Two fictitious women named Cora end up in similar circumstances as American heiresses to European aristocrats in the 1890s. In Julian Fellowes’ Downton Abbey, the popular PBS series, and in the acclaimed novel, The American Heiress, written so beautifully by Daisy Goodwin both Coras are based on many real-life wealthy American women.
At the end if the nineteenth century it has been estimated that 450 American heiresses married European aristocrats: earls, counts, princes, dukes, viscounts, marquises, barons, and knights. The wealthy in general and the heiresses in particular became the first true celebrities in American life as Ms. Goodwin precisely points out.
“The New York Times suggested in 1893 that as much as fifty million dollars might have accompanied the American brides as they sailed across the Atlantic for their new lives in the decayed and impoverished estates of the great aristocratic families.” From Titled Americans, 1890: The Real Heiresses’ Guide to Marrying an Aristocrat.
We can only imagine the relationships of these heiresses with their noblemen. Most of the marriages appear to be loveless and arranged: the heiresses gained titles and the crumbling estates rose up like the phoenix. But what about love and marriage? In Downton Abbey, the love between Countess Cora and Lord Grantham took a few years to cultivate. On the other hand, Cora Cash and the destitute Ninth Duke of Wareham, meet accidentally and fall in love before either realize the other’s circumstance.
If you’re a Downton Abbey fan I say there’s a fair-to-middling chance you’ll enjoy The American Heiress. And in my humble opinion don’t believe the reviews that state Daisy Goodwin’s ending is predictable.