American Heiress (Goodwin)

The Amerian Heiress
Daisy Goodwin, 2011
St. Martin's Press
496 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780312658663

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 Nothing is quite as it seems, however: Ivo is withdrawn and secretive, and the English social scene is full of traps and betrayals.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

Author Bio
Birth—December 19, 1961
Where—England, UK
Education—B.A., Cambridge University; Columbia University Film School
Currently—lives in London, England

Daisy Georgia Goodwin is a British television producer, poetry anthologist and novelist.

Having attended Westminster School and Queen's College, London (another fee paying school, not a university), Goodwin studied history at Trinity College at Cambridge, and attended Columbia Film School before joining the BBC as a trainee arts producer in 1985.

In 1998 she moved to Talkback Productions as head of factual programmes, and in 2005 founded Silver River Productions. Her first novel, My Last Duchess, was published in the UK in August 2010 and, under the title The American Heiress, in the U.S. and Canada in June 2011. Her second novel, The Fortune Hunter, was released in 2014.

Victoria, published in 2016, is also the title of PBS's Masterpiece Theater's series by the same name.  Goodwin is both writer and creator of the series.

In addition to her novels and film work, Goodwin has also published eight poetry anthologies and a memoir entitled Silver River, and was chairman of the judging panel for the 2010 Orange Prize for women's fiction.  She has presented television shows including Essential Poems (To Fall In Love With) (2003) and Reader, I Married Him (2006).

Goodwin is married to Marcus Wilford, an ABC TV executive; they have two daughters. She appeared as part of the winning Trinity College, Cambridge team on the Christmas University Challenge BBC2, 27 December 2011. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 7/15/2014.)

Book Reviews
Ms. Goodwin is brazen enough to name her moneybags heroine Cora Cash and to borrow from the life of Consuelo Vanderbilt in telling Cora’s tale. Thanks to the 1895 marriage to Charles Spencer-Churchill that turned Consuelo into the ninth Duchess of Marlborough, Ms. Goodwin need not strain to imagine what it was like for an American girl, from a family that had its own railroad, to catapult herself into the ranks of British royalty. Not that Ms. Goodwin is unimaginative: she gives Cora distinct personality and allure [and]...remains a vibrant character throughout Ms. Goodwin’s archly entertaining story.
Janet Maslin - New York Times

It's a battle of the New and Old Worlds, and for much of this lush look at Edwardian excess and scandal on both sides of the Atlantic, it's tough taking sides. American Cora Cash is the impetuous and spoiled-brat daughter of a flour-making millionaire and a nouveau rich mother from hell, growing up in mansions on Fifth Avenue and Newport at the tail end of the 19th century and introduced to society at a ball where gold-sprayed hummingbirds are released at midnight. But Cora's mother has her one good eye—the other was mangled in a bizarre wardrobe malfunction—on just one prize for her only daughter: a title. Cora, only too happy to free herself from her overbearing mother, happily obliges and, once in Jolly Ol' England, literally falls in front of, and in love with, the handsome and mysterious ninth duke of Wareham. But plopped into a chilly English castle and laughed at for her American ways by high- and low-brow alike, Cora discovers she's merely traded prisons and has to use some Yankee resilience and resourcefulness to unravel her stubbornly aloof husband's dark secrets, win his heart, and earn her place. Television producer Goodwin's debut is a propulsive story of love, manners, culture clash, and store-bought class from a time long past that proves altogether fresh.
Publishers Weekly

Cora Cash may be America's richest heiress in 1893, but her father's money can't buy what her social-climbing mother most desires for her: a title. Desperate to escape her mother's control, Cora urges her friend Teddy Van Der Leyden to marry her, but he chooses to pursue his art. Cora and her mother then head to Europe to find a bachelor, and Cora becomes engaged to the Duke of Wareham. Their opulent New York wedding attracts throngs of gawkers and garners headlines. Back in England, Cora is despised by her powerful mother-in-law. Servants ignore her. Aristocrats delight in her every misstep. Most distressing are the Duke's moodiness and hesitation to reveal his past. The only one loyal to Cora is her maid, Bertha, equally out of place because of her race, class, and nationality. Teddy's fortuitous arrival offers possible escape but no easy answers. Readers likely will recognize the lingering impact of the Duke's past affair before Cora does, but the story is more complex than it first appears. Verdict: Top-notch writing brings to life the world of wealth on both sides of the Atlantic. This debut's strong character development and sense of place will please fans of historical romance, including book club members. —Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato
Library Journal

A shrewd, spirited historical romance with flavors of Edith Wharton, Daphne du Maurier, Jane Austen, Upstairs, Downstairs and a dash of People magazine that charts a bumpy marriage of New World money and Old World tradition.... Superior entertainment.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. What is your initial impression of Cora Cash? How does she develop as a person in the course of the novel?

2. In America, Cora is clearly at the top of society, while Bertha is very near the bottom. In what ways do their circumstances  change when they move to England?

3. What role do the mothers in the story—Mrs. Cash, Mrs. Van Der Leyden, and the Double Duchess—play in the central characters’ lives?

4. Cora is always aware that “no one was unaffected by the money.” How does the money affect Cora herself ? What are the pleasures and perils of great wealth?

5. What is your opinion of Teddy and the Duke? What about Charlotte?

6. What do you think about Cora’s decision at the end of the book? Would you have made the same choice? (The author has said she was of two minds up until the last chapter.)

7. What are the differences between the Old World and the New in the novel? Do both worlds seem remote in the twenty-first century, or do you see parallels to contemporary society?

8. Why do modern readers enjoy reading novels about the past? Take a moment to discuss your experiences as a reader of historical fiction, in general, and of The American Heiress in particular.

9. When she was chair of the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2010, Daisy Goodwin wrote a controversial essay lamenting the “unrelenting grimness” of so many of the novels and pointing out that “generally great fiction contains light and shade”—not only misery but joy and humor. What do you think about Daisy’s argument that “it is time for publishers to stop treating literary fiction as the novelistic equivalent of cod-liver oil: if it’s nasty it must be good for you”?

10. Kirkus Reviews called The American Heiress a “shrewd, spirited historical romance with flavors of Edith Wharton, Daphne du Maurier, and Jane Austen.” Other critics have also seen echoes of Henry James. If you have read any of these earlier novelists, what parallels and differences do you see in Daisy’s work?
(Questions by publisher.)

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