Heiresses: The Lives of the Million Dollar Babies
by Laura Thompson
Throughout history, the lives of the rich and wealthy have provided much fodder for research and novels. Heiresses: The Lives of the Million Dollar Babies explores the lives of countless heiresses — both their “fortunes” and misfortunes. And what stories and lives have been lived within these pages!
I found this book to be an insightful and heavily researched read. The book explores the lives of numerous women from the 1600s onwards. Of particular interest to me was the first section with the emphasis on forced marriages and kidnapping for sport. This exploration of women’s rights through the lens of the lives of uber-wealthy heiresses was unique. I also appreciated the author’s voice and writing style, which shone through in commentary.
As a fan of Jane Austen, there were numerous references to this famous authoress’ work that I really enjoyed. What didn’t work as well for me, however, was that there was a lot of information hopping. We’d start with one heiress, who would remind the author of another heiress and her sister from years prior, who would be the mistress of another heiress’ grandfather… All of these names and dates started to merge together for me, unfortunately, and I often felt a bit lost.
However, I did enjoy the overall story. It’s clear that an abundant amount of research has gone into this book and I appreciated the depth of information. I learned a lot! These women were often taken advantage of and many led lives that were wild but also, very unhappy. As a historical study, this was a revealing and interesting read into a fascinating topic.
Recommended for: Those looking for a solidly-researched, historical account of women heiresses throughout time — with a strong feminist voice.
This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. eArc provided courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.
About Heiresses: The Lives of the Million Dollar Babies
(From the publisher) 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 million dollar babies: 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; and Patty Hearst, heiress to a newspaper fortune who was arrested for terrorism. However, there are also stories of independence and 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; and 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.