How WK got his divorce to marry Granny
 

 

William K. and Alva Smith were divorced in March 1895.
 

Alva Smith

 

The circumstances thrilled the public. Rumors

were circulated--the New York World, always the first with
society tittle-tattle, ran them on page one -- that William K. had a
mistress with the unromantic name of Nellie Neustretter, "a
woman notorious in Europe," whom he had set up in a Paris
apartment and a Deauville villa and allowed $200,000 a year.
The World piously pointed out that Nellie's dozen servants "were
probably better paid than the brakemen and repairmen on Wil-
liam K.'s railroads."
 
The true story, however, appears to be that William K. had
the mistress for show and to establish grounds for his divorce
(adultery was then the only grounds in New York State, and by
tradition, it was the male partner who was accused). Henry James
heard in Paris in 1895 that William K. had engaged a demi-
mondaine to show off, "in order to force his virago of a wife to
divorce him." James saw a story in the Vanderbilt situation:
 
... the husband doesn't care a straw for the cocotte and
makes a bargain with her that is wholly independent of
real intimacy. He makes her understand the facts of his
situation -- which is that he is in love with another woman,
namely Granny, Anne Harriman Sands Rutherfurd.
Toward that woman his wife's character and proceedings
drive him, but he loves Anne too much to compromise her.
He can't let himself be divorced on her account-he can
on that of the femme galante--who has nothing--no
name-to lose.
 
He used the plot, with Jamesian modifications, in his short story
The Special Type published in 1903.