The Lioness of Boston

Emily Franklin

A deeply evocative novel of the life of Isabella Stewart Gardner, a daring visionary who created an inimitable legacy in American art and transformed the city of Boston itself. By the time Isabella Stewart Gardner opened her Italian palazzo-style home as a museum in 1903 to showcase her collection of old masters, antiques, and objects d’art, she was already well-known for scandalizing Boston’s polite society. But when Isabella first arrived in Boston in 1861, she was twenty years old, newly married to a wealthy trader, and unsure of herself. more

Historical FictionFictionHistoricalArtAdultAdult FictionAudiobookFamilyNovelsBook Club

356 pages, Hardcover
First published Godine

3.76

Rating

2549

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275

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Emily Franklin

35 books 108 followers

Growing up, Emily Franklin wanted to be “a singing, tap-dancing doctor who writes books.”

Having learned early on that she has little to no dancing ability, she left the tap world behind, studied at Oxford University, and received an undergraduate degree concentrating in writing and neuroscience from Sarah Lawrence College. Though she gave serious thought to a career in medicine, eventually that career followed her dancing dreams.

After extensive travel, some “character-building” relationships, and a stint as a chef, Emily went back to school at Dartmouth where she skied (or fished, depending on the season) daily, wrote a few screenplays, and earned her Master’s Degree in writing and media studies.

While editing medical texts and dreaming about writing a novel, Emily went to Martha’s Vineyard on a whim and met her future husband who is, of course, a doctor. And a pianist. He plays. They sing. They get married. He finishes medical school, they have a child, she writes a novel. Emily’s dreams are realized. She writes books.

Emily Franklin is the author of two adult novels, The Girls' Almanac and Liner Notes and more than a dozen books for young adults including the critically-acclaimed seven book fiction series for teens, The Principles of Love. Other young adult books include The Other Half of Me the Chalet Girls series, and At Face Value, a retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac (coming in September 2008).

She edited the anthologies It's a Wonderful Lie: 26 Truths about Life in Your Twenties and How to Spell Chanukah: 18 Writers Celebrate 8 Nights of Lights. She is co-editor of Before: Short Stories about Pregnancy from Our Top Writers.

Her book of essays and recipes, Too Many Cooks: Kitchen Adventures with 1 Mom, 4 Kids, 102 New Recipes ~ A Memoir of Tasting, Testing, and Discovery in the Kitchen will be published by Hyperion.

Emily’s work has appeared in The Boston Globe and the Mississippi Review as well as in many anthologies including Don't You Forget About Me: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes, When I Was a Loser: True Stories of (Barely) Surviving High School by Today's Top Writers, and Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers on the Mother-Daughter Bond. Emily writes regularly about food and parenting for national magazines and newspapers. She travels, teaches writing seminars, and speaks on panels, but does not tap dance. Emily Franklin lives outside of Boston with her husband and their four young children.

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Christie
34 reviews
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Overall a good story, but my opinion is too much time is spent in the beginning of the book about how Isabella Stewart Gardner doesn’t fit in. The author just won’t let it go and probably 50-75 pages could be cut without affecting the story arc. I love the ISG Museum and wish more time was focused on her collecting and arrangement of her pieces (all of which is fictionalized, I realize). . more


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Jenny Wheelbarrow
434 reviews
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I wanted to love this book. I live just outside Boston and live the ISG Museum and I’ve read a lot about her. I also love historical fiction based on real people and events. But I felt the book shortchanged me by front loading all the character and relationship development while the last quarter of the book was made up almost exclusively of correspondence. It left me feeling like the author just got tired and wanted to end the book. more


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Claire Fullerton
209 reviews
425 followers
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I have enjoyed women-focused historical fiction and this did not hit the mark for me. Lots of time spent on the feeling of not fitting in and less on the unimaginable grief of multiple miscarriages and death of toddler. I found I enjoyed reading about Isabella and her life and philanthropy through a quick internet search and like it more. Another interesting lack was the Civil War was occurring and there was little more than a cursory mention. This was surprising because Bella’s husband works in trade and infrastructure. more


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Erin
183 reviews
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In The Lioness of Boston, author Emily Franklin makes a fascinating case for following the beat of one’s own drum. The thoroughly researched historical fiction account of Isabella Stewart Gardner deftly depicts a woman coming into her own within the confines of high-society Boston as perched on the cusp then seen all the way through the Gilded Age. The four-part story begins in 1861 and sweeps through changing times and multiple continents to 1924, beginning in the first-person voice of a young bride from New York, who struggles to find acceptance in the inhospitable milieu of her blue-blooded husband’s family, only to triumph in the end by leaving her culturally advantageous, lasting mark upon the city that once shunned her. It is 1861, and 20-year-old Isabella Stewart Gardner is too naïve to realize she is unacceptably unconventional. Newly married to Jack Gardner—the brother of her childhood schoolmate—she dons the blinders of optimism, now that she’s joined Jack’s prominent Boston family. more


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Rachel
2203 reviews
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ISG was a force to be reckoned with and her story is truly fascinating, but I found the pacing to be too slow throughout a lot of this novel which made it challenging for me to stay engaged. more


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Jeanne Malone
6 reviews
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The Lioness of Boston by Emily Franklin is a great historical fiction and biography of a fascinating woman: Isabella Stewart Gardner. I went into this book shamefully knowing very little about Isabella, and I am so glad I took the time to read this gem and find out about the fascinating, trailblazing, stunning, and impressive life of this woman who lived well before her time at the beginning of the 20th century in the States. To see all that she came up against, all that she championed, all that she overcame…but yet seeing all the untapped potential…of this woman that lived at a time and in a society that had such restrictions, boundaries, and suppressions…it just made for an excellent story. I learned so much, and had an excellent time doing it. 5/5 stars Thank you EW and David R. more


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Barbara
568 reviews
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Since Isabella burnt all of hers letters and it said so in the book it’s funny that the book was written around these “letters”. Of course, the book is a historical fiction. The book made me interested in all the artists that she befriended. I looked up the artists and their art as I went along. I do love art and even though the story isn’t true in every sense it makes me want to visit the museum again in light of this story. more


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Susan
178 reviews
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Never, ever did I:think that (yet) another book about Isabella Stewart Gardner was going to make me cry. But The Lioness of Boston did, and hooray for a book about a much documented personage that can move a reader to that level of emotion. Go, you Red Sox, and go, you Emily Franklin. Thank you for making ISG come alive in a way that took her off of the wall and into a different context…. for making her less of an icon and more of a living, breathing woman, vulnerable enough to be hurt, brave enough to be audacious, loyal enough to be a supportive friend, and determined enough to make a vision come true. more


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Kelly Tullidge
121 reviews
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Ugh. I’ve been to the Gardner Museum and know about the heist, but I didn’t know much about Isabella Stewart Gardner. This is a work of fiction, and I found myself hoping that the ISG portrayed in this book was nothing like the real life woman. It’s a tedious story about a self-obsessed woman who, like Forrest Gump, tromps through history (in her lovely blue boots) meeting and inspiring a who’s who of 19th century art and thought. No wonder no one liked ISG - she’s unbearable and so is this book. more


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Beth
567 reviews
12 followers
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I wanted to love this book, but found it dry and wordy. It was a tedious story about a self-obsessed women ahead of her time. I ended up skipping pages and skimming most of it. I still look forward to visiting the museum, though. And I watched the Netflix documentary about the art heist - that was intriguing. more


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Judith Leipold
530 reviews
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4. 5…rounded up. I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum twenty years ago in Boston, and was fascinated. Now her story comes out. I will settle for fiction based on history, as there was so much known history. more


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Danielle Thomas
1 reviews
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I had high hopes for this one. I waited to get it on Audible. com but after 5 weeks I gave up and purchased the hardcover from Titcomb's (Sandwich, MA) Bookshop in conjunction with a visit to the ISG Museum in Boston. I love reading about women's history, literature, travel, and art. No brainer. more


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Terry
419 reviews
6 followers
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The first 2/3 of the book really kept me engaged. I could barely get through the rest, I just lost interest in the story. more


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آية
213 reviews
78 followers
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Great historical fiction about Isabella Stewart Gardner. She was a woman who came to Boston in the late 1800s. She tried to fit in with the high society ladies, but she was just very different. She spoke her mind, asked lots of questions and moved to the beat of her own drum. The book explores how this Renaissance woman sets out to find her purpose. more


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Abbey
75 reviews
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1/18/24 reviewIf you want to read a book about an incredibly privileged filthy-rich white woman whining non-stop about how life is unfair, read this one. The author also projects so much contemporary expectations on her - tell me how she made this nineteenth century character into an activist for women's rights, African Americans, LGBT rights, and Jewish rights, all while profiting off of slavery and benefiting immensely from her position among the Boston Brahmins. Only thing I liked about this book was the mention of different places in Boston, many of which were being constructed at the time this novel was written and still exist today. Characters and plot were all so ugghhhh On a serious note, Isabella is portrayed as someone who is just supremely ungrateful and unhappy about everything (despite being a millionaire and married to a millionaire) and she fills the gap within her by buying artwork from all over the world, as though this will help her make her place in it. True, in the end she established the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum which still exists in Boston today, but the book made it seem so shallow and self-centered. more


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Aadi Miglani
37 reviews
4 followers
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I'm really debating on putting a lower rating on this book. I thought this would be a tale that described the beauty of art and gave us a deep dive into the life of Isabella Stewart Gardner. It did only one of those things and to put it nicely: it made me groan. I get it, sometimes you cannot describe every feeling someone has had or felt in a book, especially historical fiction. But this. more


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Michele
33 reviews
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I received an ARC of this book via Adventures by the Book. I wrote this review in collaboration with bookish event company Adventures By the Book based in Southern California, where I am interning. You can check out ABTB https://adventuresbythebook. com/ ___________________________________________________________This stunning novel based on the true story of Isabella Stewart Gardner and her life as an arts collector and the trials and tribulations she, along with the women of her generation, were forced to undergo as they attempted to break out of society’s strictly casted molds for women. Franklin’s writing is strong, and her novel shows us the importance of art in its ability to connect individuals under a shared love. more


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Leslie
50 reviews
5 followers
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Intellectual woman fighting for equality, but book was very long and tedious. . more


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Karen Stefanski
22 reviews
1 followers
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Meh. It was good at the beginning with lots of character development that led me to believe that it would continue, and I was wrong. Towards the last bit, it was all about correspondence back-and-forth between famous people who also didn’t have enough character development to make it interesting. Did not finish. more


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Rachael Hobson
470 reviews
22 followers
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I loved reading about Isabella Stuart Gardner not conforming to society's expected behaviors. She wanted to learn and appreciate books and art. I thought that the book could have been shorter as it was rather repetitive about her being gossiped about and not caring what society thought. . more


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Naly
9 reviews
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I was curious enough about this fictionalized version of Isabella Stewart Gardner that I was able to finish the book. But overall, it was a little tedious. Isabella bemoaning about not fitting in took up too much time. . more


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Robin Briendel
10 reviews
4 followers
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Isabella Stewart Gardner’s story should be a fascinating and inspiring one, but the author missed the mark on this one. Fictional biography, even if the author doesn’t want to call it that, is tricky. The author is shaping the character’s personality with her choice of words, and that carries a lot of responsibility. In this case, a woman who should have been dynamic and interesting, comes across as whiny, lacking in substance, and someone who is addicted to buying art, not always necessarily because she feels a connection to it but rather because she has a lot of money to spend and wants a lot of art. I got so sick of reading her question what her purpose was or what she would become. more


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Baylee DaCosta
5 reviews
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More of a 3. 5 but deserving of being rounded up. Fascinating story of Isabella Stewart Gardener. Great read, but could have been significantly shorter. Parts I, III and IV seemed like the only necessary parts. more


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Sophia
142 reviews
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An eclectic culmination of a fearless female navigating through the trials and tribulations of life. Isabella Stewart Gardner stands true to be the Lioness of Boston and is depicted by Emily Franklin as the pioneer of Boston’s art scene in the Fens. I highly recommend this book to anyone from Massachusetts or to those who are inspired by female empowerment. We can still hear Isabella Stewart Gardener’s roar through the lasting impact she left behind. . more


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Sherry
1578 reviews
8 followers
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I really wanted to love this book. I have visited the ISG museum a number of times and I was very intrigued by her and wanted to know more about her. The book was long, drawn out and wordy. There was a lot of extra detail that in my opinion wasn’t really needed. ISG’s life was complicated, sad and in the beginning what I felt; unfulfilling. more


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Kate
879 reviews
65 followers
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Reading The Lioness of Boston makes me want to go to Boston and visit the Isabella Stewart, Gardner Museum, and see all of the treasures, priceless books, artwork, and objects, that this remarkable woman, scorned by the high society of Boston, collected and gifted to the people of Boston and the United States. In 1861 Isabella is 20 years old and has just married the wealthy trader/financier John “Jack”Lowell Gardner who loves her to distraction, but even he cannot make the society matrons except his unusual wife, a woman of intellect and curiosity, who speaks her mind and believes that women can have ideas, just as well as men. He is deeply saddened by her hurt at the hands and scornful looks and lack of invitations from these paragons of society. They both suffer for years unable to get pregnant and finally havie a son and lose him to a childhood fever. Isabella miscarries a second child and feelsShe has failure her designated task of motherhood. more


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Mary
339 reviews
2 followers
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Received this as my July 2023 selection of my Just the Right Book subscription which I have been lucky to receive from my brother and his family for Christmas for many years. This is well-written historical fiction telling the story of Isabella Stuart Gardner who I knew nothing about beyond her eponymous museum and the theft. She marries and moves to Boston and tries so hard to fit in with the Brahmins, the wealthy who are building and developing the city. An early feminist, Belle wants to do more and strives to figure out what her purpose is in this world. Tragedies in her 20s make her look at the world through the lens of classic writing and books which slowly morphs into the world of Art and Artists, especially in Europe. more


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Susan Lillis
28 reviews
3 followers
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I read the audio version of this book. I was very very disappointed. Drivel. Isabella came off as a woman from 2023 living in the 1800's. there was no personality and what little there was of Isabella's persona seemed to be a modern woman instead of a woman of that time period . more


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Briana Galluccio
18 reviews
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Anyone who has lived in Boston and spent time at the Gardner Museum has probably wondered what made Isabelle Stuart Gardner tick. This is one author’s effort to provide an answer. While her descriptions of the Victorian Era restricted roles available to upper class Brahmin women was interesting and provided a good context for understanding how scandalous ISG really was, I am not sure that she really found the psyche of her subject. That said, the stories around her acquisition of some of the most striking pieces in the Museum was great fun. Overall I enjoyed this book very much although in the end I do feel like a biography might have provided more answers to the questions that I had. more


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I loved this book. The story of a woman who didn’t fit the mold of her time period — too curious, too headstrong, too clever — who finds her way in the world. A beautiful story about loss and grief, about love of art and travel, of finding your place in the world. Also, as a Bostonian who has the same disposition towards Italy, I loved hearing about civil war and post war era Boston and Isabella’s travels to one of her favorite places, Italy. I visited her museum in Boston while taking an art history class in college, and now I’d love to go back. more


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