Here is a photo of my appearance on University Challenge – definitely one of the most terrifying experiences of my life! I wrote an article about it for the Sunday Times which you can read here
I discussed the likely future of libraries and their impact on society with Chris White from the Local Government Association. It’s so important for us to support and cherish our local libraries, which are a precious resource to those who do not always have access to books – or computers, or the Internet – at home.
Exciting news, My Last Duchess has been picked for the TV Book Club. It will be in very exalted company along with two Man Booker prize nominees! It will be wonderful finding out how readers react to the book. The show goes out in January on More4 and Channel 4.
Read more here
Did you hear me talking to Fi Glover and hear Luke Wright’s wonderful poem on Saturday Live last weekend? If not, you can listen to the Saturday Live Show here .
Sunday October 17,2010
By Christine Williams
AMERICAN duchesses were quite the rage towards the end of the 19th century and Jenny Jerome, Sir Winston Churchill’s mother, is perhaps the best-known.
She was just one of the influx of vivacious, wealthy young women anxious to marry into the British aristocracy.
Welcomed with open arms by blue-blooded but bankrupt Lords, they brought money to rescue the stately homes of Britain and a freedom of manner that cut through some of the traditional rules of the day.
My Last Duchess is the story of the aptly-named heiress Cora Cash, who is propelled by her ambitious Mama into marriage with an English Duke. Not that Cora needed any prompting. No sooner does she set eyes on Ivo, the 9th Duke of Wareham, than she falls head over heels in love.
Daisy Goodwin’s first novel is rich in lavish detail and society gossip, with pages peopled by dashing young rakes, unscrupulous beauties and fashionable but predatory painters. All provide problems for our heroine as she embarks on married life.
It is Charlotte Beauchamp who proves to be Cora’s real enemy. Brought up by Ivo’s flirtatious, amoral mother Fanny (now married to her second duke), Charlotte is, frankly, jealous. She always wanted Ivo for herself but she is clever enough to conceal her emotions, befriend Cora and lead her into escapades calculated to endanger her marriage.
There is a touching sub-plot, introducing Cora’s devoted black maidservant. Transplanted from the deep South of America to a stately mansion in England, Bertha falls for manservant Jim. Their below-stairs romance, with its racial undertones makes an interesting contrast with the upstairs immorality of the nobility.
It is a romp of a book, with all the ingredients for a self-indulgent afternoon read. A well-written, brilliant first novel by a confident, skillful storyteller. It is pure, light-hearted, unpretentious entertainment.
MY LAST DUCHESS BY DAISY GOODWIN (Headline £12.99)
Clever Daisy Goodwin as well. Not content with being a raven-haired TV poetry temptress, she’s written My Last Duchess. It’s a marvellously assured read about a marvellously assured American heiress called (appropriately) Cora Cash, one of those sexy buccaneers who took the impoverished British aristocracy by storm in the nineteenth century. It’s a literary Greatest Hits; there’s a mysterious duke, a woman in a veil and various secrets, as well as lashings of lovely period detail about dresses for yachting, opera and dinner. Heartily recommended; Goodwin writes beautifully; her easy style disguising both erudition and emotional truth.
Ever since Henry James’s verbose tales of class warfare and fiscal machinations in nineteenth-century Britain and America found their first readers, stories of culture clashes between ambitious nouveau riche Yanks and their patch-protecting, old-monied European cousins have abounded.
The latest specimen is Daisy Goodwin’s frothy, engaging My Last Duchess, a debut novel she has taken a while to get around to, having established a successful career as a TV producer, predominantly with the BBC, after gaining a history degree from Cambridge University.
Her heroine, the woman who becomes the titular Duchess, is Cora Cash, an exceedingly wealthy American heiress coming of (marriageable) age in 1893 Rhode Island. Cora’s life is rigidly controlled by Mrs Cash, who holds lofty goals for her daughter and is unforgiving in the measures she takes to achieve them; when we first meet Cora, she is strapped from forehead to knee into a steel spine straightener designed to improve her posture.
After an early flirtation with another rich young American, Teddy van der Leyden, is thwarted, Cora, on a visit to Dorset in early 1894, meets cute with Ivo, Duke of Wareham, and marriage ensues.
Ivo attained his title upon the death of his father, having already endured the loss of his brother in an incident that he declines to discuss with Cora. Indeed, once the honeymoon glow has worn off it becomes apparent that Ivo is hiding rather a lot from his wife, and his abrupt departure for a months-long trip to Africa during her pregnancy intensifies her misgivings.
Into the fray Goodwin brings Ivo’s mother, known as the Double Duchess since her swift remarriage to a peer of the same caste as her first husband, and two colourful and narratively crucial characters, the vile Sir Odo (referred to in servants’ quarters as ‘Odious’) and his ravishing, inscrutable wife, Lady Charlotte Beauchamp.
The resulting events make for a pacy and absorbing read, with the appealing plot enhanced by the quality and extent of Goodwin’s research – she must, as a producer, have become accustomed to doing her homework, and that practice pays dividends in My Last Duchess.
There is the elaborate finery of the time – Cora enters married life with no fewer than 60 new dresses, handmade in Paris; two women seated next to one another at a dinner struggle to face one another in conversation due to the enormity of their fashionable mutton-chop sleeves – and the smaller accoutrements of a woman of Cora’s class, including a monogrammed dressing case whose contents are carefully listed.
Though the complement of supporting characters is a strong one, the rightful star is the Duchess herself, and it is entertaining to see what Cora is made of as she evolves from self-obsessed ingenue to wronged wife.
Compounding her burden is the task of managing her husband’s ancestral estate, Lulworth, which is less a grand home of the aristocracy than a hothouse of political manipulation and ancient loyalties in which Cora’s Americanness is viewed as an insurmountable handicap. In dealing to her foes, she may prove to be less unlike her fearsome mother than she – or we – thought.
The novel’s end, while not premature, is rather abrupt, and I hope Goodwin feels there is more story to be told. I don’t think the Duchess is quite done yet.
3 / 5 stars: A diverting tale of a steely dame.
DAISY GOODWIN will be speaking about The American Heiress at Bookhampton, 93 Main Street Southampton NY 11968 on Friday August 19th at 5:00pm. Hope to see some of you there!
EVENT 621 Daisy Goodwin
Daisy Goodwin talks about the ‘dollar princesses’ who made an enormous impact on late Victorian England and whose experiences formed the background of her book My Last Duchess. These women kept the stately homes of England going for a generation – Consuelo Vanderbilt’s dowry was a hundred million dollars!
Daisy Goodwin is one of the nation’s greatest promoters of poetry through her books and television series. Her debut novel My Last Duchess is a story full of exquisite period details and a phalanx of historical characters. It features American heiress, Cora Cash, who has grown up in a world in which money unlocks every door. Cora’s mother has her heart set on a title for her daughter. Impoverished English blue-bloods are queuing up for introductions to her.
- Book Tickets Prices: £10
Thursday 7/4 12:00 at Christ Church, Blue Boar
The Prospect Debate
Saturday 5th March 1pm
Does feminism have to start all over again?
We live in an age of supposedly equal pay and equal opportunity in which a working woman is meant to enjoy the same prospects as a working man. But we also live in an age of lad culture, sexual harassment, and institutional misogyny. Is it up to women or men to tackle this contradiction? Where does feminism go from here? And what will be the effect of coalition cuts on women’s lives, both at work and at home? Kate Mosse chairs the debate with Prospect Magazine’s Mary Fitzgerald, Daisy Goodwin and Finn Mackay, founder of the London Feminist Network and the revived Reclaim The Night marches.
£7 (£6 concessions) H3
Saturday 5th March 4.30pm
The Truth about Love
How do you write about love without being sentimental? How do you describe sex without being embarrassing? How do you tell the truth with a cold clear eye? In this session three luminaries of the genre, Daisy Goodwin author of My Last Duchess, Michael Arditti author of Jubilate, and William Nicholson author of All the Hopeful Lovers, spill the beans.
£7 (£6 concessions) H10
For more information go to www.bathlitfest.org.uk
London Library Reading 2
My Last Duchess
Saturday 13 November, 7:30pm
American University, Richmond
Daisy Goodwin’s debut novel My Last Duchess centers on an American heiress who married into the British aristocracy at the end of the nineteenth century. The book is based on real stories from the American ‘dollar Princesses’ who made an enormous impact on British High Society at the turn of the century: women like Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill’s mother, or Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the Duke of Marlborough – the marriage was spectacularly unhappy, but the Vanderbilt money meant that Blenheim Palace and its treasures were saved. Daisy Goodwin will talk about some of the exciting stories she discovered when researching her book and the real people behind her characters.
In association with The London Library
Bridport Literary Festival
Saturday November 6th, 2.30pm at The Ballroom, The Bull Hotel.
Harriet Evans & Daisy Goodwin in association with The London Library- The Curse of the Pink Cover: Women writers and the ‘chick lit’ debate
The Curse of the Pink Cover: Women writers and the ‘chick lit’ debate
Why are books reflecting women’s lives so often trivialised? Why do female readers buy books marketed to a male audience, but male readers steer away from so-called ‘chick lit’? Harriet Evans has seen these issues from both sides of the fence: working in the publishing industry as an editor, and now as an established novelist herself. Daisy Godwin has written a novel and a memoir, produced numerous poetry anthologies, presented a documentary series on romance fiction and acted as Chair of the Orange Prize. Together, Harriet and Daisy discuss the publication and reception of ‘women’s writing’.
Start date/time 03 Nov 2010 19:30
Venue The Studio, RACC
Richmond Adult Community College
Poole Literary Festival
Saturday, October 30th , 12.00 -2.00pm
21 Kingland Road
Saturday, 9th October, 2010
The Last Duchess
The chair of the Orange Prize presents her own debut novel. My Last Duchess takes the late 19th century market as its theme – American heiresses married off to the sons of the impoverished British aristocracy. A stunning debut novel from the acclaimed journalist and broadcaster.
3.30-4.30pm. Southside House, 3-4 Woodhayes Road, Wimbledon Common. SW19 4RJ £10
Tea will be served from 3-3.30pm.
Box office : 020 8543 4888 (run by Polka Theatre)
Reading at Hammersmith Library
07 October · 18:30 – 23:00
Location Hammersmith Library
Shepherds Bush Road
London, United Kingdom
In this final Story of London event at Hammersmith Library, Daisy Goodwin, Nikesh Shukla, and Rachael Dunlop will be reading from their stories for Hammersmith & Fulham, Brent, and Hillingdon. A retired teacher recalls less than pleasant memories following a chance encounter with a former student, a grieving grandson finds the perfect samosa in Brent, and a young Heathrow worker forms a bond with mysterious woman in Terminal One.
Cheltenham Literature Festival
Monday 11th October @ 4.00pm
Cheltenham Town Hall.