I spotted this book in a local shop and picked it up to read the jacket. It was a pretty cover, and the story sounded like something right down my alley- historical nonfiction romance, and even one review stated that it was reminiscent of Downton Abbey– which I love. I didn’t purchase the book (I try to mind my budget, haha), but looked for it at my local library to checked it out.
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The premise of the story is that one of the wealthiest debutantes in America, Cora Cash, is almost desperate to escape the clutches of her overbearing mother. Although Mrs. Cash wouldn’t dare admit it, she’s hoping to marry off her daughter to a titled European man to raise the status of her “new money” family. After a failed proposal attempt to get away from her mother’s clutches, Cora and her mother head to Europe, landing in England. While out on a prestigious hunt, Cora breaks away from the other riders, notices an odd sound in the woods, and before she knows it, her horse spooks and tosses her to the ground. Fighting for consciousness, Cora is rescued by a handsome man who takes her back to his large estate and sends for a doctor. As the man named Ivo nurses Cora back to health, they end up falling for each other, very quickly. When the mother finds out, she is thrilled, because Ivo happens to be Duke of Wareham, and that would mean her daughter would become a Duchess.
However, pre- and post-wedding, Cora is having a hard time understanding her Duke and his old European ways. She finds herself trying to correct her Americanisms to the proper English methods, and learns what is and isn’t proper for the reputation of the Duke and Duchess. She also struggles with an overbearing mother-in-law, the Double Duchess, and the servants who still hold loyalty to their old lady of the house. So when Charlotte Beauchamp offers her friendship, Cora is grateful to have a female friend. However, she doesn’t realize that Charlotte has a history with her husband. The drama unfolds in the most passive-aggressive, sophisticated way between the mix of characters.
Goodwin does a very good job describing the “Edwardian Dollar Princess” era, in which young and rich American women were married off to historically upper class and titled European bachelors. And being a fan of the Downton Abbey television series, I can imagine much of what is portrayed in The American Heiress. I researched to see which came first, the novel or the TV series, and the novel was published a month prior to the series.
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The downside to the novel, in my opinion, is that though both the series and the novel have slow paces, the TV series has much more action that pushes the plot along, and less predictability than the novel. In the novel, the narration goes into detail trying explain the setting and grandeur of the era, but it leaves the reader bogged with minute details that make it difficult to turn pages. I also noticed that there is a lot of necessary reading between the dialogue lines in order to understand the passive-aggressive upper class taunts, gossip, and reactions to both, which also slows the pace. But the most frustrating to me wasn’t the pace- it was the predictability of the plot. I stuck with the story basically to prove that I was correct in predicting the climax and resolution.
I won’t spoil it for those that do wish to read it, or are working on finishing it (shout out to my friend Amelia, who I know was having similar problems with the slow pace), but I expect you could guess what the outcome is by the first 50 pages, and spare you from reading the next 400.