I recently read The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin, a birthday present from my sister who purchased it for me because the cover said “for those suffering from Downton Abbey withdrawal symptoms.”
That was me, alright. My guilty pleasure is not Cosmopolitan or Fifty Shades of Grey, although no judgement there. We’ve all got the things that take us away from the day to day. For me, it is anything from the gilded ages, the magical moments of history that were not actually as magical as adaptations make them appear. I know the world wasn’t filled with romantic interludes and perfect blushing cheeks back then, and it certainly isn’t now. But sometimes it is just so nice to sit down and let a dramatic, tangled love story take you away from emails and modern worries.
I like to worry about gowns for a couple of hours a day instead of my real problems; I like to be horrified and frustrated that the man I love is not from my social class. These are problems that I don’t have, so they are perfect tool for escape. Especially because they are tied up in a neat little bow at the end of the story, all the silk trim and lace bodices fitted to perfection.
The woman always has a new gown at the end, and the guy always finds her dazzling, despite the fact that she is a little headstrong for women of her time. But that is why we are drawn to historical fiction like this. We like to be on her side, the side of the female who is appalling to society but endearing to us. We project ourselves on her, sure that if we were born in 1750 or 1889 or 1912 that we would be just as plucky and brave. We would find the man willing to break barriers for us. In reality, how many of us would actually embody that character? It is an interesting phenomenon to think about. Who would you be if you were born in another century?
This book made me think about that, as well as rekindle an appreciation for carefully chosen prose. Although the story is perhaps typical of historical fiction, it sucked me in with the delicate language and honest description. I love when I have mixed feelings about a protagonist. In this case, Cora has her moments where I dislike her, moments where I empathize with her, and moments where I respect her. That’s real. The summation of all of those elements equal a real person created with words — that is good writing.
Another reason this book is an example of good historical fiction is that there is more than one story line; the subplot of Bertha (main character Cora’s maid) and Jim is just as powerful as the turbulent marriage of Cora and Ivan on the surface. Add lots of drama with mothers, cousins, and past affairs to a couple of dramatic love stories, and you have the perfect poison for guilty pleasure cravings. Although honestly, this book was so well-written, it didn’t feel like a guilty pleasure to me at all.
Looking for more books to try? Check out my other reviews! ❤