New York Times bestselling author Laura Thompson returns with a fascinating look at the lives of heiresses throughout history and the often tragic truth beneath the gilded surface.
Heiresses: surely they are among the luckiest women on earth. Are they not to be envied, with their private jets and Chanel wardrobes and endless funds? Yet all too often those gilded lives have been beset with trauma and despair. Before the 20th century a wife’s inheritance was the property of her husband, making her vulnerable to kidnap, forced marriages, even confinement in an asylum. And in modern times, heiresses fell victim to fortune-hunters who squandered their millions.
Heiresses tells the stories of these women: Mary Davies, who inherited London’s most valuable real estate, and was bartered from the age of twelve; Consuelo Vanderbilt, the original American “Dollar Heiress”, forced into a loveless marriage; Barbara Hutton, the Woolworth heiress who married seven times and died almost penniless; Patty Hearst, heiress to a newspaper fortune who was arrested for terrorism. However, there are also stories of achievement: Angela Burdett-Coutts, who became one of the greatest philanthropists of Victorian England; Nancy Cunard, who lived off her mother’s fortune and became a pioneer of the civil rights movement; Daisy Fellowes, elegant linchpin of interwar high society and noted fashion editor.
Heiresses is about the lives of the rich, who—as F. Scott Fitzgerald said—are ‘different’. But it is also a bigger story about how all women fought their way to equality, and sometimes even found autonomy and fulfillment.