According to bestselling author Daisy Goodwin, the "most venomous politicians in English society" were 19th-century aristocrats. In their world --- a world based solely upon status and power --- there are only two things that matter: money and titles. The more you have of one or both, the more recognition you are seen to deserve. But is this a world any sane person would really want to live in? Read THE AMERICAN HEIRESS, Goodwin's debut novel, and decide for yourself.
"This is an exceptionally thoughtful and stunning historical novel that will leave you reeling and astonished."
To the English socialite, titles are more important than riches, but money is a necessary vice, hence the reason for arranged marriages. It's difficult not to make analogies to today's superstars and how living with such extremes seems to undermine what really matters. To Cora Cash, such a life of artificial excess is the only thing she's ever known. She was born into this world, her father's fame and money the result of inheriting a considerable fortune as well as becoming a prominent and well-respected businessman. Cora has been called "the American Princess" by her many public admirers, and the Cashes have accumulated so much wealth that they could not possibly spend it all. The only thing lacking now is a title --- something Mrs. Cash intends to remedy soon.
Cora's mother has become so desperate for status that she's determined to arrange any suitable marriage necessary to find a titled Englishman who will take her daughter. They are, of course, perfectly willing to pay the necessary fee for this arrangement and have no qualms whatsoever about sending their daughter overseas and into any kind of marriage --- even an unhappy one. Surrounded by diamonds, extravagant clothing, lavish social engagements, and rare treasures, Cora is a girl who seems never to have known any want. Yet in reality she's greatly lacking in all the vital things --- the most obvious being that no one in her entire life, save her childhood companion, Teddy, has ever considered her feelings or well-being over money.
As worldly as she is, the simple facts are that Cora is immature and naïve to human motives and manners. She recognizes that most people willing to deal with her are only after her money. She is incapable of caring for herself and wouldn't be able to dress or even take down her hair if not for the devoted help of her numerous servants --- who incidentally despise her, all except her long-time maid Bertha, a very decent woman who is probably Cora's only friend but doesn't ever dare show it for fear of losing her job.
Unlike her venomous mother and indifferent father, Cora is guileless and doesn't care at all about controlling others. Underneath all the pomp and arrogance of the rich girl is a generally decent soul who hopes for something better for herself, a life where she has some control and where someone cares for her. Even though she's often insensitive, Cora is not so materialistic as to not recognize the pitfalls of money. But she was born in this world, and even with her mother controlling the game and knowing she's just a pawn, her mother's game is one she is willing to play as long as she gets what she wants in the end.
THE AMERICAN HEIRESS is quite a meaningful book that asks some intriguing questions. In this shallow world of the aristocracy --- a place running rampant with fakery and excess, where tradition is more important than progress and the well-to-do think of nothing but themselves ---- can anyone ever really be trusted ? Your spouse? Your friend? Your lover? Your mother? Can anyone lay down the truth or think of another's best interests before their own? Living by the standards of the aristocrat, how can one ever really know someone or love someone? How can a person be considered "good at heart" when they willingly choose to live within such a corrupt system?
This is an exceptionally thoughtful and stunning historical novel that will leave you reeling and astonished. It will make you question everything you've read and give you the urge to re-read it the instant the last page is turned.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on June 21, 2011