Quick FYI before I dive in: I really, really, really liked this novel. If you have any beach trips planned this summer and want something slightly more substantial than the newest Emily Giffin rom-com novel (nothing against them – if they were set in Victorian England, I’d probably love them too!), buy. this. book. It was such a quick read and I was entirely engrossed in the story. Seriously: buy it.
Now, we can dive in:
The American Heiress follows Cora Cash, a Gilded Age Newport and New York City heiress (to put it lightly) who goes over to the other side of the pond to marry into a title – at her mother’s insistence. Cora’s story is very tightly based on that of Consuelo Vanderbilt – a famed heiress whose late nineteenth century marriage to the Duke of Marlborough was covered in the pages of Vogue and then chronicled in her own personal memoirs. The excesses of the Gilded Age are at once both fantastical and ridiculous, but Cora – much like Consuelo – grew up with cigarettes made of $100 bills and live hummingbirds trained to entertain party goers as the norm in both Newport and New York City.
The story of The American Heiress picks up at the end of Cora’s last summer in Newport. Described as both beautiful and absolutely, insanely wealthy, Cora has no shortage of suitors in the states. Cora’s social-climbing mother – the hilariously named Mrs. Cash – has decided, like many other wealthy American families of the time, that the only feather missing from her hat is having a title in the family (and the accompanying tiara). Thus, after Cora’s summer in Newport, she and Mrs. Cash take the yacht over to England to find / buy Cora a husband.
But when the Cash ladies get to England, Cora gets injured on a ride through the woods, knocked unconscious by a stray branch. When she resumes consciousness, Cora finds herself in a bed in a drafty house. That house happens to be Lulworth, an old castle belonging to the bachelor Duke of Wareham, Ivo Maltravers. As you can probably guess, Ivo and Cora get married and blah blah blah. However, this story is about so much more than a business transaction of a marriage.
If you love Downton Abbey, you will likely adore The American Heiress. Though Downton Abbey is set about twenty years after The American Heiress, both grapple with the same ideas: the use of American money in British nobility, the relationship between the servant and her mistress, the antagonism faced in dealing with in-laws, and – not to quote Rihanna or anything – the concept of finding love in a [seemingly] hopeless place.