It was so much easier to get married in the nineteenth century. I know this not because I majored in history as an undergraduate or because I spent the majority of my teen years writing sappy historical fiction but because I’ve just finished reading The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin.
That’s right: I’ve completed my “lit review” of everything ever written on the subject of online dating (what a depressing project that was) and have finally gone back to the sort of books one’s supposed to read during the summer vacation: books that offer an escape.
Goodwin’s debut novel tells the story of the aptly-named Cora Cash, heir to a flour fortune, who suffers, as all teenage protagonists must, from the constraints of Victorian society and her mother’s constant meddling. When it comes time for Cora to marry, she simply hops a boat to England (her father’s private yacht, to be exact), spends an afternoon horseback riding, and conveniently gets knocked unconscious in a forest that just so happens to belong to unmarried English duke.
It’s all very Pride and Prejudice, until the Duke turns out to be Catholic with more than a few skeletons in his closet, and here, thankfully, the pastiche ends; only after their marriage does the real story begin.
I’m always a bit prickly about historical fiction, mainly because I’ve worked at several museums and I can’t stand it when authors don’t take the time to do the proper research, but Goodwin, a Cambridge grad, clearly did her homework. The novel begins in Newport, Rhode Island, amongst the “limestone facades of the great houses that clustered along the cliff like a collection of wedding cakes,” then transports readers to the Duke’s decayed estate on the Dorset coast, and finally to London, where Cora struggles to make her mark.
Goodwin captures every detail (and when the nouveau riche of Newport, Rhode Island decide to throw a party, there are indeed a million details) but breaks through the veneer of the so-called Gilded Age to reveal the uncertainties bubbling just beneath the surface:
He put his arms around her neck and pulled her to him. She remembered the first time they had kissed, here in the chapel. He had been unexpected then, the speed of his proposal, the certainty of his embrace; and now, did she really know him better? Physically perhaps, when they kissed now it was a communication, not an exploration, but there was a part of him that was still opaque.
It is reassuring to know that although the path to marriage was a fairly straightforward for this fictional nineteenth-century heiress, the path to love was every bit as twisted for her as it seems to be for me. Here’s hoping for a sequel, because I’ll need something to read when everything finally goes belly-up with Date #7.
PS: Have you voted today? I’ve been nominated for “Philadelphia’s Most Valuable Blogger” and I need your help! You can vote for me everyday, once a day until September 9th (no login or registration nonsense required) so please click on “VOTE FOR ME” to cast your vote. THANKS!