Surviving High Society Review
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Patricia Elizabeth Marvin was adopted into a blue-blooded West Hartford, Connecticut, family when she was three months old. Years later, she learned that her biological mother had become pregnant in order to force her lover to leave his wife and marry her. Instead, in an effort to avoid scandal, he persuaded her to put the baby up for adoption.

Elizabeth’s adoptive mother, Kay, was also a needy, self-centered, and controlling woman. Her younger adoptive brother was prone to seizures, and he took his aggression out on their mom, even to the point of trying to kill her. He was eventually sent away, and Elizabeth had no contact with him for years. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s father served as somewhat of a buffer until he died when she was 22 years old. Then she was forced to deal with her mother on her own.

Kay, who inherited millions, used her wealth to control her daughter. When she was unable to do so, she engineered a way to have her committed to a mental institution. Since Elizabeth found no viable means of supporting herself, she voluntarily entered “The Snake Pit” at age 23. The psychiatrists diagnosed her with schizophrenia and manic depression, and she was in and out of the institution for over twenty years. Not until middle age did she discover that the psychiatrists almost killed her with ongoing prescriptions for lithium.

In reading Surviving High Society: Lots of Love Trumps Lots of Money, I expected to gain an understanding of the dysfunctional aspects of the social elite. But that didn’t happen. Also, the back cover states that “As a close friend of Katherine Hepburn’s niece, she [Elizabeth] gained an inside look into Katharine Hepburn’s guarded inner life, which she details...” I really expected to learn more about Hepburn, too, but, in reality, there were few pages dedicated to her.

Instead, I read a very personal story about a young woman’s struggle to escape the clutches of a controlling, alcoholic mother. It’s a demonstration of self-discovery and the final triumph of gaining control over one’s own life. However, she didn’t convince me that her father should have been given complete absolution. Though her mother inherited the money, her father failed to protect her or make provisions for her. After reading her story, I also don’t believe that Elizabeth has completely overcome her abusive childhood, nor do I believe that she ever will. I doubt that she’s mastered self-awareness, but, then again, how many of us have?

I personally know of those who have endured more tragic childhoods, and I couldn’t relate Elizabeth’s story to my own life. Still, I found her accounts horrifying and her victory fascinating, and I couldn’t put the book down. Since it has fewer than 200 pages, if you simply take this well-written book as one woman’s story, without expecting to gain any insight into the lives of well-known people or even into your own life, then it’s well worth the read.

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