American Duchess

American Duchess

by Karen Harper

Overview: Karen Harper tells the tale of Consuelo Vanderbilt, her “The Wedding of the Century” to the Duke of Marlborough, and her quest to find meaning behind “the glitter and the gold.” On a cold November day in 1895, a carriage approaches St Thomas Episcopal Church on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. Massive crowds surge forward, awaiting their glimpse of heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt. Just 18, the beautiful bride has not only arrived late, but in tears, yet her marriage to the aloof Duke of Marlborough proceeds. Bullied into the wedding by her indomitable mother, Alva, Consuelo loves another. But a deal was made, trading some of the vast Vanderbilt wealth for a title and prestige, and Consuelo, bred to obey, realizes she must make the best of things.

At Blenheim Palace, Consuelo is confronted with an overwhelming list of duties, including producing an “heir and a spare,” but her relationship with the duke quickly disintegrates. Consuelo finds an inner strength, charming everyone from debutantes to diplomats including Winston Churchill, as she fights for women’s suffrage. And when she takes a scandalous leap, can she hope to attain love at last…?

From the dawning of the opulent Gilded Age, to the battles of the Second World War, American Duchess is a riveting tale of one woman’s quest to attain independence—at any price.

Deanna Boe (06/10/19): I enjoy reading historical fiction, but that wasn’t true with this one. The writing style leaves something to be desired; in fact I was shocked to see where she has written over 40 other novels. They fall under the following three styles: Historical Novels, the Queen Elizabeth Mystery Series, and Suspense. This novel doesn’t leave me curious to try one of her other books. You need to remember this is a novel based on true facts.

This is about the heiress Consuelo “Vanderbilt,” who at the age of eighteen was “forced” into marrying the 9th Duke of Marlborough of England by her Mother. Why? The Mother wanted a “title” in their family and during this period of history it was quite mandatory for children to obey their parents. The Duke of Marlborough had in his possession the only castle not owned by the royal family in England. It was a huge castle that had hundreds of rooms. What was the problem? The Duke was basically broke and so he needed an American wife with money in order to fix up and maintain this castle. There were several women who became brides of royals for this very reason in England; they were called “Dollar Brides.” It didn’t make any difference that Consuelo was in love with someone else, her Mother prevailed.

Consuelo did manage to produce the “required” son and a “spare” (another son) to become the 10th Duke of Marlborough. Their marriage was a failure. In order to divorce they had to go through many requirements of the government and the church, but eventually she succeeded. In the meantime she had met a Frenchman and fallen in love with him. This relationship was encouraged by her father, but it was years before they were able to “qualify” and marry. Divorced people back then had a very difficult time obtaining the correct sanctifications by the church and the government to re-marry.

This is a book that starts with the Gilded Age and goes through World War II and life in England. One sentence did stand out for me when Consuelo and her French husband were fleeing France when the Germans invaded. They were trying to get to Portugal to then reach the United States. Consuelo didn’t quite know how to react when they were forced to leave her “lady in waiting” behind. She had had a lady’s maid her whole life to wait upon her. She was in her 60’s at this point . Can you imagine having someone wait on you every moment of your life? Other reviews I read about this book went all the way from wonderful to horrible, I probably fall somewhere in between, your decision.
Rating: ***-

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