Raves for The Fortune Hunter

By Molly Lundquist
Daisy Goodwin's The Fortune Hunter just came out in paperback, so given the hype (see NY columnist Liz Smith's review for one) I took a look...and I loved it.

The novel centers on a romantic triangle populated by actual historical characters: an Austrian empress, British heiress, and dashing cavalry captain. Some of Goodwin's story is true, some imagined. Sound like fun? It is.

Young Charlotte Baird is heiress to the Lenox fortune and considered quite a catch during her debut in London. Like many a good heroine, Charlotte defies convention much to her family's dismay. Yet it's that very independent streak that attracts the eye of handsome Captain Bay Middleton.

bay-charlotteUnfortunately, Bay himself catches the eye of visiting royalty: Empress Elisabeth of Austria who has come to Britain for the hunting season. Famed throughout Europe for her beauty, Sisi, as she is known, intoxicates Bay, who is now torn between two women. (Photos left: Charlotte? and Bay)

The story, though, offers more than a standard romance: we get an insider's view of the Victorian class system and the burdens it imposes, not on society's lower rungs but, in this novel, on the upper ones—even on royalty.

empress-sisi For as much as Americans are titillated by all things Downton Abby, Goodwin shows us a darker side. We see the demands for mindless conformity, especially for women. We watch how those not quite up-to-snuff (the untitled) face stinging humiliation by their "betters" (the titled). And we're privy to the tacit understanding that women are mere commodities in a cynical marriage market.

The book holds a particular interest for me. A couple of years ago, I stumbled across a 1962 movie with Romy Schneider (anyone remember her?) as Sisi, the lovely 16-year-old girl who captured the heart of the Emperor of Austria-Hungary. (Photo right: Empress Sisi)

The Fortune Hunter picks up 22 years after that romantic coupling to show the toll that royal life—with its sycophantic courtiers and stultifying dullness—has taken on Sisi. That part is true, too, and so is this—unhappy at home, Sisi traveled a good deal to remove herself from the rigid confines of the Austrian court.

This is an engaging read and an easy one, too. Goodwin has drawn her secondary characters broadly; they're somewhat cartoonish, which only makes them more fun to loathe. The author has taken more care with her leads, however, lending them a greater degree of depth. She also writes in rich detail when it comes to riding to the hunt, the new-fangled photography, and the beauty regimes of royalty (which involve slabs of veal...I'll say no more).

Read and have fun. I did. Oh, and don't miss our Reading Guide for The Fortune Hunter, complete with discussion questions.

* This review is sponsored by St. Martin's Griffin, publishers of the Fortune Hunter. The content of the review is an objective opinion by LitLovers.

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