As a writer of historical fiction, I have to admit that I am always being inspired by the history books that I read and am constantly adding to a massive list of possible subjects for future novels. I can’t actually understand writers who don’t read (to be honest, I can’t get to grips with ANYONE who doesn’t read much – I think they must be a bit creepy to only have their own boring thoughts rolling about in their heads like marbles) though but it can get a bit wearying to constantly have the ‘THIS WOULD MAKE AN AWESOME NOVEL’ klaxon going off.
To Marry an English Lord set off so many klaxons while I was reading it that I think my nerves were a mess by the time I’d finished it. What a great book though – it takes a look at the late 19th century phenomenon of disgustingly wealthy American heiresses marrying into the English (and other European) aristocracies and the various triumphs and travails that they encountered along the way.
Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough and her son Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill, Boldini, 1906. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
As Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers is one of my all time favourite novels, I was always bound to enjoy reading about their real life counterparts but I didn’t expect to be quite so enthralled by the endless descriptions of lavish costume balls, houses decorated with genuine antiques ripped out of val de Loire chateaux and the stressful iniquity of entertaining royalty in draughty, inconvenient British mansions.
It was fabulous too to read about the development of the American heiress over just a few decades from the point that they were excluded by dint of being too ‘new’ and parvenu from snobbish New York well heeled society and so resolved to take their chances in Europe instead where there were copious amounts of cash strapped aristocrats crying out for an injection of American money to their final triumph as a new breed of ‘American Aristocrat’ – groomed, exquisitely dressed in Worth gowns, well educated and poised to take the world by storm.
Jennie Jerome, Lady Randolph Churchill and one of the original American Buccaneers. Photo: Private Collection.
This was a fascinating book that provided a veritable feast of information about a remarkable and rather romantic social revolution. I’ll admit that I was really only in it for the descriptions of houses and dresses but I came away inspired and keen to learn more. Maybe I’ll even write about it one day!
Definitely recommended for anyone who likes their history on the opulently flouncy side. I’d really like to read Fortune’s Daughters: The Extravagant Lives of the Jerome Sisters – Jennie Churchill, Clara Frewen and Leonie Leslie next but might wait and see if it comes out on Kindle as I hate reading books on anything else now! Have I become as bad and incomprehensible as people who don’t read at all now? Such hypocrisy – how I disgust myself.
(I’ve just realised that Winnaretta Singer, the most fabulously named of the American Buccaneers, who went on to marry Prince Edmond de Polignac was born on this day in 1865, which is quite fortuitous really.)