhode Island, I came across an interesting book titled, Empty Mansions. I didn’t buy it then but strangely enough, my brother gave it to me as a gift several months later. I always meant to read it but for some reason it sat on my reading shelf for over a year.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago and one of the blogs I really enjoy following is Book Club Mom. If you’ve never visited, I highly recommend giving her a look. Barbara does a terrific job reviewing all kinds of books and opening up interest where none existed before.
Coincidently, she reviewed Empty Mansions just as I was beginning to think it might be a good time to read it.

I have included the link to Barbara’s review of the book below since I could never do it as well as she did. In short, it is a story of Huguette Clark, an incredibly wealthy woman, who owned and maintained palatial homes in California, New York and Connecticut, though some remained empty and not visited for over fifty years. It’s the story of a woman who, in spite of her wealth, lived the last twenty years of her life in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health. She was 104 when she died, choosing to live in the strangest form of seclusion.

But there is much more which you will find here….


One of the things which touched me the most and, in some ways, helped me to understand Huguette, was an old French fable titled, The Cricket.  Sometimes it is called, True Happiness and is included at the end of the book. It was written in the late 1700’s by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian.

The Cricket

A poor little cricket
Hidden in the flowery grass,
Observes a butterfly
Fluttering in the meadow.
The winged insect shines with the liveliest colors;
Azure, purple and gold glitter on his wings;
Young , handsome, foppish, he hastens from flower to flower,
Taking from the best ones.
Ah! says the cricket, how his lot and mine
Are dissimilar! Lady Nature
For him did everything, and for me nothing.
I have no talent, even less beauty;
No one takes notice of me, they know me not here below;
Might as well not exist.
As he was speaking, in the meadow
arrives a troop of children,
Immediately they are running
after this butterfly, for which they all have a longing.
Hats, handkerchiefs, caps serve to catch him.
The insect in vain tries to escape.
He becomes soon their conquest.
One seizes him by the wing, another by the body;
A third arrives and takes him by the head.
It should not be so much effort
To tear to pieces the poor creature.
Oh! Oh! says he cricket, I am no more sorry;
It costs too dear to shine in this world.
How much I am going to love my deep retreat!
To live happily, live hidden.

The fable, which was a favorite of Huguette, has a powerful lesson.

The book is both fascinating, and sad.

32 thoughts on “Empty Mansions

  1. Book Club Mom

    Reblogged this on Book Club Mom and commented:
    My blogging friend George over at The Off Key of Life enjoyed reading Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. as much as I did. It’s a fascinating nonfiction story about the reclusive life of Huguette Clark, a wealthy New York heiress. Take a look!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. reocochran

    I have been one who reads the book lists and the book magazines which recommend books to read, George. I have heard of this book but am so glad you gave us a summary and this will be one I may get to one of these days. It was indeed fortuitous that you received this awhile back as a gift. . . I would probably borrow it from the library and wonder about this woman who chose such a reclusive and parsonimous final days. (I am misspelling the fancy word for plain life.) Hope this finds you well and enjoying the upcoming weekend, George! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. George Post author

      Lol…well, the house in Connecticut was sold for I think about 12 million. I think the one in California is about 100 million and the place in NY is probably gone but maybe you still have a shot at the California estate…:)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Green Global Trek

    What I love about this post is the series of “coincidences” that led you back to the same book a few times in a short amount of time. Don’t you love when that happens? I will send the bookie blog over to my mom, and avid reader who will be happy for additional recommends.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. George Post author

      Strange how things like that work out but in this case I was glad it did. I’m sure your mom will enjoy the variety of work on Barbara’s blog. Thanks, Peta.


    1. George Post author

      I’m not sure since I didn’t read Phantom but I know that a distant relative, Paul Clark Newell Jr., contributed to this book and included a number of conversations he had with Huguette. He wasn’t one of the relatives who contested her will. The access to records and individuals was pretty extensive but I’m sure some of the basic facts are similar.
      My understanding is that someone bought the film rights to Empty Mansions.

      Liked by 1 person


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