5 Jun 2011
Review: "My Last Duchess"
Now I haven't watched the much raved about series Downton Abbey but according to several reviews "My Last Duchess" by Daisy Goodwin resembles the tone and topics of the series - and having just devoured the book, I have now ordered the tv series and am looking forward to feasting on upstairs and below-stairs drama. Just as in "My Last Duchess". If you enjoy books set in England back when it was still an empire and when a woman was a lady and a man was a gentleman then you really must read this one. It is a literary edition of a Georgette Heyer story, a romantic historical novel and very much reminded me of films like "Gosford Park" and "Easy Virtue".
Cora Cash (what an appropriate last name...) is one the richest heiresses in the United States and the daughter of what must be one of the most fiercely ambitious mothers in the world. Not content with being just a society lady, she has her eyes set on being the mother of a titled lady. Which means that she is ready to sell her daughter to the highest bidder in terms of social capital. So with this objective in mind, Cora and her mother travels to England in the hope of being able to buy there way into the choicest social circles. Preferably royal connections - or at least a duke. It is hard to say more without revealing too much and as I really do not like spoilers in my reviews.
Let me say though that Cora and her mother probably get more than they bargained for because the English society is by no means ready to be bought by what they perceive as vulgar, brassy americans... Cora, a spirited young woman, has to watch her every step and even then she sometimes stumble in the undergrowth of unsaid and unwritten rules. At the same time, the reader also follows the life of Cora's loyal and loving maid as she follows her mistress to a country very far away from the Southern state that she grew up in and where the rules below stairs are as difficult as the rules in the drawing and ball rooms.
I loved the fact that Cora is so spirited. Yes she is somewhat naive and yes she does let her mother push her around a bit but in general, she is a strong young woman. She is determined not to be bullied by what she perceives as antiquated English manners and opinions and she carries her American heritage with pride. Warming to her was easy for me - just I felt the same degree of loath for her mother (and mother-in-law) as I feel for Lady Catherine de Bourgh... if you know what I mean.
This is a lovely book, it is a great escape into a different time and as a romance it works really well without becoming too much.
Read it if: You like historical romances where the Old World meets the New World - where old families meet new money. Read if if you were enchanted by the fairy tale of Prince William and Kate Middleton, Downton Abbey, Gosford Park.