Morgan Library visionary. One of the most prominent and influential librarians in history. Democratizer of museums. And, until two decades after her death, no one outside her family knew she was passing as white.
We know a lot about public-facing Belle: she was JP Morgan's personal librarian from 1905 until his death in 1913, and she continued to build and direct The Morgan Library until shortly before her own death in 1950. She was responsible for shaping the museum’s collections, and her vision was no less than to tell the history and importance of the early printed word. One of the most powerful people in the art world, she traveled the globe, buying art and manuscripts at auction and socializing with Astors and Vanderbilts. Constantly featured in newspapers and magazines, she was widely known for her gorgeous clothes and her glittering personality. But that extravagant personal style was a mask meant to distract the public from the real Belle, who was in fact the daughter of Richard T. Greener, one of the most prominent Black civil rights activists of his day.
In this episode of Book Dreams, Julie and Eve talk about Belle with Victoria Christopher Murray and Marie Benedict, co-authors of the novel The Personal Librarian–a New York Times bestseller and Good Morning America Book Club Pick–which gives us a fully formed sense of inner Belle. They discuss Belle's upbringing, her intimate relationship with JP Morgan, her motivations and struggles, and the sacrifices she made in order to conceal her identity.
The Personal Librarian
The Instant New York Times Bestseller! A Good Morning America Book Club Pick!
“Historical fiction at its best…. The Personal Librarian spins a complex tale of deceit and allegiance as told through books.” —Good Morning America
“Benedict, who is white, and Murray, who is African American, do a good job of depicting the tightrope Belle walked, and her internal conflict from both sides—wanting to adhere to her mother's wishes and move through the world as white even as she longed to show her father she was proud of her race. Like Belle and her employer, Benedict and Murray had almost instant chemistry, and as a result, the book's narrative is seamless. And despite my aversion to the passing trope, I became hooked.” —NPR
Belle Marion Greener AKA Belle da Costa Greene
The Personal Librarian, by Victoria Christopher Murray and Marie Benedict
Stand Your Ground, by Victoria Christopher Murray
A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, by Allyson Hobbs
The White Problem, by Richard Greener
An Illuminated Life: Belle da Costa Greene’s Journey from Prejudice to Privilege, by Heidi Adrizzone