I just finished The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin. It’s a new release (2011) and a first published novel. It’s a great story. Cora is a New York heiress in the Gilded Age (late 1800s). Her parents are “new money” and her mother tries to use her money to push her way into New York society. Her goal for her daughter is to marry a title.
Cora manages to reach her mother’s goal and marries the Duke of Wareham, Ivo. While he desperately needs her money for his estate, the reader hopes that he loves her. The reader is able to go on the journey with her as she navigates her way through the intricacies of English society. Throughout, she has to determine what is real and what is manipulation; who is honest and who wants to see her fail. About the only person she has to rely on is her maid Bertha.
However, Bertha has her own issues. First, she is African-American working as a lady’s maid, which is unusual. She is caught between so many worlds, she walks a tightrope every time she ventures out of the house, interacting with other members of staff, and even around Cora. It’s made more difficult as the reader watches her battle her loyalty to Cora and her burgeoning love for Jim, the Duke’s valet, who has a different view of his employer’s than she does.
The story is made up of relationships…those between mother and daughter, mother and son, employer and employee, husband and wife. There are all these factors at play and the interrelationship between them all isn’t resolved until the very end.
The writing is beautiful, and you can see why the writing is compared to Jane Austen. You want Cora to succeed, and when she missteps, you want to reach through the pages and tell her not to do it.
I would recommend this book. I thought it was a fast read, and definitely engrossing.