British Literature Review: The American Heiress, Daisy Goodwin

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An Engaging Novel for 12th Grade Students Who Enjoyed Downton Abbey

The American Heiress is a historical fiction novel which will interest students who enjoy watching Downton Abbey with their moms. (And I can say that because I am one of those moms!). This novel is not for everyone, but every year I have one or two students who choose to read it independently and enjoy it. I wrote this review in 2012, but feel it is still relevant. 

Here is a link to the author’s website: My Last Duchess — Daisy Goodwin

This book is historical fiction at its finest, giving the reader an inside look at an awkward time in British history. Wealthy American young women were looking for a British title, and English men needed American money to keep their castles afloat. 

Our protagonist, Cora, marries Ivo, but finds that a young American girl trying to fit in to British society is beyond difficult. She quickly learns that marrying for a title is certainly more challenging than marrying for love.

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Historical Fiction - British Literature Appropriate for 12th Grade Students

This book really held my attention. I read it in just a few days, even with a five month old baby taking up the majority of my time. Instead of my neverending to-do list while my son naps, I was curling up on the couch, diving back into Cora and Ivo’s lives. When the book ended I wasn’t devastated. (This sometimes happens to me. My husband can easily tell by my mood if I have had to say goodbye to my “book friends”, as he calls them). But I didn’t want it to finish. I wanted to see what happened next.

Originally, I picked up this book because someone told me it was similar to the PBS series, Downton Abbey, which I am psychotically and fanatically obsessed with. And there is a similarity in that an American girl marries a British royal, she for the title and he for the money to fix up his old, run down castle. However, in Downton, the Granthams are already married. The viewer finds out that this deal occurred many years before and that, despite the negotiations, the two are very much in love.  In The American Heiress, we get a front row seat to the ugliness of these marital arrangements, which were apparently commonplace around this time. 

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Characters and Setting

The setting is beautiful, an old, musty English castle (Yesssssssssssssssssssssssssss!), with the gossiping servants downstairs and the gossiping royals upstairs.  I found myself wanting more to happen with the house and the quaint little town. I do love me an old castle and some “polite” English society!

Cora is a privileged socialite who is desperate to get away from her scheming, showy mother. She wants to marry for love and her mother wants her to marry for a title. Cora is arrogant, bossy, and emotional, but has an innocence that made me really enjoy her. 

I felt for Cora, being so naïve in this foreign society with all of its strange social niceties. In places it is tough to read on, knowing that she is about to embarrass herself and she doesn’t have the faintest clue. I found myself angry at the characters who allowed this to happen to her and feeling her humiliation along with her.

The Duke of Wareham is a puzzling character. He is extremely moody and secretive and I never really knew what he was thinking. I felt as though I couldn’t get a read on him, which was the author’s motive, I’m sure, but still entirely frustrating. 

He reminded me a little (and I stress a LITTLE) of Austen’s Mr. Darcy, who, like every other female lover of British literature, I love dearly, with all of my heart, and if I wasn’t in love with my husband I would be off stalking Colin Firth. I found Wareham sexy and detached at the same time, but also somewhat two dimensional.  

In Conclusion...

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed The American Heiress and will look forward to more books by Goodwin, especially if it is set a couple hundred years ago in England. Yes, please.

Check out this review from The New York Times.

Who this book is for: Lovers of British literature. I can’t see many freshmen and sophomores loving this book, but juniors and seniors who may be fans of historical fiction and shows like Downton Abbey would enjoy it. 

My recommendation: I liked it, but didn’t love it. There is nothing explicit in this book, although there is some kissing and sex is implied, but never described. A very clean read. 

Purchase The American Heiress here. 

Check out the lesson planning template that I use for creating and organizing my lessons here!

If you enjoyed this review, check out this post I wrote on PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley!

An Enjoyable Historical Fiction Novel for 12th Grade Students Who Love Historical Fiction!