Home—New York, NY; Amelia Island, FL.
Winner, Mademoiselle Poetry Prize.
Creatures of Habit, A.A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.
The Diamond, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to Best American Essays 1996. Former contributing editor, New York, Esquire, and Vogue. Columnist for New York and Esquire.
Julie Baumgold's novel Creatures of Habit concerns Libby Alexander, the daughter of a wealthy, socially well-established Jewish family in New York City. Libby narrates the story, which traces how the family's money vanished, and how she became a gossip columnist known as "the Pimpernel." Her observations on the excessive lifestyles of the city's high society form the basis of the book. Reminiscent of Tom Wolfe's best-selling novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, Creatures of Habit satirizes the lives of the rich and reveals the multilayered nature of life in New York. "No plot to speak of ever heaves into view," commented Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in his New York Times review. Lehmann-Haupt said the narrator went on "monotonously." But a reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised Creatures of Habit: "Written with panache, candor and mordant humor, Baumgold's debut novel is a wicked send-up of the '80s." The reviewer found that Baumgold was able to be sympathetic to her characters even as she satirized them, and stated that readers would be "mesmerized" by the novel.
The Diamond, Baumgold's second novel, followed the fortunes of the Regent diamond, a fabulous stone found in India in 1701. The Regent is a real stone, and Baumgold's fiction is based on the history and legends that surround it. Discovered by a slave, the uncut stone was taken to England by Robert Pitt, the son of the British Governor of Madras. In its rough state, the gem was 410 carats. Cut by Joseph Cope, it was eventually refined into a jewel of 136 carats and fifty-eight facets, and was considered the largest and most beautiful diamond in the world. Pitt was charged with stealing the gem by the Great Mogul of India, but he managed to retain ownership. He then attempted to sell the gem to Louis XIV, but the French monarch declined the offer, as did British monarchs Queen Anne and King George. It was eventually sold to a regent for Louis XV, the boy king of France, and became the centerpiece of the royal jewel collection throughout the reign of five kings and two emperors. In Baumgold's book, "the Regent becomes an icon of the self-indulgent and extravagant monarchy," commented reviewer Robert Walch in America.
The diamond's story is narrated by the Comte de las Cases, who is in exile with Napoleon and at work on the former emperor's biography. Baumgold uses de las Cases's history of the Regent as a framing device to tell a sweeping tale of European history. The historical periods of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI are illuminated, and the characters of Marie Antoinette, Napoleon and his wife Josephine, and many others are brought to life. In the process, "the utter horror of the revolution and the constantly tumultuous state of French politics are not glossed over," commented a Publishers Weekly writer. The diamond is portrayed as something of a curse, which helped to bring about the end of the French monarchy. Reviewing for America, Walch stated: "In an utterly captivating piece of historical fiction, Julie Baumgold has crafted a multifaceted gem of a novel." Noting the Regent's reputation as a ‘cursed’ gem, he pointed out that "rather than belabor the stone's negative ‘karma,’ Baumgold focuses on the events and personages that were part of the Regent's legacy. The result is a highly entertaining and totally captivating story whose scope transcends the object to embrace a period of European history most readers will relish learning more about." The book was also recommended by a Kirkus Reviews writer who called it "a regal, multi-faceted feat of historical fiction."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, January 16, 2006, Robert Walch, review of The Diamond, p. 23.
Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women, winter, 1993, Bettina Berch, review of Creatures of Habit.
Booklist, October 15, 2005, Marta Segal Block, review of The Diamond, p. 29.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2005, review of The Diamond, p. 929.
Library Journal, April 15, 1993, Rebecca S. Kelm, review of Creatures of Habit, p. 124.
New York, June 28, 1993, review of Creatures of Habit, p. 24.
New York Times, June 28, 1993, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Creatures of Habit, p. 18.
New York Times Book Review, June 27, 1993, Mindi Dickstein, review of Creatures of Habit, p. 18; December 4, 2005, Ada Calhoun, "Romancing the Stone," p. 72.
Publishers Weekly, April 19, 1993, review of Creatures of Habit, p. 48; September 19, 2005, review of The Diamond, p. 43.
Tribune Books, June 27, 1993, review of Creatures of Habit, p. 4.
Vogue, November, 2005, "Treasure Hunt.," p. 244.
Wall Street Journal, July 2, 1993, Joanne Kaufman, review of Creatures of Habit, p. 5.
New York Times Online,http://www.nytimes.com/ (December 4, 2005), Ada Calhoun, review of The Diamond.
Romantic Times Online,http://www.romantictimes.com/ (February 12, 2008), Sheri Melnick, review of The Diamond.