Downton Abbey fans will swoon over this trip through the privileged turn-of-the-century world of cash, class, and coronets.
Anyone seeking to fill the void left by the ending of the hit TV series need look no further than this comprehensive work penned by one of the period’s leading chroniclers. De Courcy (Margot at War: Love and Betrayal in Downing Street, 1912-1916, 2014, etc.) brings the Victorian and Edwardian eras vibrantly to life with her meticulously well-researched book, conveyed in an approachable prose style. Though the narrative’s central focus is the 454 American women who married into the British aristocracy between 1870 and 1914, the scope is far broader than just the ladies themselves. To demonstrate the complicated gender and class relations within the period, the author spends considerable time explaining the sociopolitical ramifications that led to these unusual marriages, some of which ended up being love matches. De Courcy explores everything from the differences in education for American girls versus their English counterparts to their value as progeny within their families, and she ably explains the particular fascination American women held for British nobles. In the 19th century, the right dress, jewels, upbringing, carriage, and conversation effectively demonstrated female power. Like Scheherazade, the author weaves tales of royalty, millionaires, dress makers, and social climbers who render the Edwardian era a tangled web of wealth and intrigue that continues to fascinate readers, filmmakers, and TV writers. Famous “dollar-princesses” Jennie Jerome and Consuelo Vanderbilt receive their own chapters, but the most entertaining sections center on lesser-known heiresses such as the Machiavellian Marietta Stevens and the irrepressible “marrying Wilsons.” The author’s occasional repetition of details—e.g., the girls’ physical characteristics—is unnecessary, but the approachable narration and attention to detail make up for any deficiencies.
A highly readable social history that contains all of the juicy drama of
a prime-time soap opera.