The Great Mrs. Elias
September 18, 2021

Book Review

The Great Mrs. Elias

The Great Mrs. Elias brings to life a fascinating figure of Hannah Elias, one of the richest black women in America in early 1900s.

NYC, 1903. A bullet meant for Hannah Elias takes a life of Andrew H. Green – known as the Father of Greater New York. His murder makes the headlines across the newspapers and Hannah worries that her previous name and life will be revealed as it’s being connected to the murder of Andrew H. Green. Hannah is also worried about a third man.

Philadelphia, 1876. The story goes back in time and reveals who Hannah Elias truly is and what shaped her life. Bessie Davis at eleven helps her mother and takes care of her younger siblings. Her mother taught all her children manners early so that they could find jobs in the mansions. Bessie, after attending a school to learn more skills, gets hired as a downstairs maid. She spends her long commutes on reading books. Her favorite inspiration is Cleopatra and with her imagination inflamed, her well-done duties as a maid promote her to ladies’ maid. She takes a special care with her mistresses’ wardrobe as she has a weakness for beautiful clothes. One such beautiful dress gets her in trouble.

After her prison time, she doesn’t have much choice as no one wants to hire someone with jail record. Thus, she joins a certain “sisterhood”. One of her clients is a banker and she learns how to invest her money. She is smart with her money, but then the Panic of 1893 happens and much more.

Bessie’s life’s struggles are vividly portrayed, how life’s events shaped her. She went through some tough experiences that would break down many, but not Bessie. Extremely strong woman, who learned things quickly, including police corruption and blackmail and because of her skin color she was a target for some to bring her down.

The period is vividly presented from rough neighborhoods of NYC to the most expensive ones, including the most famous restaurant of Delmonico’s which was the first public dining room in the US. “It had laid the foundation for the entire American restaurant industry.”

The novel is skillfully woven, connecting the past with the present, her climb to success and then an effort of some to bring her down. It is presented with a crisp prose, caring the story constantly forward with an engaging protagonist. It’s plotted with such skill that you constantly feel something clouding over the heroine and want to find out how her story ends.