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Saturday, September 3, 2011

"The American Heiress" by Daisy Goodwin~ Circa 1890's Historical Saga

Published by: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 465
Available: Amazon, etc...

Overview by Author :

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 Nothing is quite as it seems, however: Ivo is withdrawn and secretive, and the English social scene is full of traps and betrayals.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

The Dame's Review :

I have mixed feelings about "The American Heiress." It's a wonderful weekend read, which I enjoyed and really had difficulty putting down. I love big sagas: love stories from this 1890's, Gilded Age time period, when the transitions from the restrictions of the Victorians were just beginning to loosen enough to herald the new age of the flappers. I'm a sucker for descriptions of the clothing, the interiors, the aristocratic food preparations and manners of that era. Henry James and Edith Wharton are two of my very favorite authors, no doubt about that.

So, it's no wonder I was drawn to Daisy Goodwin's book of a wealthy American heiress who goes to England to find a husband with a title. It was the "done thing" during those days.

Why do I have mixed feelings about the book, then? Even though I enjoyed the story and felt it captured the essence of the late 1800's societal norms, I was disappointed in the relationship development between the two main characters, for one reason. I felt their relationship really never got off the ground. It faltered too many times in the effort of building tension and suspense, but it never really climaxed or came to an acceptable conclusion. It was pretty frustrating, actually. I, ultimately, never believed in the love connection between the Duke and Duchess; i.e., the heart of the story. 'though as a mechanism to keep me reading, it worked to keep the tension building, and I read with hope until the end.

That sort of disconnect, to me, however, is a near fatal flaw; when a love story doesn't prove the premise of true love! Fortunately, as a devote' of this time period, I enjoyed othe parts of the book just the same. Maybe it will do the same for other readers. And, perhaps Ms Goodwin has left all unsaid to keep things open for a sequel. Who knows?

Ms Goodwin writes very well. Her descriptive abilities are strong and worthy of the best accolades. I was so happy to read her descriptions of the Worth gowns from Paris, the table settings, the floral decorations and beautiful English gardens and houses. I could easily visualize the physical beauty of her characters, both male and female. And, she gave us interesting looks into who the characters were as people, as well. It is a shame that she fell short of making the intimate connections work. I thought one of the primary relationships left untapped was that of the "evil" couple Charlotte and Sir Odo. What a great sado-masochistic twosome that would have been...and I actually thought Daisy was headed that way but stopped. :[

My favorite of characters were her female protagonist, Cora Cash, "the wealthiest American "princess" in the world;" and, her maid, Bertha, a young African American woman devoted to Cora. Although Cora was described as a strong-minded and spirited young woman who brought a new way of doing things into the stuffy, old-world society of English aristocracy, it was maddening to me that she was so cowed by her apparently manipulative husband. Though the Duke was so demeaningly absent at momentous passages in their marriage, abandoning, uncommunicative, moody, unprotecting, unsupportive of her in public, and apparently involved with another woman; Cora, time after time bent over backwards for him. She was forgiving, understanding, easily manipulated, protective, overlooked his selfishness and disregard for her, and basically acted like his whipping dog. I'd venture to say that any self-respecting, strong-minded woman who'd been treated with a fraction of that would have walked away from that man very quickly, if not before the wedding! I really hated that about this book! It wasn't believable.

I disliked that it represented a disregard of women's personal power. Ms Goodwin failed to create the strong female character she'd said was Cora. It was not in keeping with American women of the late 1800's who were banding together and beginning to think and talk about their concerns as women. And, it was not in keeping with the woman she was attempting to highlight in Cora; a woman who was helping build hospitals for poor women and children, and school houses so they could be better educated. This book ultimately undermined the strength and personal integrity of her main female character.

I thought "The American Heiress" attempted to be a historical novel that escaped the misnomer of many contemporary, tawdry, gratuitous sex, bodice rippers. It was successful in that.

What didn't happen, unfortunately, was that it didn't rise to the level of many of the similar historical fiction novels that create strong love connections, and, at the same time feature capable, strong-minded, self-respecting women protagonists. I'm sorry about that, because otherwise this would have been a 5 star read for me.

I have to give this book a 3+ star rating...for disappointing.




I don't think I have seen an overwhelmingly positive review for this book from anyone, so I am definitely hesitant. It's disappointing because the book has such promise!

Teresa Cypher

I trust your reviews, and will probably not purchase this one. Thanks, Deborah. :-)

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