For those caught in the thrall of the PBS series, Downton Abbey, Daisy Goodwin's book will be a fun read. The American Heiress is loosely based on the life of real-life heiress, Consuelo Vanderbilt. Her strict upbringing by her exacting and strict mother served to prime her for an excellent match with one of the unattached and financially strapped European nobles of the late Victorian era. Daisy Goodwin has taken snippets of Vanderbilt's experience and built a novel around them. In it she tells a bittersweet story of a young heiress who marries for love, but who is sadly confronted with a social world that confounds her with its rules, social back-biting, moral hypocrisies, and sad truths.
Cora Cash, Goodwin's heroine, is a likeable character. She's young, beautiful, rich, head-strong, and full of sassy American confidence when she travels with her conniving mother and lady's maid to Europe, in search of a foreign husband with a title of nobility. She is all too successful and within six months, she has married an English duke, had her whirlwind honeymoon in the Mediterranean, and is ensconced at the family home in the Dorset countryside. She tries to negotiate the world of turn-of-the-century England with a confident and forthright manner, but her marriage is stymied by family secrets and disloyalty from the beginning. Still, she must buck up and make the best of it, fight to make her husband open up to her emotionally, work to maintain an upperhand in her household, and negotiate the intricate social scene of the British nobles in her husband's (and now, her) circle. Her riches, she finds, cannot always solve all her problems or buy happiness.
This book will never sit beside Edith Wharton's books or Henry James' work, but it can be compared to them in that it exposes the social mores and manners of the Gilded Age, details some of the inequities in the class systems of America and England during that time, and gives incredible detail into the lifestyles of the upper and under classes. The running of the country houses and the city mansions of the rich was as intricate as the workings of factories and small national governments, for crying out loud ! Getting a good picture of these workings and then adding the drama of the main players within several of these families and their staff has been the stuff of many a novel and television mini-series. The American Heiress is one more in long list of stories that many a reader will find addicting. It held my interest - a fast and easy page-turner. I half expect Ms Goodwin to write a follow-up of some sort... if she hasn't already.