Set in the mid-19th century, The Ballroom tells a beauty-and-the-beast love story of a rich but tightfisted businessman and a poor, lovely ingénue. Vincent Van Doren is “a hard-headed, cussing, tobacco chewing man.” He quit school in the third grade because he was unable to take on his teacher who took pleasure in humiliating him. His father’s repeated foolishness kept the family poor and reduced the family’s name to a joke. Fortunately, Vincent was big and strong enough to put an end to whatever torture kids threw at him. His upbringing left its mark, besides his inability to spell, at the age of 50 Van Doren still gets into fist fights. Fortunately , his persistence and fierce determination have made him phenomenally wealthy, even if his crudeness still brings the disdain of old money New Yorkers.
Along comes Belize, his nephew’s stunning French fiancé. Van Doren’s wife, Julia, saw the way Vincent’s eyes locked on Belize the first time he saw her. It was a momentary glimpse and when they formally met he was proper, but she knew her husband well.
Belize’s troubled beginnings paralleled Van Doren’s. She fled to Paris at age 14 to escape her father’s mistreatment. Alone in Paris, she worked as a shop girl at Les Trois Quartiers. There she was smitten. Like other girls her age Belize longed not only to change into a person she was not and perhaps might never be. More to the point, she longed to possess and surround herself with what she would never own. Even at sixteen, after she had worked there for two years, her job wasn’t work. It was an affair with the items she sold.
Van Doren is dazzled by Belize’s beauty. She was born with that, but her years in Paris have made her a lot more. So far his life has consisted of hard work and success, but there has been little pleasure. His ability to delight Belize, fulfilling her dreams, satisfies him more than anything he has ever done. His fortune and her passion produce extraordinary results. She has turned his Boston hotel into the city’s finest. She hangs a Rembrandt, a Corot, a Delacroix in the Clarkson Ballroom of the hotel. The Metropolitan Museum of Art later asked to borrow the tapestries they brought back from France. Their collaboration creates the magical place the ballroom remains to this day.