“You Live in Light”

A Downton Abbey fan, I started Daisy Goodwin’s American Heiress with a keen curiosity. Coincidentally our heroine, the American Heiress, is also named Cora and a contemporary of Lady Cora. With Lady Cora’s vision flashing up every now and then, I plunged into Miss Cora Cash’s quite adventurous journey.

An American Heiress at the end of 19th century, “the richest girl in the world”, Cora Cash is ushered to England by her Ambitious mother, Mrs. Cash, and thereby starts the hunt for a tilted husband. Serendipitously, Cora falls, literally, into the hands of Duke of Wareham, by way of a riding accident. Without any of the anticipated lengthy, bitter and sweet courtship, they are engaged within a week’s time. Despite a few setbacks, they are married as planned and their wedding in Newport, Rhode Island of America is a tremendous sensation.

The real tests, trials and tribulations come after Cora starts her life as Duchess of Wareham and Chatelaine of Lulworth estate. As Cora braves on in her new life, she finds herself very much at odds with those around her, including her husband and mother in law.

Although not the first novel capturing that intriguing phenomena of American money marrying English titles, I find the juxtaposition and contrasting of the free New World and the quaint Old World as portrayed in American Heiress fascinating.

In the older days, marrying for love was obviously not an aristocratic aspiration while social climbing and preserving family title, wealth and power at all cost were more of the accepted norms. As a result, many lived a life rife with intrigue and betrayal. Underneath the calm and elegant veneer there were often lies, secrets, repressed feelings, twisted spirits and in many cases cruelty. Although Jane Austen brought the idea of marrying for love front and center early 19th century, it was however much later that it began to resonate and take hold.

Mrs. Cash does indeed aspire to buy her way into higher society as mother-in-law of an English duke, or even of a prince, if she could have managed it. Cora Cash however actually marries for love and she thinks her husband wants her too besides her money. And little she imagines the treacherous web of foreign sense and value ahead. Lucky for Miss Cora Cash, things work out. Besides the money, it is her way. It is because, as her husband puts it, she lives in light and she alone can wipe away all the shadows for him.

It is a pleasurable read and quite an education on the fashion of the days. And it turns out American Heiress can pass perfectly as a prequel for Downton Abbey.

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