American Heiress (Goodwin) - Discussion Questions

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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