The Velveteen Daughter
The Velveteen Daughter reveals for the first time the true story of two remarkable women: Margery Williams Bianco, the author of one of the most beloved children s books of all time The Velveteen Rabbit and her daughter Pamela, a world-renowned child prodigy artist whose fame at one time greatly eclipses her mother's. But celebrity at such an early age exacts a great toll. Pamela's dreams elude her as she struggles with severe depressions, an overbearing father, an obsessive love affair, and a spectacularly misguided marriage. Throughout, her life raft is her mother. The glamorous art world of Europe and New York in the early 20th century and a supporting cast of luminaries Eugene O Neill and his wife Agnes (Margery s niece), Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, and Richard Hughes, author of A High Wind in Jamaica, provide a vivid backdrop to the Biancos story. From the opening pages, the novel will captivate readers with its multifaceted and illuminating observations on art, family, and the consequences of genius touched by madness.

The Velveteen Daughter Details

TitleThe Velveteen Daughter
Author
FormatPaperback
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJul 11th, 2017
PublisherShe Writes Press
ISBN1631521926
ISBN-139781631521928
Rating
GenreHistorical, Fiction, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Writing, Books About Books, Literature, 20th Century

The Velveteen Daughter Review

  • Lolly K Dandeneau
    January 13, 2017
    “Just one look at her this morning and despair flew into my heart. She had the look I dread, her eyes over bright, shining with that queer mix of euphoria and terror. And she talked incessantly, a very bad sign.” The Velveteen Rabbit was a beautifully tender children’s story, and after reading this gorgeous novel about the author Margery Williams and her gifted daughter Pamela the children’s tale has come to mean much more. Being real hurts terribly. Laurel Davis Huber has taken the true story o “Just one look at her this morning and despair flew into my heart. She had the look I dread, her eyes over bright, shining with that queer mix of euphoria and terror. And she talked incessantly, a very bad sign.” The Velveteen Rabbit was a beautifully tender children’s story, and after reading this gorgeous novel about the author Margery Williams and her gifted daughter Pamela the children’s tale has come to mean much more. Being real hurts terribly. Laurel Davis Huber has taken the true story of mother and daughter and fictionalized it but with precision, following facts so much that she seems to be channeling the entire family. From the beginning pages I was already hooked and feeling heart sore.Pamela is an unusual child, a wunderkind artist but her state of mind is a fragile one. The struggle her mother Margery has is one to keep her safe from the world, but this puts her at odds with her husband Francesco and his exciting plans for their daughter’s success. Margery knows her daughter’s talent could leave her vulnerable to the attention, her child’s delicate mind may not withstand it but Francesco cannot be stopped. Francesco’s wild aspirations will change their entire lives and one later wonders, had she kept her daughter’s talent hidden until she came of age would things have turned out differently? Pamela adores her father, as they are so very much alike and will do anything to please him. As with true artists, Pamela’s natural talent is a thing she is driven to do, not for attention, simply because it is like breathing for her. It’s not about the masses, it’s always been about the undivided attention her father gives her. With her mother, she can let her guard down and reveal her broken insides. As she says “Mam’s eyes are vast almond-shaped seas, liquid navy, flowing with an endless depth of understanding and compassion. When she listens to you, she takes you in and you can’t help it, you simply give yourself over to her…” It is this very knowing that induces fear for her daughter.Periods of melancholia consume Pamela as she comes of age and can no longer contain it. What pushes her more, the attentions of the world or her father’s driving force? Life takes a toxic turn, if her father’s obsession is sharing her talent with the world, then her own obsession isn’t for art but a man. When love enters in the form of family friend Diccon (a poet) and becomes her infatuation, longings blossom in her tender heart like a poisonous flower her family fails to see. It is an all consuming desire that begins at the age of 13, she feels Diccon (20 years old) is her destiny and her reality blurs. Back and forth Margery and Pamela spill their hearts to the reader, each coping with Pamela’s illness in different ways. A mother is always real, and with snippets of The Velveteen Rabbit weaving it’s way into the novel, my heart became a wound. Pamela knows there is something wrong with her, and she is beset by periods of deep affliction that require hospitalization and therapy. A mother is as close to God as children can get, but we are all too human and Margery, despite her wisdom and heart, isn’t any different than the rest of us. Each time her daughter breaks against the harshness of the world, Margery too loses heart.Years pass, in a moment of compulsion Pamela makes a decision that ends with a child, Lorezno. She has her own secrets to keep from her boy, and the novel is written with flashes from past to present. The cloud of melancholia never leaves Pamela entirely, interfering with her art there are times when she cannot paint. She needs her mother to help raise her boy, but her son may well be the one blessing in life that keeps her anchored to the world. I am simplifying the novel, it is a gorgeous historical literary fiction that reads more like a memoir of both mother and daughter. We are privy to the constant invading thoughts in Pamela’s mind, her desires, her attempts at trying to soothe and calm herself and how she fails. Margery’s thoughts are the bleeding of a mother’s heart that readers feel as their own.Today we are far more aware of the states of mental health, and I’d like to think more understanding, but times were different then. So much remains unknown still today, and back then mental illness was far less defined. One cannot dismiss the crippling effects, not just on the patient but on the parents too. Margery watches her daughter, for mothers are detectors of the slightest nuance in their child’s being. Those with children who have any sort of illness can relate to the knot that lives inside said mother. One can never be ‘at ease’, one is always waiting for the bottom to drop. It’s a constant state of fear for your child, and as Margery wrote in The Velveteen Rabbit, “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.” Margery hurts daily for her beloved, gifted, tormented daughter. Francesco is blinded as he only sees Pamela's talent and his wild ambitions for her future, but Margery recognizes something that surfaces from the depths of her daughter’s being from early on. Francesco is a force that can’t be stopped, just as is Pamela’s illness, but without her father’s pushing her means of living may never have been reached. It’s cruel to be punishing to either parent, and later we learn Francesco and Pamela may be more alike than different. This constant watching never goes away in adulthood either, as mental stability is a fragile state. There are ups and downs, storms that pass and those that come to stay and incapacitate. There are no quick fixes, no miracle cures in real life.Love in this family is a sour heart and a gift. What happens with Diccon is dangerous, but it’s the self-delusions that are most damaging to Pamela. Her mother’s staunch support and love is her salvation, as is Pamela’s son, Lorenzo. What makes this particular historical fiction deeply touching is the love between mother and daughter, is there anything more pure? Laurel Davis Huber based the novel on more truth than fiction. There are no sad endings nor happy ones in life, we encounter both always. The Velveteen Rabbit is one of the most tender, beautiful children’s stories I have ever read but after knowing about the author and her daughter, I will never read it without this heaviness. If ever my heart overflowed with compassion, it is with this novel. We follow the family to the end of Margery and Francesco’s lives, and keep close to Pamela into her later years. What a beautiful, crushing story about a gifted and REAL mother and child! Add this to your summer reading list!Publication Date: July 11, 2017She Writes Press
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  • Rebecca Foster
    June 29, 2017
    (4.5) The name Margery Williams Bianco might not seem familiar, but chances are you remember her classic children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit. This lovely debut novel is about Margery and her daughter, Pamela Bianco, a painter and child prodigy troubled by mental illness. The main thread of the novel is set on one day in 1944, and the first-person narration alternates with almost every chapter between Margery and Pamela, who through memory and imagination drift back through vivid scenes from the (4.5) The name Margery Williams Bianco might not seem familiar, but chances are you remember her classic children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit. This lovely debut novel is about Margery and her daughter, Pamela Bianco, a painter and child prodigy troubled by mental illness. The main thread of the novel is set on one day in 1944, and the first-person narration alternates with almost every chapter between Margery and Pamela, who through memory and imagination drift back through vivid scenes from their lives in Turin, London, Wales, and New York City.“I can’t stop my thoughts from boiling up,” Pamela writes; decades later, she still dwells on regrets: the way her father, bookseller Francesco, pushed her to exhibit her art even as a young teenager; her unrequited, obsessive love for “Diccon” (Richard Hughes, author of A High Wind in Jamaica); and the short-lived marriage that resulted in her only son, Lorenzo. Huber effectively captures the confusion of Pamela’s mind through the slightly scattered and repetitive prose in her sections. Themes of creativity, mental health and motherhood are nestled in this highly visual book full of cameos by everyone from Pablo Picasso to Eugene O’Neill (who was married to Margery’s niece). I love reading fictional biographies of writers and other creative types, and this one gives such an interesting window onto lesser-known twentieth-century figures. The closest comparison I would make is with Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. I especially appreciated Huber’s endnotes explaining what was fact (almost everything) and what was fiction here, and her discussion of the letters and archives she used.As The Velveteen Rabbit itself teaches, we only really come to life when we are loved, and you can see how for Pamela it was a lifelong struggle to be loved for who she was. The artist’s tortured journey and the mother’s tender worry are equally strong here. Had I finished it a few days earlier I would have included this in my write-up of the best books of 2017 so far. It would be a great choice for book clubs, too – a set of questions is included at the end of the novel.My thanks to publicist Caitlin Hamilton Summie for granting me early access via NetGalley.
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  • Nancy
    January 27, 2017
    The Velveteen Rabbit is a well known and well beloved children's book by Margery Williams Bianco. That Margery's daughter, Pamela, was a child prodigy in art has been forgotten, but a new book by Laurel Davis Huber will soon correct this lapse of collective memory.Huber's novel is compelling and affecting, the story of a girl who yearns for love. As in her mother's book, she seeks the love that will make her 'real'.Margery and Pamela both speak in the novel, with chapters skipping back and forth The Velveteen Rabbit is a well known and well beloved children's book by Margery Williams Bianco. That Margery's daughter, Pamela, was a child prodigy in art has been forgotten, but a new book by Laurel Davis Huber will soon correct this lapse of collective memory.Huber's novel is compelling and affecting, the story of a girl who yearns for love. As in her mother's book, she seeks the love that will make her 'real'.Margery and Pamela both speak in the novel, with chapters skipping back and forth in time in a paced revelation. Pamela's father pushed her into the art world as a child genius; Margery tried to hold him back so Pamela would have a normal childhood, developing her talent organically. Pamela wanted to please her father. Her art was displayed when she was twelve; she was a sensation. "This wonderful child," Gabriel D'Annunzio wrote after seeing a sketch she had done, aged eight, "whose name is like the name of a new flower. The drawings of a phenomenal girl artist are like flowers, delicate, fragile, wind-blown, sprung from the enchanted soil of fairy land."When a girl she developed an attachment to Richard Hughes, a charismatic young poet who became close to the Bianco family. She created a fantasy that they would marry. When the much older Richard became engaged it caused a crisis for the emotionally fragile Pamela and resulted in hospitalization. Over the next years her fixation on Hughes suffered many ups and downs until it became clear he had no intention of marrying Pamela. Hughes is known for his novel A High Wind in Jamaica.While pursuing her art in New York City during the 1920s Pamela fell in with a young man and as a lark they married, resulting in a child, although they never lived together. Pamela struggled with mental illness, causing great lapses in her artistic output. Late in life married and supported by her husband returned to art. In the background is the story of Margery's sister and her disastrous marriage to Eugene O'Neil. Pamela encounters art world denizens including Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Whitney Vanderbilt.Huber's meticulous research has resulted in historical fiction that has great emotional appeal.
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  • Jessica Howard
    April 5, 2017
    Fascinating and sad and good. Full review to come for Shelf Awareness.
  • Denice Barker
    May 18, 2017
    History may always remember Margery Williams as the author of The Velveteen Rabbit but who of us knows of her daughter, Pamela Bianco? It was Pamela whose fame came first as a small child of eleven years when Pablo Picasso first sees a piece Pamela drew when she was just four. It was from this day in her life, the day she met Picasso, that her life was no longer her own. It wasn’t because Picasso took over Pamela’s life, it was her father who exploited his daughter’s rare genius. Pamela’s fathe History may always remember Margery Williams as the author of The Velveteen Rabbit but who of us knows of her daughter, Pamela Bianco? It was Pamela whose fame came first as a small child of eleven years when Pablo Picasso first sees a piece Pamela drew when she was just four. It was from this day in her life, the day she met Picasso, that her life was no longer her own. It wasn’t because Picasso took over Pamela’s life, it was her father who exploited his daughter’s rare genius. Pamela’s father saw his chance to capitalize on Pamela’s talent. Exhibitions were planned and when her works sold out more were planned. And more and more.It was true that she couldn’t stop drawing and painting, the passion had taken hold of her when she was four years old, but her father exploited her talent to earn a living for the family. She suffered from deep depression as she continued to try to please her father. She could never say no to him. At thirteen she fell in love and this love becomes an obsession that followed her always. When she finally does marry it is the most unusual and damaging thing that can happen to her. Throughout her life, her mother and brother are there as stabilizers but it takes a lot to stabilize Pamela’s life and the toll is felt by everyone. We are a part of the early 20th century art world in both New York and Europe. We meet Eugene O’Neill, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, for awhile a supporter and sponsor of Pamela and the love of Pamela’s life, Richard (Diccon) Hughes. Pamela’s father, her talent, her depression, her obsessive love, her marriage, Pamela is a damaged soul. This is a sad and truly amazing story of someone lost to our knowledge of cultural history. And if for no other reason this should be enough to read this book.
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  • Rachel Stansel
    February 8, 2017
    Four and a half stars. I grew up loving The Velveteen Rabbit. Even now, it quite literally brings me to tears. So, when I saw this historical fiction, I was curious to learn about the author. The Velveteen Daughter follows the lives of Margery Williams Bianco, her daughter Pamela. Pamela was a world-renowned artist discovered due to her father entering her in a show when she was very young. Her instant fame and the pushing of her father played key roles in her life, as do her intense bouts with Four and a half stars. I grew up loving The Velveteen Rabbit. Even now, it quite literally brings me to tears. So, when I saw this historical fiction, I was curious to learn about the author. The Velveteen Daughter follows the lives of Margery Williams Bianco, her daughter Pamela. Pamela was a world-renowned artist discovered due to her father entering her in a show when she was very young. Her instant fame and the pushing of her father played key roles in her life, as do her intense bouts with depression and other illnesses that led to repeated hospitalizations.I found the story to be richly told. Both women, so very different, are written in such an honest and beautiful way. In addition to learning about their lives, I really enjoyed learning about the art scenes in both Europe and New York during the turn of the century. Just fascinating! As always, I finish a historical fiction and wonder if the author fell more on the historical or fiction side of things. The author does a nice just of concisely describing what was true and what was not but in general and regarding each of our main characters, which I appreciated. I highly recommend the book for its own sake. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed and felt connect to the two women, both strong in their own ways.Full disclosure - I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Susan
    May 6, 2017
    see my review at Reading World.
  • Jill Elizabeth
    April 5, 2017
    “I knew then that I’d been fooling myself, that none of it was Real at all. And I was what I’d always been, a rabbit with no fur, no hind legs, nothing more than a sewed-up sack of sawdust. I couldn’t move properly. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair at all.”The Velveteen Rabbit is my all-time favorite children’s book. I’ve never seen or heard anything about the author – Margery Williams Bianco. I had no idea if she was married, had a family, where she lived… When I saw this title, I was thrilled at “I knew then that I’d been fooling myself, that none of it was Real at all. And I was what I’d always been, a rabbit with no fur, no hind legs, nothing more than a sewed-up sack of sawdust. I couldn’t move properly. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair at all.”The Velveteen Rabbit is my all-time favorite children’s book. I’ve never seen or heard anything about the author – Margery Williams Bianco. I had no idea if she was married, had a family, where she lived… When I saw this title, I was thrilled at the idea of learning about her life and eager to see what (if any) role the eponymous daughter played in the creation of her fantastic book. I imagined whimsy and fun, a happy child learning beautiful lessons about life and love at the feet of a master.Wow. I could not have been more surprised by the way this played out…Turns out, Margery herself was just about exactly what I imagined. Technically I guess I should say Margery appeared just about exactly how I imagined. This is a novel. I expected some artistic license in the name of story development but, generally speaking (unless explicity stated otherwise) novels based on real people track real life wherever documentation is available, and the fiction part comes in through the gap-filling necessary to turn the historical record into a coherent tale. Still, I’ve done a bit of online investigating since this, and it appears that the presentation of the main characters is fairly as true to life as possible, given the available evidence. So I will talk as though it is.As I was saying, Margery was a loving, caring, considerate mother – exactly the type of mother/woman I would have expected to come up with the tale of the Velveteen Rabbit. But her child – Pamela – could not have had a more different childhood than that I imagined for a child of Margery if she’d tried… I did not know Pamela existed, let alone that she was an artist – and a world-renowned child prodigy at that. That’s the source of the majority of the story in this story – Pamela’s greatness and fame at an early age, and the life she led as an adult in the aftermath of that unusual childhood.As Tolstoy said: “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Had Pamela had the childhood I would have imagined for her, there would be no novel here – and maybe there’d be no Velveteen Rabbit either. Without Pamela’s struggles to balance her father’s expectations and her own need to create with her father Francesco’s desire to propel his exceedingly talented daughter to the heights of art world; without dealing on a daily basis with a daughter and husband who fought life-long battles with mental illness; and without her own attempts to balance these two volatile personalities with that of her more prosaic son Cecco – all while maintaining and expanding upon her own prolific career as an author – perhaps, without all of those elements, the simple elegance of the Rabbit’s quest for love, to be seen and be Real, would never have been written… That would have been a tragedy indeed.But equally tragic are Pamela’s struggles to maintain a life of her own. She basically spent her life searching for her own Reality and love, her own third way between the towering vehemence of her father and the quieter, but no less powerful, quiet strength of her mother. The book was difficult to read at times. Children’s struggles should be difficult to read about, after all… And despite her mother’s undying love and support, there were times when the quietude of Margery’s nature meant she didn’t speak up or speak out to protect the fragility she recognized in her daughter. The back-and-forth narrative, shifting perspective between Margery and Pamela as well as shifting throughout the years of their lives, allows the regret to ring true in this regard. Those regrets – the doubts that every parent feels about the decisions made on behalf of their children – are some of the more touching moments in Margery’s segments of the story. For Pamela, those moments come when some aspect of her mother’s iconic story overlays her own depression and despair, as in the quote at the opening of this post.This is a lovely, long-overdue look at an iconic children’s author – and an equally long-overdue revival for her exceptionally (and, perhaps, tragically) talented daughter. The Velveteen Daughter releases July 11, 2017. My review copy was made available through NetGalley.
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  • Judie
    April 22, 2017
    The Velveteen Daughter takes its title from the mother daughter relationship of the author of the Velveteen Rabbit and her daughter, a child prodigy artist. As in other fictionalized novels of real people, you wonder how much of the book is imagined, and how much documented. Either way, it's an enjoyable read about a young girl struggling with mental illness, perhaps exacerbated by her father's pressure on her to succeed. I thought the writing was excellent.
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