Biography and Conversation
Daisy Goodwin is the daughter of film producer
Richard B. Goodwin (A Passage to India, Seven Years in
Tibet) and writer/interior designer Jocasta Innes (Paint
Magic), and the sister of the Edgar-winning writer Jason
Goodwin (The Janissary Tree). She earned a B.A. with
honors in history from Trinity College, Cambridge, followed by a
Harkness Fellowship to Columbia University Film School; and now
runs her own independent television company in the UK.
In addition to publishing eight poetry anthologies, she has
presented award-winning television series on poetry and on the
enduring appeal of romantic fiction, and is a commentator and
columnist for the London Sunday Times. In 2010, she served as chair
of the judging panel for the Orange Prize for the best novel
written in English by a woman. Daisy lives in London with two
daughters, three dogs, and a husband who is an executive for ABC
News. The American Heiress is her first novel.
What was the inspiration for The American
I was visiting Blenheim Palace and saw the portrait of
Consuelo Vanderbilt, the American heiress who married the Duke of
Marlborough. She was very beautiful, but she also looked
spectacularly unhappy. When I read that she was basically
blackmailed into marrying the Duke by her social-climbing mother, I
thought about what a great setup this would be for a novel.
American girls basically propped up the English aristocracy for a
generation. In modern terms, Consuelo's dowry was about $100
million. No wonder a quarter of the British nobility made
I started writing this book at the height of the boom (remember
the boom?), when I was fascinated by the parallels between all
these new billionaires and the plutocrats of the Gilded Age. How
does getting rich that fast affect you? It has to be said, though,
that the rich today are small fry compared to the Vanderbilts and
their ilk, whose idea of a party favor was a jewel-encrusted
Fabergé egg, and who would offer their guests cigarettes rolled
from hundred-dollar bills.
Was there anything you found especially surprising while
researching The American Heiress?
While certain details in The American Heiress
might seem unbelievable, like the solid gold on the corset that
Cora Cash wears on her wedding day, her trousseau is a replica of
Consuelo Vanderbilt's. At her wedding to the Duke, Consuelo carried
orchids that had been grown in the greenhouses of Blenheim and then
shipped to New York in a specially refrigerated chamber because
Marlborough brides always carried flowers from Blenheim. When I
borrowed the detail about Cora's bouquet being brought over from
England for my novel, my editor produced her red pencil and said,
"This can't possibly be true." But in fact, you would have to have
a very vivid imagination indeed to match the real extravagance and
excess of the Gilded Age. Just as contemporary starlets are written
about in the media today, every detail of Consuelo's wedding was
chronicled in Vogue.
How typical was Cora Cash's experience for an American
marrying an English nobleman?
Girls like Consuelo Vanderbilt came to England thinking it would be
the height of sophistication. But for many of these American
brides, a title really didn't make up for the horrors of English
country life. A dollar princess frequently found herself isolated
and miserable in a great pile of a house that, however exquisite,
was miles away from anywhere, with no heating apart from open fires
and-horror of horror-no bathrooms. One titled American bride wrote
home to her mother that she hadn't taken her furs off all winter
even when she went to bed. Another heiress gave up going to dinner
at people's country houses because she couldn't bear the arctic
temperatures in an evening dress. And English society was not
exactly welcoming to these rich newcomers: Imagine Kim Kardashian
marrying Prince Harry today and you get the general idea of the
suspicion and disdain that the Americans encountered.
Those of you who enjoyed the Masterpiece Theatre series
Downton Abbey will remember that the Earl of Grantham
married an American heiress (also called Cora) whose dowry saved
the family estate from ruin. But Downton Abbey is set
twenty years after The American Heiress. By that time even the
stuffiest English aristocrats had realized that American money had
stopped the roof leaking. In Downton Abbey, when Cora,
Countess of Grantham, wonders whether a potential suitor for her
daughter comes from an old family, her mother-in-law, played by
Maggie Smith, retorts, "Older than yours, I imagine." And even the
Countess's own daughter, Lady Mary, dismisses her mother by saying,
"You wouldn't understand. You're American."
The traces of these American girls are everywhere in Britain
today; most people know that Winston Churchill's mother was
American, but the great-grandmother of Princess Diana was also an
What kind of experience was writing this book for
People are always asking me, how do you find time to write a
book-when you run a company, write for the newspapers, have a
family (and three dogs), etc.? My answer to this is
noise-cancelling headphones. Once I plug these in, I can write
anytime, anywhere. A great deal of this novel was written on
trains, planes, and in between meetings.
I absolutely loved writing The American Heiress. To be
able to escape into a world full of beautiful frocks and perfectly
trained servants was a joy.
Who are some of your favorite writers? What authors have
influenced your work?
I love Edith Wharton and Henry James, and anyone familiar with
their work will see echoes in The American Heiress. I also
admire Daphne du Maurier for the way she handles suspense and Sarah
Waters for her utter command of historical period. I really enjoyed
Julian Fellowes's books for the way they dissect snobbery, and
Hilary Mantel is an extraordinary writer both for her present-day
and period novels.