The Lioness of Boston

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. Puzzled by the frosty reception she received from stuffy bluebloods, she strived to fit in. After two devastating tragedies and rejection from upper-society, Isabella discovered her spirit and cast off expectations.

Freed by travel, Isabella explores the world of art, ideas, and letters, meeting such kindred spirits as Henry James and Oscar Wilde. From London and Paris to Egypt and Asia, she develops a keen eye for paintings and objects, and meets feminists ready to transform nineteenth century thinking in the twentieth century. Isabella becomes an eccentric trailblazer, painted by John Singer Sargent in a portrait of daring décolletage, and fond of such stunts as walking a pair of lions in the Boston Public Garden.

The Lioness of Boston is a portrait of what society expected a woman’s life to be, shattered by a courageous soul who rebelled and determined to live on her own terms.


“Franklin’s gorgeous, extraordinarily intimate and timely novel about Isabella Stewart Gardner showcases the life of a daring, brilliant woman who refused to be confined by the mores of her day, even as she searched for her truest self. So richly alive, I was running to Google to reacquaint myself with every mentioned painting, so moving, I wept over the tragedies and delighted in her bold success. How could any reader not be inspired by the cast of creatives including Oscar Wilde, Henry James, John Singer Sargent, and more? This book is just shatteringly good, with writing so artful, Isabella herself would surely approve.”
—Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You

“This beautiful, sensitively written novel explores the fascinating life of Isabella Stewart Gardner—feminist before feminism, celebrity before celebrity. Captivating and evocative, The Lioness of Boston transported me to America’s Golden Age. I couldn’t put it down.”
—Jessica Shattuck, author of The Women in the Castle

The Lioness of Boston shows the deft touch of Edith Wharton and the delightful pomp of The Gilded Age—it’s a book both elegant and entertaining, one to savor line by line even as it carries us forward on the spirit and audacity of the narrator. Emily Franklin has rendered Isabella Stewart Gardner a classic literary heroine, one who emerges from heartbreak and defiance to shape her own life and the culture of an entire city.”
—Timothy Schaffert, author of The Perfume Thief

“A novel of blazing insight, The Lioness of Boston captures the daring life and mind of the unforgettable woman who transformed American art and the city of Boston itself. This masterfully written work of historical fiction will remind some of Lily King’s Euphoria and others of Melanie Benjamin’s The Swans of Fifth Avenue. Becoming Isabella is the best kind of novel—at once a deft page-turner and a thrilling love story about a woman’s passion for an independent life—that will sear your mind, break your heart, and leave you forever changed.”
—Dawn Tripp, author of Georgia: A Novel

“The Lioness of Boston is a treasure trove of art, sensuality, Boston history, and more. Emily Franklin has captured Isabella Stewart Gardner’s blazing life and the light it sheds on the lives of women then and now.”
—Rachel Kadish, author of The Weight of Ink

Emily Franklin is the author of more than twenty novels and a poetry collection, Tell Me How You Got Here. Her award-winning work has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Guernica, JAMA, and numerous literary magazines as well as featured and read aloud on NPR and named notable by the Association of Jewish Libraries. A lifelong visitor to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, she lives outside of Boston with her family including two dogs large enough to be lions.