The American Heiress, Daisy Goodwin

With Downton Abbey on hiatus, I’ve been going through withdrawal, and Daisy Goodwin’s novel The American Heiress was like methadone. The American Heiress is the story of Cora Cash, daughter of a wealthy American flour company magnate. Cora is spoiled and rich; in the beginning of the novel, she compares herself to Emma Woodhouse. She is used to having her way. Her mother, ambitious and conniving, wants to see her daughter land a titled husband. Fate throws Cora quite literally in the path of Ivo Maltravers, Duke of Wareham. After a whirlwind courtship, Cora becomes the Duchess of Wareham, but she learns that accepting this title will mean she might have to give up more than she realized and live in a strange country with a man she barely knows.

The similarities between this novel and Downton Abbey are a little uncanny. Cora, like the character Cora on Downton Abbey, is a rich American heiress who marries a titled aristocrat from an old family in the UK. This novel takes place during the Gilded Age and is therefore set slightly before the events of Downton Abbey begin. I enjoyed Cora’s mother-in-law, the Double Duchess—so-called because she married the Duke of Buckingham after the death of her husband, the former Duke of Wareham. It may be that Goodwin was thinking of Louisa Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, who was also known as the Double Duchess because she married both the Duke of Manchester and the Duke of Devonshire and lived during the right period (though she may have been a bit older than Goodwin’s Double Duchess). Cora’s own story calls to mind the real story of Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the Duke of Marlborough. Consuelo Vanderbilt was, of course, a rich American heiress like Cora. Consuelo’s real mother-in-law was none other than the Double Duchess, Louisa Cavendish, herself. If you are a fan of this period in history and like costume drama, you would probably like this novel. It was an engaging, quick read. I did not find Cora particularly likable because she was quite spoiled and melodramatic. It was hard to feel sorry for her for too long. However, despite a lack of sympathetic characters, I found the plot of the story held my interest. If I had cared about the characters a little more, I might have been somewhat disappointed in the ending, but I found that the ending was realistic, and I’m not sure I would have liked a different ending.

Some time ago, I asked readers if they wanted me to cast books, and this book is the first book I’ve had a chance to cast.

Carey Mulligan

I could see Carey Mulligan as Cora Cash. She has the chestnut hair color and a certain naivete that could carry the part.

Kerry Washington

I like Kerry Washington as Bertha, Cora’s maid.

Tom Hardy

Tom Hardy should play Ivo Maltravers, Duke of Wareham. The book refers often to Ivo’s straight Roman nose and dark “gypsy” looks.

Robert Sean Leonard

Robert Sean Leonard (slightly younger version) as Teddy Van Der Leyden, Cora’s childhood sweetheart. I don’t know why other than he looks like a Teddy Van Der Leyden.

Christina Cole

Christina Cole has the sort of slithery, catlike quality that Charlotte Beauchamp needs. Charlotte is a snake in the grass, y’all. And this gal would be perfect in the role.

Samantha Bond

Samantha Bond was the only person I really cast in my head as I was reading. She is exactly how I imagined the Double Duchess. She would be so perfect!

Interesting side note (if you are still reading): The American Heiress is called My Last Duchess in UK. This title is, of course, an allusion to the Robert Browning poem. I like it, but after reading the novel, I’m not sure it’s very descriptive of events in the book. I’m sure the title was changed because 1) the publisher thought Americans wouldn’t get the reference and/or 2) the publisher thought Americans would like “American” in the title. Whatever.

Rating: ★★★★☆

 

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Saturday Reads: A New Weekly Feature

Young Woman Reading by Hermann Jean Joseph RichirAs usual, Robin Bates’s exploration of literature as a mirror enlightens. In this case, Robin considers the notion of books as friends.

I’m enjoying Carl Pyrdum’s Thesis Thursday posts (but have to save them for the weekend). This one explores Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, and prompted me to remove my copy from the shelf. I should read it this year. All the way through. I’ve only read parts of it, and I’ve had it since about 1992. Also, a side note: Why did Shakespeare never write about King Arthur? I would have loved to have seen what Shakespeare could have done with the Matter of Britain.

Mandy has convinced me I need to read Bleak House. Downloaded it on my Kindle.

Fans of Downton Abbey might want to check out this New York Times article for suggested reads. After reading about these books in post after post on Downton Abbey, I’ve added the following Downton-related books to my list:

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by the Countess of Carnarvon (I do hope some mention will be made of the Earl of Carnarvon’s connection to the Tutankhamun find). Lady Almina is the inspriation for Cora, Countess Grantham, and Highclere is where Downton Abbey is filmed.

The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton. Wharton didn’t finish this book about wealthy American women who travel to England in search of titled husbands. Looking forward to it.

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin, which has the much better title of My Last Duchess in the UK.

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. I read a story somewhere (perhaps apocryphal) about an elderly woman who hung on in her last sickness until the last book in The Forsyte Saga was published.

Rose: My Life in Service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison. Lady Astor seems to have been a rather fascinating person.

Howards End by E.M. Forster. I’ve actually had this on my list for a while.

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Friday Finds—July 8, 2011

Friday FindsI have been immersed in Jennifer Donnelly’s “Rose” trilogy the past week. I haven’t actually scouted new books that much, but I have found a few to put on my TBR pile.

The first is The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin. It is the story of Cora Cash, daughter of wealthy American family, who marries Ivo, Duke of Wareham, and finds herself navigating the treacherous waters of English society. Should be good for anyone with Downton Abbey withdrawal.

I can’t remember how I came across this next book, but I think it was offered as a giveaway at Goodreads and caught my eye there first. The Ballad of Tom Dooley by Sharyn McCrumb is a fictional retelling of the famous Appalachian murder ballad. True confession: I love murder ballads—great old Scottish, Irish, or Appalachian murder ballads are the kinds of songs that stick with you. I really can’t wait to read this one.

Susanna Kearsley’s novel The Winter Sea is the story of Carrie McClelland, who travels to Scotland to do research for her novel. As she begins writing, she starts recalling memories that are not her own, and she wonders if she is somehow channeling a Scottish ancestor. Sometimes I wonder if we do somehow inherit memories in our DNA. One of the places I have felt the most at “home” is Athens, when I was a student at UGA. Later, I discovered my family had lived there in the nineteenth century (or near enough). I don’t know. Just a coincidence, I guess, but I am intrigued by the family history aspect of this book.

Did you find any good books this week?

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