The American Heiress: the first ‘special relationship’?

Interview with TV Producer & Author Daisy Goodwin

British Weekly
Saturday, November 24, 2012
11:12 AM

“I got the idea about five years ago, when I was visiting Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of the dukes of Marlborough,” says The American Heiress author Daisy Goodwin. “I saw the great Sargent portrait of Consuelo Vanderbilt and her husband the 6th Duke of Marlborough and I thought it was a great starting point for a book. An American princess finding herself at sea in aristocratic England.”

The year is 1890 and Cora Cash, an American heiress, is in London to marry into the British aristocracy. Ivo, Duke of Warham, sweeps her off her feet. They marry and things change. He becomes distant as the English season heats up so does the potential for betrayals. Did Ivo really just marry her for her money?

The dialog is amusing and the story has the feel of Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey. The nouveau riche Americans wanted to show they were as good as the aristocrats so they used their money to marry them. It had its pitfalls as the married couples came from different worlds and countries. If you can’t wait until Downton returns in January read this over the holidays.

“I discovered a quarterly magazine published in the 1890s called Titled Americans, which was a Gilded Age version of,” says Goodwin. “In the front half were biogs of all the American women who had married into the aristocracy and at the back were profiles of the eligible bachelors still on the market, with the size of their estate and their credit worthiness. Not very romantic but a fascinating social document.”

“I read lots of books of the period,” says Goodwin. “Trollope, France Hodgson Burnett and, of course, Henry James. I also read lots of memoirs by American heiresses. The Glitter and the Gold by Consuelo Vanderbilt was very useful as was the memoir of Jennie Churchill – Winston’s mum. I also spend a whole day wearing an S bend corset in order to understand fully what it was like to be a woman of that era. Not being able to bend at the waist makes life seem very different.”

“I spent a lot of time at the London Library, the oldest private library in England, looking at ancient copies of the Illustrated London News,” says Goodwin. “You can learn a great deal from the small ads.”

“I have edited eight poetry anthologies, including 101 Poems to Save Your Life,” says Goodwin. “I have also written Silver River, a memoir, and I have been a regular columnist for the Sunday Times.”

Goodwin’s editor is Hope Dellon at St Martin’s Press. “Hope made me rewrite the last third of my book,” says Goodwin. “I wasn’t happy about it at the time, but I am very glad I listened to her as the book is so much better as a result. My advice to all authors is only listen to good advice. Because I have worked in television I am quite used to the editing process. It can be very helpful to have an outside point of view.”

“Hope made an offer for my book, and told me that she liked it because it was ‘Henry James without the boring bits.’

Goodwin has been shortlisted for the Galaxy Book of the Year Award. She lives in London.