Saturday, December 12, 2015

To Marry an English Lord

Book 50 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from July 28 - August 9

To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery
by Gail MacColl and Carol McD Wallace

Summary (via the book jacket)
In 1895 nine American girls, including a Vanderbilt (railroads), LaRoche (pharmaceuticals), Rogers (oil), and Whitney (New York trolleys), married peers of the British realm - among them, a duke, and earl, three barons, and a knight. It was the peak year of a social phenomenon that began in the Gilded Age after the American Civil War, and handed down the legacy of Anglomania, preppies, and the world of the television series, Downton Abbey.
In all, more than 100 American heiresses invaded Britain and swapped dollars for titles. Filled with a wealth of historical personalities, grand houses, gossipy anecdotes, and a feature called comme il faut - the very finest points of etiquette that ruled Victorian and Edwardian society - To Marry an English Lord is their story.

My Opinion
The layout required skipping around multiple times due to half and/or full page sidebars inserted throughout the book.  It wasn't hard when reading the print version but I mention it because I could see it being difficult on an e-reader.

I was so excited to see old photos included - I LOVED them!

All of the rituals, such as the protocol of calling cards, sound so overwhelming and difficult.  I guess if you've grown up that way you'd be used to it but it definitely would highlight a newcomer (such as if a man married a woman from a "lower class").

It was dry at times (for example, I only skimmed the 4 page list of "The Top Dollars") but it also had many sparks of interest.  I'm fascinated with the time period so I found a lot of fun facts.  For example, a woman who had not had children or only had daughters "would not consent to be entertained" but once they had given their husband an heir, she "was considered fair game by any interested friends of her husband".  Also, footmen were paid extra for every inch of height over six feet so tall footmen were a sign of wealth.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"The end of July looms...the town houses are closed up again; all the great families scurry back to the country. And their friends, those without country houses of their own, go with them. Because everyone knows: better dead than seen alive in London in August."

"In abandoning a lost cause, the ladies Jerome, Yznaga and Stevens were only doing the sensible thing. Little did they think that in packing their trunks and hopping on a steamer for the Old World, they were setting a pattern for hundreds of American women over the next half-century."

"Just as it was up to the American father to make America rich and powerful, it was up to the American heiress to make America respectable. That was what New York and the rest of American society were after - respect."

"The American heiress thus had to learn what the English wife took for granted: that she was there to produce heirs, run the household to her husband's pleasure, entertain as he deemed necessary and otherwise stay out of his way."

"What her ultimate influence on English life will be it is difficult to estimate at present; but there can be no doubt that, of all the factors that have contributed to the social revolution of London, there are few more important, and none more delightful, than the American invasion." ~ Oscar Wilde in The Pilgrim Daughters

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