An Interview with the Author
How common was the practice of rich American women marrying into a title?
Very common indeed. From 1880 to 1910 about a third of the British peerage married American heiresses. The "dollar princesses" as they were called, were a transatlantic phenomenon dominating the magazines and even inspiring a musical. The most famous marriage of this sort was between Consuelo Vanderbilt and the 9th Duke of Marlborough, which dominated the headlines in England and America. The trend for American heiresses marrying titles waned after the First World War – rich girls like Barbara Hutton were more likely to marry film stars like Cary Grant than dukes.
Why does Teddy miss his opportunity with Cora despite the fact that they obviously care for each other?
Teddy comes from old money — his family came over on the Mayflower. He knows that his mother would disapprove of the match, but more importantly he wants to paint and he knows that if he marries Cora, he will have no time to do anything else. He also doesn’t want to be thought of as a man who has married for money. Cora thinks she is in love with Teddy but when Mrs. Cash has an accident, Cora knows her place is by her side.
Why doesn’t Cora ever stand up to her mother and tell her what she really wants out of life?
You have to remember, this is 1895. Girls like Cora couldn’t just defy their parents. Moreover, Cora is still in awe of her mother. It’s only at the end of the book, when she asks her mother for help, that she realizes how completely self-obsessed Mrs. Cash is.
How many of the examples of period extravagance in the novel are based on actual examples?
All of them! Every single detail of the Cash mansion and the ball is taken from real-life accounts of life in Newport and New York in the Gilded Age. It was a time when the new rich spent their money lavishly to buy their way into society. Consuelo Vanderbilt’s suspenders, like Cora’s, were made of gold and encrusted with diamonds.
How does Mrs. Cash persevere after being disfigured by severe burns in an accident?
I think Mrs. Cash is a monster, but she is a brave monster. She is so used to getting her own way that it doesn’t occur to her that somehow she should hide away after the accident. Her feeling is that if you are as rich as she is, facial disfigurement is just a minor detail.
Why does Mr. Cash indulge his wife’s social climbing when he doesn’t share her goals?
Guilt. He is a serial philanderer, and it suits him that his wife is kept too busy social climbing to make a fuss about his extramarital excursions.
Why does Ivo wait until he is about to lose Cora before he shares the truth about himself?
Shame, I think. He is genuinely in love with Cora, and he doesn’t want her to know about his past. He loves the fact that she genuinely admires him. And by the time he realizes that Charlotte is trying to destroy their marriage, it is too late.
Teddy is one of the novel’s only honest characters but, in the end, also one of the biggest losers. How are we meant to feel about that?
I never think that readers are “meant” to feel anything. I, too, am fond of Teddy. But I never felt when I was writing him that he was strong enough for Cora.
Will Bertha and Jim get their “happily ever after”?
Oh, definitely. I see them saving up, starting a hotel and becoming wildly successful.
Do you think Cora and Ivo have weathered the worst of what their relationship will have to endure?
I don’t think it will ever be an “easy” relationship, but by the end, Cora knows that Ivo needs her, not just her money. I think that’s the crucial factor. He doesn’t just want an heiress, he wants her. But I don’t think he will enjoy Cora’s suffragette phase.
Look for The American Heiress, in-Club now.
An Interview with the Author | Questions for Discussion