NOTORIOUS WOMAN: The Celebrated Case of Myra Clark Gaines

Elizabeth Urban Alexander, Author
Elizabeth Urban Alexander, Author . Louisiana State Univ. $34.95 (301p) ISBN 978-0-8071-2698-1
Reviewed on: 10/22/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
Paperback - 301 pages - 978-0-8071-3024-7
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 328 pages - 978-0-8071-5398-7
Ebook - 328 pages - 978-0-8071-5400-7
Ebook - 328 pages - 978-0-8071-5399-4
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Myra Clark Gaines was 25 and about to be married when she discovered that the couple who had raised her were not her birth parents and that she was the daughter of one of the richest men in America, Daniel Clark. Thus began Myra's lifelong involvement with the courts, as she sought to prove her claim as a legitimate heir to her father's fortune. Her suit hinged on her status under Louisiana law; if she were "legitimate," then she would be entitled to four-fifths of her father's very considerable holdings. She need not have been born in wedlock—a paternal declaration would do unless she were an "adulterous bastard," the product of a union in which at least one partner was married to someone else. Her claim was vigorously opposed by the executors of Clark's will, acting on behalf of his heirs. The stage was set for more than 50 years of litigation in which Myra played the role of heroine of a sentimental romance and gained the sympathy of a nation. This southern Louisiana Bleak House came to a predictable end: Myra recovered a tiny portion of the original millions and left her own heirs to split $60,000, a sum still being litigated years after her death. Alexander's painstakingly researched and documented account fully explores every facet of the affair; however, whether Myra represents a heroic woman transgressing 19th-century legal boundaries or merely another obsessed and combative heir is less certain. (Dec.)

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