Evelyn Hugo to Auction Off Gowns 

A 2017 New York Tribune article announces that film legend Evelyn Hugo, age 79, is auctioning off twelve of her gowns to raise money for a breast cancer charity. The article includes biographical information about Evelyn, including the fact that Evelyn was the daughter of Cuban immigrants, grew up in New York City, and has been married seven times. It also notes that Evelyn’s daughter Connor Cameron recently died of breast cancer at age 41. This is the first in a series of newspaper articles and blog posts about Evelyn that are interspersed throughout the novel. 

Chapter 1 

Monique, a struggling writer, meets with Frankie, her editor at Vivant, to discuss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview film star Evelyn Hugo. Evelyn has specified that Monique is the only writer she’ll speak to, a fact that puzzles both Monique and Frankie. Monique asks her mother if Monique’s father, who worked in Hollywood until he died, might have known Evelyn Hugo. Her mother says no. Monique jumps at the opportunity to write the story and sees it as her chance to advance her struggling career. Frankie wonders if Evelyn was attracted to Monique’s work through a piece she wrote on physician-assisted suicide. Monique remembers how much work she put into it and how proud she is of the story.  

This chapter, and all the chapters with Monique in them, are written in the first-person from Monique’s point of view. 

Evelyn Hugo’s Coming Clean 

This 2017 blog post reveals that Evelyn is giving her first interview in decades. The author wonders why Evelyn chose Monique, a new writer at Vivant, and not a more experienced journalist like herself. A series of internet comments follow and include both praise and slander. 

Chapter 2 

Monique researches Evelyn for days and learns about her romantic and professional history. Monique’s husband David recently moved out, and Monique is unclear why their relationship ended. Unable to relax and intimidated by the upcoming interview, Monique watches clips of Evelyn's films. Absorbed in Evelyn’s life and image, Monique feels enamored of Evelyn. She reflects on Evelyn’s beauty and looks at famous photographs of her throughout her career. Monique gets the sense that Evelyn always leaves her audience wanting more, and she wonders if the interview will be the same. 

Chapter 3 

On her way to meet Evelyn for the first time, Monique feels both confident and nervous. She meets Grace, Evelyn’s assistant, and is wowed by the opulence of Evelyn’s apartment overlooking Central Park. When she meets Evelyn, Monique notes how beautiful and elegant she is and is a bit starstruck. Evelyn tells Monique that she doesn’t want her to write a piece on her for Vivant. Instead, she offers Monique the chance to write Evelyn’s biography and publish it after her death. Monique is shocked. When Monique asks if Evelyn wants to confess her sins, Evelyn balks and draws a distinction between apology and regret. She says that she doesn’t regret a lot of her lies and secrets or the pain she’s caused others. Evelyn challenges Monique to understand her more precisely and says it’s crucial for their working relationship. Monique realizes that telling her story is very important to Evelyn.  

Evelyn demands that Monique be ruthless when she sells Evelyn’s life story. The story  which will be worth millions, and she should get as much money as possible. Evelyn refuses to reveal why she chose Monique.  

Chapter 4 

Monique lies to Frankie and tells her that she’s still trying to get the tell-all interview with Evelyn. Evelyn tells Monique the story of how she got to Hollywood. She grew up poor, and her mother died when Evelyn was young. Evelyn seduced Ernie Diaz, an older man, when she was 16 because he was moving to Hollywood and she wanted him to take her with him. Evelyn emphasizes that people need to take what they want.  

Monique asks Evelyn who the love of her life was, and Evelyn stops the interview early. She says she’s been hiding her true self for so long in order to survive that it’s hard for her to tell the truth. Monique wonders who she was in love with.  

Chapter 5 

Resuming the interview, Evelyn says that now that everyone she loved is dead, she’s ready to tell her whole story. She says she will start with the story of what happened with her first husband, Ernie Diaz. 


From the very first pages of the novel, the press plays a major role in shaping, changing, and obscuring Evelyn’s story. The novel introduces Evelyn through a newspaper article and a blog post, both of which focus on Evelyn’s physical beauty, romantic scandals, and sex appeal. These pieces emphasize both how eager the public is to know more about Evelyn but also how they treat her more as a spectacle and an idol rather than a real person. In their first discussion of Evelyn, Frankie and Monique, members of the press, are more interested in Evelyn as a commodity that can advance their careers than they are in the story she has to tell. Throughout the novel, the press tells the most salacious, superficial version of Evelyn’s story. That story is only partially true at best. As reflected in the comments to the blog post, the press’s audience either hates her or loves Evelyn. But these feelings are based on a superficial, manufactured image of Evelyn that bares little resemblance to who she truly is. 

The New York Tribune article describes twelve memorable gowns from Evelyn's career, each one representative of a moment that was significant in her public and private life. Each gown was worn during a public event where her image was curated by the press, the studio, and herself. For example, she wore the emerald green gown to the 1959 Academy Awards where she presented an image to the public of a woman happily married to her actor husband. In truth, she was sure Don was going to beat her later for showing affection to Celia. The gowns serve as protective armor that Evelyn uses to guard her true self against public scrutiny. In talking to Monique, Evelyn systematically strips away that false image and offers in its place the reality of who she is. By auctioning off the gowns, Evelyn is, in a sense, returning the vestiges of her public image to the public and laying her true self bare.

These chapters introduce the incompatibility of ambition and morality as a theme. Evelyn repeatedly encourages Monique to take advantage of every opportunity without being held back by ideas about what is right. Monique considers turning down a multimillion-dollar biography because it might upset her magazine. This decision, though perhaps morally correct, would be a huge missed opportunity for Monique both personally and professionally. Evelyn highlights this for Monique and points out that the magazine hadn’t shown her any loyalty when her editors attempted to replace her with a more senior writer. This suggests that if the world is more guided by ambition than morality, then Monique shouldn’t hold herself back. This philosophy drove Evelyn for most of her life, and Evelyn illustrates this through the story of how she used Ernie to get to Hollywood. Evelyn used what she could to get what she needed, exemplifying how people without power must take every opportunity presented to them.