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"Anyone suffering Downton Abbey withdrawal symptoms (who isn't?) will find an instant tonic in Daisy Goodwin?s The American Heiress. The story of Cora Cash, an American heiress in the 1890s who bags an English duke, this is a deliciously evocative first novel that lingers in the mind." --Allison Pearson, New York Times bestselling author of I Don?t Know How She Does It and I Think I Love You
Be careful what you wish for. Traveling abroad with ...
"Anyone suffering Downton Abbey withdrawal symptoms (who isn't?) will find an instant tonic in Daisy Goodwin’s The American Heiress. The story of Cora Cash, an American heiress in the 1890s who bags an English duke, this is a deliciously evocative first novel that lingers in the mind." --Allison Pearson, New York Times bestselling author of I Don’t Know How She Does It and I Think I Love You
Be careful what you wish for. Traveling abroad with her mother at the turn of the twentieth century to seek a titled husband, beautiful, vivacious Cora Cash, whose family mansion in Newport dwarfs the Vanderbilts’, suddenly finds herself Duchess of Wareham, married to Ivo, the most eligible bachelor in England. Nothing is quite as it seems, however: Ivo is withdrawn and secretive, and the English social scene is full of traps and betrayals. Money, Cora soon learns, cannot buy everything, as she must decide what is truly worth the price in her life and her marriage.
Witty, moving, and brilliantly entertaining, Cora’s story marks the debut of a glorious storyteller who brings a fresh new spirit to the world of Edith Wharton and Henry James.
"For daughters of the new American billionaires of the 19th century, it was the ultimate deal: marriage to a cash-strapped British Aristocrat in return for a title and social status. But money didn’t always buy them happiness." --Daisy Goodwin in The Daily Mail
One of Library Journal's Best Historical Fiction Books of 2011
Advance Praise for The American Heiress:
"The detailing is beautiful, the great phalanx of historical characters amusing, and the relief of reading a novel that puts enjoyment first so rare and gratifying that I am ready for a sequel." --Amanda Foreman, author of GEORGIANA, DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE, winner of the Whitbread Prize for Biography
"A shrewd, spirited historical romance with flavors of Edith Wharton, Daphne du Maurier, Jane Austen, Upstairs, Downstairs and a dash of People magazine that charts a bumpy marriage of New World money and Old World tradition.... Goodwin’s debut, a knowing, judicious blend of Gilded Age extravagance, below-stairs perspective,...and sophisticated social tableaux, offers reader satisfaction....Superior entertainment." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Top-notch writing brings to life the world of wealth on both sides of the Atlantic. This debut’s strong character development and sense of place will please fans of historical romance, including book club members." --Library Journal (starred review)
"This lush look at Edwardian excess and scandal on both sides of the Atlantic...is a propulsive story of love, manners, culture clash, and store-bought class from a time long past that proves altogether fresh."
"Deliciously classy. A story that gallops along, full of exquisite period detail." --Kate Mosse, author of LABYRINTH and SEPULCHRE
"I was seduced by this book, rather as Cora was seduced by her duke: with great skill and confidence. Intriguing, atmospheric, and extremely stylish, I was still thinking about it long after I had reached the end." --Penny Vincenzi, author of THE BEST OF TIMES
"Sparkling and thoroughly engaging…a delight. Filled with vitality and peopled by a vigorous supporting cast of characters…the story of a poor little rich girl learning the hard way… makes for a highly enjoyable and intelligent read." --London Sunday Times
He's Ivo Maltravers, the proud English Duke of Wareham, currency poor but heritage wealthy; and she's Cora Cash, if not prejudiced then certainly a forthright modern girl who may be the richest American heiress of the late-Victorian era. Their engagement swiftly follows a hunting accident in England, and details of the marriage, such as her gold-and-diamond-trimmed corset and 90-couture-gown trousseau, fill the gossip magazines of the day. But once installed at Lulworth, Ivo's vast country estate, Cora—like the heroine ofRebeccaat Manderley—begins to feel a little out of her depth. The English are slippery, not least Ivo's mother, the Double Duchess, and Ivo himself seems to be involved with the beautiful blond wife of another nobleman. British TV producer Goodwin's debut, a knowing, judicious blend of Gilded Age extravagance, below-stairs perspective, delivered via Cora's black maid, and sophisticated social tableaux, offers reader satisfaction. The marriage suffers its threats, and misunderstandings but a finale overlooking the crashing waves of a Dorset beach resolves matters with characteristic passion and maturity.
THE AMERICAN HEIRESS (Chapter 1)
The Hummingbird Man
Newport, Rhode Island, August 1893
THE VISITING HOUR WAS ALMOST OVER, SO the hummingbird man encountered only the occasional carriage as he pushed his cart along the narrow strip of road between the mansions of Newport and the Atlantic Ocean. The ladies of Newport had left their cards early that afternoon, some to prepare for the last and most important ball of the season, others so they could at least appear to do so. The usual clatter and bustle of Bellevue Avenue had faded away as the Four Hundred rested in anticipation of the evening ahead, leaving behind only the steady beat of the waves breaking on the rocks below. The light was beginning to go, but the heat of the day still shimmered from the white limestone façades of the great houses that clustered along the cliffs like a collection of wedding cakes, each one vying with its neighbour to be the most gorgeous confection. But the hummingbird man, who wore a dusty tailcoat and a battered grey bowler in some shabby approximation of evening dress, did not stop to admire the verandah at the Breakers, or the turrets of Beaulieu, or the Rhinelander fountains that could be glimpsed through the yew hedges and gilded gates. He continued along the road, whistling and clicking to his charges in their black shrouded cages, so that they should hear a familiar noise on their last journey. His destination was the French chateau just before the point, the largest and most elaborate creation on a street of superlatives, Sans Souci, the summer cottage of the Cash family. The Union flag was flying from one tower, the Cash family emblem from the other.
He stopped at the gatehouse and the porter pointed him to the stable entrance half a mile away. As he walked to the other side of the grounds, orange lights were beginning to puncture the twilight; footmen were walking through the house and the grounds lighting Chinese lanterns in amber silk shades. Just as he turned past the terrace, he was dazzled by a low shaft of light from the dying sun refracted by the long windows of the ballroom.
In the Hall of Mirrors, which visitors who had been to Versailles pronounced even more spectacular than the original, Mrs Cash, who had sent out eight hundred invitations for the ball that night, was looking at herself reflected into infinity. She tapped her foot, waiting impatiently for the sun to disappear so that she could see the full effect of her costume. Mr Rhinehart stood by, sweat dripping from his brow, perhaps more sweat than the heat warranted.
'So I just press this rubber valve and the whole thing will illuminate?'
'Yes indeed, Mrs Cash, you just grasp the bulb firmly and all the lights will sparkle with a truly celestial effect. If I could just remind you that the moment must be short-lived. The batteries are cumbersome and I have only put as many on the gown as is compatible with fluid movement.'
'How long have I got, Mr Rhinehart?'
'Very hard to say, but probably no more than five minutes. Any longer and I cannot guarantee your safety.'
But Mrs Cash was not listening. Limits were of no interest to her. The pink evening glow was fading into darkness. It was time. She gripped the rubber bulb with her left hand and heard a slight crackle as light tripped through the one hundred and twenty light bulbs on her dress and the fifty in her diadem. It was as if a firework had been set off in the mirrored ballroom.
As she turned round slowly she was reminded of the yachts in Newport harbour illuminated for the recent visit of the German Emperor. The back view was quite as splendid as the front; the train that fell from her shoulders looked like a swathe of the night sky. She gave a glittering nod of satisfaction and released the bulb. The room went dark until a footman came forward to light the chandeliers.
'It is exactly the effect I had hoped for. You may send in your account.'
The electrician wiped his brow with a handkerchief that was less than clean, jerked his head in an approximation of a bow and turned to leave.
'Mr Rhinehart!' The man froze on the glossy parquet. 'I trust you have been as discreet as I instructed.' It was not a question.
'Oh yes, Mrs Cash. I did it all myself, that's why I couldn't deliver it till today. Worked on it every evening in the workshop when all the apprentices had gone home.'
'Good.' A dismissal. Mrs Cash turned and walked to the other end of the Hall of Mirrors where two footmen waited to open the door. Mr Rhinehart walked down the marble staircase, his hand leaving a damp smear on the cold balustrade.
In the Blue Room, Cora Cash was trying to concentrate on her book. Cora found most novels hard to sympathise with - all those plain governesses - but this one had much to recommend it. The heroine was 'handsome, clever and rich', rather like Cora herself. Cora knew she was handsome - wasn't she always referred to in the papers as 'the divine Miss Cash'? She was clever - she could speak three languages and could handle calculus. And as to rich, well, she was undoubtedly that. Emma Woodhouse was not rich in the way that she, Cora Cash, was rich. Emma Woodhouse did not lie on a lit à la polonaise once owned by Madame du Barry in a room which was, but for the lingering smell of paint, an exact replica of Marie Antoinette's bedchamber at le petit Trianon. Emma Woodhouse went to dances at the Assembly Rooms, not fancy dress spectaculars in specially built ballrooms. But Emma Woodhouse was motherless which meant, thought Cora, that she was handsome, clever, rich and free. That could not be said of Cora, who at that moment was holding the book straight out in front of her because there was a steel rod strapped to her spine. Cora's arms ached and she longed to lie down on Madame du Barry's bed but her mother believed that spending two hours a day strapped to the spine improver would give Cora the posture and carriage of a princess, albeit an American one, and for now at least Cora had no choice but to read her book in extreme discomfort.
At this moment her mother, Cora knew, would be checking the placement for the dinner she was holding before the ball, tweaking it so that her forty odd guests knew exactly how brightly they sparkled in Mrs Cash's social firmament. To be invited to Mrs Cash's fancy dress ball was an honour, to be invited to the dinner beforehand a privilege, but to be seated within touching distance of Mrs Cash herself was a true mark of distinction, and was not to be bestowed lightly. Mrs Cash liked to sit opposite her husband at dinner ever since she had discovered that the Prince and Princess of Wales always faced each other across the width not the length of the table. Cora knew that she would be placed at one end sandwiched between two suitable bachelors with whom she would be expected to flirt just enough to confirm her reputation as the belle of the season but not so much that she compromised her mother's stratagems for her future. Mrs Cash was throwing this ball to display Cora like a costly gem to be admired but not touched. This diamond was destined for a coronet, at least.
Directly after the ball the Cashes were leaving for Europe on their yacht the SS Aspen. Mrs Cash had done nothing so vulgar as to suggest that they were going there to find Cora a title; she did not, like some other ladies in Newport, subscribe to Titled Americans, a quarterly periodical which gave details of blue-blooded but impecunious young men from Europe who were looking for a rich American bride, but Cora knew that her mother's ambitions were limitless.
Cora put the novel down and shifted uncomfortably in the spine harness. Surely it was time for Bertha to come and unbuckle her. The strap across her forehead was digging in; she would look ridiculous at the ball tonight with a great red welt on her brow. She wouldn't mind in the least discomfiting her mother but she had her own reasons for wanting to look her best. Tonight was her last chance with Teddy before she had to leave for Europe. Yesterday at the picnic they had come so close, she was sure that Teddy had been about to kiss her, but her mother had found them before anything could happen. Cora smiled a little at the thought of her mother sweating as she pedalled to catch up with them. Mrs Cash had dismissed bicycles as hoydenish, until she realised that her daughter could use them to evade her, and then she had learnt to ride one in an afternoon. She might be the richest girl in America but surely she was also the most persecuted. Tonight was her coming-out party and here she was strapped into this instrument of torture. It was time she was released. In one stiff movement she rose and rang the bell.
Bertha was in the kitchen with the hummingbird man. He came from the same part of South Carolina as she did, and every year when he came up to supply the Newport hostesses with their favourite party trick, he would bring Bertha a message from what was left of her family. She had not seen any of them since the day ten years ago when she had been picked by the Reverend to go North, but sometimes when she walked through the kitchens on baking day and smelt the hot sweet smell, she thought she saw the swish of her mother's blue and white striped skirt. These days she could barely remember her mother's face but that smell would knock her back into the old cabin so fast it would bring tears to her eyes. She had sent letters at first with the presents and the money, figuring that her mother would find someone to read them to her, but now she had stopped, she didn't want some stranger reading aloud to her momma the secrets of her heart.
'Your momma said to say that your Uncle Ezra passed,' said the hummingbird man, removing his bowler hat, perhaps as a sign of respect, perhaps to impress Bertha with the noble planes of his skull. Bertha bowed her head; she had a dim memory of being carried into church on Uncle Ezra's shoulders and wondering if it was safe to hold on to the hair coming out of his ears.
'It was a fine burial, even Mrs Calhoun came to pay her respects.'
'And Momma, how's she doing? Is she wearing the shawl I sent her? Tell her that the mistress brought it back from Europe.'
'I'll be sure to let her know...' The hummingbird man paused and looked down at the shrouded cage on the floor where the hummingbirds slept. Bertha knew there was something wrong; the man had something to say that he didn't quite have the words for. She should help him, ask him the question that would let him reveal what was troubling him, but a strange reluctance came over her. She wanted her mother to stay in her blue and white striped dress, warm and sweet and whole.
There was a crash from the kitchen behind and the hummingbirds stirred, their short futile flights disturbing the air like sighs.
'What colour are they this time?' asked Bertha, welcoming the distraction.
'I was told to make 'em all gold. Wasn't easy. Hummingbirds don't like to be painted; some of 'em just give up, just lay themselves down and don't fly no more.'
Bertha knelt down and lifted up the cloth. She could see flickers of brightness moving in the darkness. When all the guests sat down for supper at midnight they would be released into the winter garden like a shower of gold. They would be the talking point of the room for maybe a whole ten minutes; the young men would try and catch them as favours for the girls they were flirting with. The other hostesses would think a touch grimly that Nancy Cash would stop at nothing to impress, and in the morning the maids would sweep the tiny golden bodies into a surrendered heap.
'Did Momma give you any message for me, Samuel? Is there something wrong?' Bertha asked quietly.
The hummingbird man was speaking to his birds, making small popping noises with his mouth. He clucked his tongue and looked at Bertha sadly.
'She told me to tell you that everything was fine, but she ain't fine, Bertha. She's so skinny now she looks like she might blow away in the hurricane season. She's wasting away, I don't give her another winter. If you want to see her again, you should make it quick.'
Bertha looked down at the birds fizzing like Roman candles in their cage. She put her hands to her hair, which was smooth. Her mother's hair was frizzy - it had constantly to be suppressed under headscarves. She knew that the hummingbird man was expecting emotion from her, tears at least. But Bertha had not cried for years, ten years in fact, since she had come North. What would be the point? After all, there was nothing she could do. Bertha knew how lucky she was, she knew of no other coloured girls who had become lady's maids. From the moment she had been made Miss Cora's maid, she had tried to speak, dress and behave like her as far as she was able. She remembered her mother's calloused hands and found she could not look at the hummingbird man.
The Blue Room bell rang again. One of the maids came out of the kitchen and shouted, 'That's the second time Miss Cora's bell's gone, you had better get up there, Bertha.'
Bertha jumped. 'I have to go now. I'll come and find you later, once the ball gets going. Don't go until I see you.' She tried to conceal her relief at the interruption with the vehemence of her tone.
'I'll be waiting for you, Bertha,' the hummingbird man said.
The bell jangled again. Bertha walked as fast as she dared up the servants' staircase. Running was forbidden. One of the housemaids had been dismissed for going down the marble staircase two at a time. Disrespectful, Mr Simmons the butler had called it.
She knocked on the Blue Room door and went in.
Cora was almost crying with frustration. 'Where have you been, Bertha? I must have rung three times. Get me out of this infernal thing.'
She was tugging at the leather bands encircling her body. The spine straightener, which had been made to Mrs Cash's special design, had all the buckles at the back and so was impossible to remove without help.
Bertha tried to appease her. 'I'm sorry, Miss Cora, the man with the hummingbirds had news from home, I guess I didn't hear the bell.'
Cora snorted. 'It's hardly an excuse that you were listening to gossip while I was trussed up here like a chicken.'
Bertha said nothing but fumbled at the buckles. She could feel her mistress twitching with impatience. As soon as she was free of the harness, Cora shook herself like a dog trying to get dry, then she spun round and grabbed Bertha by the shoulders. Bertha braced herself for a telling off, but to her surprise Cora smiled.
'I need you to tell me how to kiss a man. I know you know how, I saw you with the Vandemeyers' groom after their ball.' Cora's eyes were glittering with urgency. Bertha drew back from her mistress.
'I don't think kissing is something you can tell,' she said slowly, playing for time. Was Miss Cora going to let Mrs Cash know about her and Amos?
'Show me then. I have to get this right,' Cora said fiercely and leant towards Bertha. As she did so, a low shaft of light from the setting sun hit her conker-coloured hair, setting it ablaze.
Bertha tried not to shrink away. 'You really want me to kiss you the way I would a man?' Surely Miss Cora was not serious.
'Yes, yes, yes.' Cora tossed her head. The red mark from the harness was still visible on her forehead.
'But Miss Cora, it ain't natural two women kissing. If anyone were to see us I'd lose my place.'
'Oh, don't be so squeamish, Bertha. What if I were to give you fifty dollars?' Cora smiled enticingly as if offering a child a sweet.
Bertha considered this. Fifty dollars was two months' salary. But kissing another woman was still not right.
'I don't think you should be asking me this, Miss Cora, it just ain't fitting.' Bertha tried to sound as much like the Madam as she could; she knew that Mrs Cash was the only person in the world that Cora was frightened of. But Cora was not to be put off.
'Do you imagine that I actually want to kiss you? But I must practise. There is someone I need to kiss tonight and I have to do it right.' Cora shook with determination.
'Well...' Still Bertha hesitated.
'Seventy-five dollars.' Cora was wheedling now; Bertha knew she wouldn't be able to hold out for very long when her mistress wanted something that badly. Cora would just persist until she got her own way. Only Mrs Cash could say no to her daughter. Bertha decided to make the best of the situation.
'All right, Miss Cora, I will show you how to kiss a man, but I would like the seventy-five dollars now if you don't mind.'
Bertha knew quite well that Mrs Cash did not give Cora an allowance, so she had every reason to ask to see the money. Miss Cora was a great one for making promises she couldn't keep. But to Bertha's surprise, Cora produced a purse from under her pillow and counted out the dollars.
'Can you set aside your scruples now?' she said, holding out the bills.
The maid hesitated for a second and then took the money and tucked it away in her bodice. Seventy-five dollars should stop the hummingbird man looking at her like that. Taking a deep breath, she took Cora's flushed cheeks gingerly in her hands and bent her head towards her mistress. She pressed her lips against hers with a modest pressure and drew back as quickly as she could.
Cora broke away impatiently. 'No, I want you to do it properly. I saw you with that man. You looked as if, well,' she paused, trying to find the right phrase, 'as if you were eating each other.'
This time she put her hands on the maid's shoulders and pulled Bertha's face towards hers and pushed her lips to Bertha's, pressing as hard as she could.
Reluctantly Bertha pushed her mistress's lips open with her tongue and ran it lightly around the other woman's mouth. She felt her go stiff for a moment with shock and then Cora began to kiss her back, pushing her tongue between her teeth.
Bertha was the first to pull away. It was not unpleasant kissing Cora, it was certainly the most sweet-tasting kiss she had ever had. Better than Amos, who stank of chewing tobacco.
'You taste quite...piquant,' said Cora, wiping her mouth with a lace handkerchief. 'Is that all you have to do? You haven't left anything out? I have to do this correctly.' She looked earnestly at Bertha.
Not for the first time, Bertha wondered how anyone could be as educated as Cora and yet so ignorant. It was all Mrs Cash's fault of course. She had raised Cora like a beautiful doll. She wouldn't mind having Miss Cora's money or her face, but she sure as hell wouldn't want to have Miss Cora's mother.
'If it's just kissing you're having in mind, Miss Cora, then I reckon that's all you will require,' Bertha said firmly.
'Aren't you going to ask me who it is?' Cora said.
'Begging your pardon, Miss Cora, but I don't want to know. If the Madam was to find out what you're about...'
'She won't, or rather, she will but by the time she does it will be too late. Everything will be different after tonight.' She looked at the maid sideways as if challenging Bertha to ask her more. But Bertha was not to be drawn. So long as she didn't ask questions, she couldn't be made to answer them. She made her face go slack.
Cora, however, had lost interest in her. She was looking at herself in the long gilt cheval glass. Once they had kissed, she was sure that everything else would fall into place. They would announce their engagement and she would be a married woman by Christmas.
'You'd better get my costume ready, Bertha. Mother will be here in a minute, checking that I have followed her instructions à la lettre. I can't believe I have to wear something so perfectly hideous. Still, Martha Van Der Leyden told me that her mother is making her dress like a Puritan maid so I suppose it could be worse.'
Cora's dress had been copied from a Velázquez painting of a Spanish infanta that Mrs Cash had bought because she had heard Mrs Astor admire it.
As Bertha took the elaborate hooped skirt from the closet, she wondered if the Madam had chosen her daughter's costume as much for the way it restricted the wearer's movement as for any artistic considerations. No gentleman would be able to get within three feet of Miss Cora. The kissing lesson would have been in vain.
She helped Cora out of her tea gown and into the farthingale. Cora had to step into it and Bertha had to fasten the harness like shutting a gate. The silk brocade of the skirt and bodice had been specially woven in Lyons; the fabric was heavy and dense. Cora swayed slightly as the weight of it settled on the frame. It would only take the slightest pressure to make her lose her balance entirely. The dress was three feet wide so Cora would have to go through all doorways sideways. Waltzing in such a dress would be impossible.
Bertha knelt and helped Cora into the brocade shoes with Louis heels and upturned toes. Cora began to wobble.
'I can't wear these, Bertha, I will fall over. Get the bronze slippers instead.'
'If you're sure, Miss Cora...' Bertha said cautiously.
'My mother is expecting eight hundred people tonight,' Cora said. 'I doubt she will have time to inspect my feet. Get the slippers.'
But Cora's words were braver than she felt; both girls knew that the Madam never missed anything.
Mrs Cash was making one last survey of her costume. Her neck and ears were still bare, not through austerity on her part but because she knew that any minute her husband would come in with a 'little something' which would have to be put on and admired. Winthrop had been spending a lot of time in the city lately, which meant that a 'little something' was due. Some of her contemporaries had used their husband's infidelities as a way of purchasing their freedom, but Mrs Cash, having spent the last five years shaking Cash's Finest Flour from her skirts, had no desire to tarnish her hard-won reputation as the most elegant hostess in Newport and Fifth Avenue by something as shabby as divorce. So long as Winthrop was discreet, she was prepared to pretend that she knew nothing of his passion for the opera.
There had been a time once, though, when she had not been so sanguine. In the early days of their marriage she could not bear to let him out of her sight, for fear that he would bestow that same confiding smile on someone else. In those days she would have thought jewels no substitute for Winthrop's unclouded gaze. But now she had her daughter, her houses and she was the Mrs Cash. She hoped that Winthrop would bring her diamonds this time. They would go well with her costume.
There was a tap at the door and Winthrop Rutherford II came in wearing the satin breeches, brocade waistcoat and powdered wig of Louis XV; the father might have started life as a stable boy but the son was a convincing Bourbon king. Mrs Cash thought with satisfaction that he looked quite distinguished in his costume, not many men could carry off silk stockings; they would be a handsome couple.
Her husband cleared his throat a little nervously. 'You look quite magnificent tonight, my dear, no one would think this was the last ball of the season. May I be permitted to add a little something to perfection?'
Mrs Cash moved her head forward as if readying herself for the axe. Winthrop pulled the diamond collar from his pocket and fastened it round her neck.
'You anticipate me, as always. It is indeed a necklace,' he said.
'Thank you, Winthrop. Always such taste. I shall wear the earrings you gave me last summer; I think they will make a perfect match.' She reached without a moment's hesitation for one of the morocco leather boxes on the dressing table, leaving Winthrop to wonder, not for the first time, if his wife could read his mind.
The opening bars of the Radetsky March floated up from the terrace. Mrs Cash stood and took her husband's proffered arm.
'You know, Winthrop, I would like this evening to be remembered.'
Cash knew better than to ask what she wanted the evening to be remembered for. She was only interested in one thing: perfection.
THE AMERICAN HEIRESS. Copyright 2010 by Daisy Goodwin
Daisy Goodwin is the daughter of film producer Richard B. Goodwin (A Passage to India, Seven Years in Tibet) and writer/interior designer Jocasta Innes (Paint Magic), and the sister of the Edgar–winning writer Jason Goodwin (The Janissary Tree). She earned a B.A. with honors in history from Trinity College, Cambridge, followed by a Harkness Fellowship to Columbia University Film School; and now runs her own independent television company in the UK.
In addition to publishing eight poetry anthologies, she has presented award-winning television series on poetry and on the enduring appeal of romantic fiction, and is a commentator and columnist for the London Sunday Times. In 2010, she served as chair of the judging panel for the Orange Prize for the best novel written in English by a woman. Daisy lives in London with two daughters, three dogs, and a husband who is an executive for ABC News. The American Heiress is her first novel.
What was the inspiration for The American Heiress?
I was visiting Blenheim Palace and saw the portrait of Consuelo Vanderbilt, the American heiress who married the Duke of Marlborough. She was very beautiful, but she also looked spectacularly unhappy. When I read that she was basically blackmailed into marrying the Duke by her social-climbing mother, I thought about what a great setup this would be for a novel. American girls basically propped up the English aristocracy for a generation. In modern terms, Consuelo’s dowry was about $100 million. No wonder a quarter of the British nobility made transatlantic marriages!
I started writing this book at the height of the boom (remember the boom?), when I was fascinated by the parallels between all these new billionaires and the plutocrats of the Gilded Age. How does getting rich that fast affect you? It has to be said, though, that the rich today are small fry compared to the Vanderbilts and their ilk, whose idea of a party favor was a jewel-encrusted Fabergé egg, and who would offer their guests cigarettes rolled from hundred-dollar bills.
Was there anything you found especially surprising while researching The American Heiress?
While certain details in The American Heiress might seem unbelievable, like the solid gold on the corset that Cora Cash wears on her wedding day, her trousseau is a replica of Consuelo Vanderbilt’s. At her wedding to the Duke, Consuelo carried orchids that had been grown in the greenhouses of Blenheim and then shipped to New York in a specially refrigerated chamber because Marlborough brides always carried flowers from Blenheim. When I borrowed the detail about Cora’s bouquet being brought over from England for my novel, my editor produced her red pencil and said, “This can’t possibly be true.” But in fact, you would have to have a very vivid imagination indeed to match the real extravagance and excess of the Gilded Age. Just as contemporary starlets are written about in the media today, every detail of Consuelo’s wedding was chronicled in Vogue.
How typical was Cora Cash’s experience for an American marrying an English nobleman?
Girls like Consuelo Vanderbilt came to England thinking it would be the height of sophistication. But for many of these American brides, a title really didn’t make up for the horrors of English country life. A dollar princess frequently found herself isolated and miserable in a great pile of a house that, however exquisite, was miles away from anywhere, with no heating apart from open fires and—horror of horror—no bathrooms. One titled American bride wrote home to her mother that she hadn’t taken her furs off all winter even when she went to bed. Another heiress gave up going to dinner at people’s country houses because she couldn’t bear the arctic temperatures in an evening dress. And English society was not exactly welcoming to these rich newcomers: Imagine Kim Kardashian marrying Prince Harry today and you get the general idea of the suspicion and disdain that the Americans encountered.
Those of you who enjoyed the Masterpiece Theatre series Downton Abbey will remember that the Earl of Grantham married an American heiress (also called Cora) whose dowry saved the family estate from ruin. But Downton Abbey is set twenty years after The American Heiress. By that time even the stuffiest English aristocrats had realized that American money had stopped the roof leaking. In Downton Abbey, when Cora, Countess of Grantham, wonders whether a potential suitor for her daughter comes from an old family, her mother-in-law, played by Maggie Smith, retorts, “Older than yours, I imagine.” And even the Countess’s own daughter, Lady Mary, dismisses her mother by saying, “You wouldn’t understand. You’re American.”
The traces of these American girls are everywhere in Britain today; most people know that Winston Churchill’s mother was American, but the great-grandmother of Princess Diana was also an American heiress.
What kind of experience was writing this book for you?
People are always asking me, how do you find time to write a book—when you run a company, write for the newspapers, have a family (and three dogs), etc.? My answer to this is noise-cancelling headphones. Once I plug these in, I can write anytime, anywhere. A great deal of this novel was written on trains, planes, and in between meetings.
I absolutely loved writing The American Heiress. To be able to escape into a world full of beautiful frocks and perfectly trained servants was a joy.
Who are some of your favorite writers? What authors have influenced your work?
I love Edith Wharton and Henry James, and anyone familiar with their work will see echoes in The American Heiress. I also admire Daphne du Maurier for the way she handles suspense and Sarah Waters for her utter command of historical period. I really enjoyed Julian Fellowes’s books for the way they dissect snobbery, and Hilary Mantel is an extraordinary writer both for her present-day and period novels.
Posted June 12, 2011
The date is August, 1893, and Cora Cash is about to embark on her voyage of adulthood, beginning with her coming-out party at her parent's stunning home in Newport, RI. This is the type of soiree that the East Coast "money" families were always famous for throwing; and this particular ball has been advertised as being the most lavish party that the wealthy Rhode Island coast will see all summer. Cora has been named the richest girl of her generation and most definitely has everything handed to her on a silver platter. She has everything except what her mother wants Cora to have, and that is the one thing that money can't buy in the United States of America. So, after her party is over, Mom decides to take Cora to England in order to secure a husband for her; a husband with an elusive British title who lives in an ancestral home, and has a lineage of pure highfalutin English blood. Of course, what Mom doesn't realize is a "title" doesn't mean all that much, unless its King, and an ancestral home is nothing more than a pile of old stones that's falling down, and the man is simply looking for the money to fix it up. Cora soon meets her Duke, Ivo - the Duke of Wareham - and they fall in love and marry. Although romance is a tough subject among the British (Mr. Darcy proved that a while back), as they are perceived and written about as cold and more than a little "uptight," Cora Cash is an immaculate woman with a tough spine that begins to wear British society down. The newlyweds seem to love each other but have to face a great deal of problems including infidelity, no bathrooms in the castle (which would certainly be a big problem), and meddling mothers-in-law, as they go about their lives together. The nature of the plot is what makes The American Heiress different from a typical historical romance. Cora has a hard time realizing how important reputations are in Royal England, and how the standards are so much "higher" than in New York and Newport society. Ivo has his own demons - for instance, a few affairs that happened before he even met Cora come back to haunt him, and the fact that his castle is falling down and needs repairing is a subject that induces many arguments. Cora tries to please her man, but she has always been a truly independent girl and finds it hard to kowtow to the English rich when she knows that they aren't anywhere near as rich as she is - even though they DO own the covetous 'titles.' This author is a wonderful storyteller, and has certainly done her research into the lives of the rich and famous. For example: the summer cottage of the Cash family in Newport was fashioned to be a mirror-image of the Palace of Versailles in France.except bigger. Their 'Hall of Mirrors' was much larger than that of Louis and Marie Antoinette's, and the Cash family was blessed with far more servants. Add to that the British estates, which are so well-told that the reader actually feels as if they are experiencing the drafts for themselves; and, the slap happy people who attend all the glorious parties, and soon every page of this book becomes truly fantastical and completely unforgettable. This author has created an outstanding work that is enormously true to the era, that readers will really enjoy. The American Heiress is a definite keeper and, hopefully, just the first novel in a long line still to come. Quill Says: A truly fascinating story of the decadence and mystery that was the Gilded Age.
37 out of 50 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 16, 2011
Let me start of by saying - I loved this book! I have read several other books concerning this era, both fiction and non-fiction, and Ms. Goodwin has artfully incorporated the facts of this time and a wonderful story. The characters quickly become familiar and intriguing - we want to know more - about their lives, hopes and dreams. The settings, the USA, England and the English countryside are almost part of the story - the opulence of Newport, RI, New York City as well as London and the Dorset coast are brought to life almost as additional characters in the story. Cora Cash, the heroine, is rich, beautiful, intelligent yet at times naïve - which only endears her to the reader. She tries so hard at times, but at others, doesn't have a clue about human emotions. It is an interesting journey for her, as well as the reader, to come to a place of happiness, contentment and maturity. Altogether a wonderful and satisfying read - I recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction.
26 out of 29 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 23, 2011
The pretend world of the nouveau riche- Americans who think money can (and does) buy anything. Daisy Goodwin has introduced us to a world gone forever of power, wealth and taste on two continents. Cora Cash just wants love but instead finds herself on the auction block for a title. Add a domineering mother and a titled cash poor (pardon the pun!)Brit and the games begin. You don't want to like these people but you find yourself wanting Cora to wake up and smell the conspiracy. The underlying current in the story is how the super wealthy back in the Gilded Age treat their help compared to how the British have always treated their staff. It rings of F. Scott Fitzgerald in the style of writing and I am looking forward to future books coming from Ms. Goodwin from across the pond.
15 out of 22 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 27, 2011
Ok so ever since reading The House of Mirth, I haven't stopped reading about the Gilded Age. But this was a problem reading this book. At many points the novel felt like a re-hash of others. If anyone has read Alva and Consuelo Vanderbilt, you will know what I mean. It was just too similar. And did anyone else notice similarities to Rebecca (yes, I know a different century)? The painting? The secretive and aloof husband? However, the story held my interest and the description was quite vivid. Bottom line: if you haven't read much about this period, I think you will love it.
13 out of 14 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 19, 2012
I am truly shocked at the good reviews for this book-it was awful. The "hero" of the book was so detached and cold that it was impossible to understand why Cora felt that she loved him. If I wanted to experience a self absorbed, emotionally detached male I would call my ex-husband rather than read a book!
9 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 1, 2011
This book has lots of potential....Too bad it doesn't live up to it. I can honestly say I've never read a book with as much useless information thrown at you. Pages upon pages of detail that is utterly unimportant to the telling of this story & way, way too many internal monologues. The whole book you are climbing towards this one "big" revelation at the end, which isn't such a big revelation at all and completely falls flat. I skipped 4 or 5 pages at a time and still didn't miss a beat. Don't waste your time on this book...
9 out of 12 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 27, 2011
I devoured this book! It,s not a run of the mill bodice ripper, but a thoughtful portrayal of an era when rich Americans and needy Brits found each other and made marriages of convenience fun again. Looking for lots more great stuff from Daisy! Many thanks for this one.
9 out of 14 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 19, 2012
This book took me to another time, the time I secretly wished we all still existed. I literally read this in two days. (I purchased the paperback version after being struck by the cover....it really conveys the feeling of the "story" which you won't fully understand until you read it.) Highly recomended for thosse like myself who want to be transported out of reallity for awhile.
8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 2, 2011
Book was historically accurate in its use of terms and subjects, much of which I had to look up to understand. Although I read straight through over a period of several days, it was not that exciting until the final scene of the book. The author is however, a master at changing viewpoints from character to character seamlessly. Wait until it goes on sale to purchase.
7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 3, 2011
I was very disappointed with this book. The characters are not at all likeable. The plot is predictable and once you get to the last few chapters it's as if the author suddenly realized how long the book was getting and tried to tie everything together unsuccessfully.
6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 23, 2011
The American Heiress begins in Newport where the family home "dwarfs" the Vanderbilt's summer mansion, The Breakers. The story is set during the Gilded age (1890). Cora Cash is an Heiress to the largest fortune in the United States and has her heart set on Marring Teddy Van Der Leyden, whose family wealth is much less than hers. Teddy cares for Cora, but wants to travel to Paris to paint. Leaving her to deal with her overbearing mother, Mrs. Cash who wants to "keep up with the Jones" by having Cora marry someone with a title. After a bizarre accident, Cora leaves with her mother to England.
Cora comes across as a very strong young woman who is not about to marry someone just to please her mother. She is very much her own woman. It is in this spirit, Cora takes off riding into the English woods where she has a nasty fall and wakes up in the home of the very handsome and single Duke of Wareham. Shortly there after, to Mrs. Cash's excitement the Duke proposes to Cora. Mrs. Cash is thrilled to be getting exactly what she wanted, but Cora too is thrilled because she is marring for love.
When Cora becomes the Duchess of Wareham she believes she'll need to learn a thing or two about royal etiquette, but she is up for the task. What Cora soon realizes is the new life she has married into is filled with secrets and deception. Once the dishonesty comes to light she is no longer sure her marriage had been for love and must decide her own future.
Daisy Goodwin's writing is as beautiful as the cover of The American Heiress. She describes everything in stunning detail. While I was reading I felt like I was there in the 1890s. It was interesting to read how the super wealthy were in the lime light, as our celebrities are today. I really enjoyed reading The American Heiress.
I would read it for awhile and would enjoy it, but not till the end did I feel like the story really grabbed me where I wanted to know what happens next. I enjoyed the numerous characters and how we got glimpses into some of their thoughts, but never enough to really know what was going on in secret. I would add there were a number of things that could easily have been kept out of the story which would have shortened the length of the story without losing content. I will tell you for me I really wasn't sure how the book was going to end. There really seemed like two possible outcomes and truthfully I wasn't really sure which one I was hoping for! I very much enjoyed The American Heiress and recommended it.
4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 10, 2012
I read The American Heiress to quench my thirst for Downton Abbey this summer and it started out promising. However, it eventually became overwhelmed with description and research. It could have used more showing and less telling, but it seemed quite well-researched. More character development and less hand-holding could have made this a great book.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 4, 2013
There is no option to have half stars, so I moved it down a bit but overall it really is about a 3.5 star. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either.
The author, English, does a phenomenal job describing Victorian-era England with the bankrupted aristocracy and their near-desperation for money and to marry rich--mostly the "New Money" Americans. That was fantastically written. But when writing about Americans, clearly this author had no clue. It would be like an American writer trying to convince an English reader that they "know" their history. At least that is what it felt like as an American reader who is reading a work by an English writer--her writings about Americans during that time felt vacant, fake, and poorly researched. I unfortunately do not buy that an African decent person would have had it "better" in England during that period as well, and this writer made it seem like it was so much easier for those of that decent/race during this time period. Maybe so, but personal research of their history during this time period wasn't much better than it was on this side of the Pond.
Overall, it was a decent read. Took me a while to get into it, but did enjoy the intrigue that unfolded. Not quite "Downton Abbey," but was not a waste of my reading power.
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 10, 2012
This book was recommended to me by a friend who knows I have enjoyed the show on PBS, Downton Abbey. The author used a bit of "old English" spelling and that took a little getting used to. If this was a series, I would read another one for sure.
2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 3, 2013
Although it was a bit on the slow side in the beginning, the story unwound itself and proved to be an interesting read.
1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 3, 2013
I absolutely adored this book! Goodwin has created something quietly great. The plot is exceptionally thought out and the characters are lovely. I hate it when authors attempt to flaunt their vocabulary or knowledge, but Goodwin manages to speak in an informed, elevated voice without coming off as too showy. It was refreshing to read a novel through which I was unable to deceiver the ending.
1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 19, 2012
Posted November 11, 2012
Although I thought this was a great read in some sense, I only give it 3 stars for the following reasons. The ending seemed very trite after the buildup through the book regarding the Duke. I felt his final explanation was lame and really didn't match his actions throughout the book. Also, the subplot with the maid and the valet seemed to be thrown in with no point or much character development and just distracted from the central theme. I did enjoy the culture of the times
1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 15, 2012
Posted September 28, 2012