New York Times bestselling author Laura Thompson returns with Heiresses, a fascinating look at the lives of heiresses throughout history and the often tragic truth beneath the gilded surface.
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.
About the Author
LAURA THOMPSON won the Somerset Maugham award for her first book, The Dogs, and is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters. Other books include the critically-acclaimed Life in a Cold Climate, a biography of Nancy Mitford, and Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life, which was nominated for an Edgar Allen Poe award in 2019.
"Trapped in a silk-draped Venn diagram with the socialite and hostess, the heiress has been an unfair object of ridicule. After years of getting dragged through the tabloids and trotted out on reality shows like one of her beloved show ponies, she is both restored to dignity by Thompson’s concerned embrace and pushed away with an air kiss.” –New York Times Book Review
“[A] romp through the lives of the filthy rich.” –Wall Street Journal
“Skillfully evoking disparate social milieus and generational divides, Thompson packs the narrative full of juicy gossip without resorting to caricature. Readers will be enthralled.” –Publishers Weekly
“Authoritative, eye-opening, and gloriously gossipy.”--Booklist
“Engaging...A book that offers insight as well as entertainment—a peek into the human condition from an unexpected angle.” –Kirkus Reviews
“Heiresses is a haunting reflection on the gilded cage and its stifled female occupants, from Consuelo Vanderbilt to Barbara Hutton. Thompson shows in mordant detail how money really can’t buy you love.” –Daisy Goodwin, bestselling author of The American Heiress
"Heiresses is a book perfectly calibrated for our times. Thompson manages to shine a light into what it meant historically for women to have money and why it gave them some power but little happiness in a book that feels remarkably modern...witty, insightful, deliciously gossip laden and slightly scandalous." —Anne Sebba, bestselling author of Les Parisiennes
“With her characteristic wit and verve, Laura Thompson takes us through the follies, intrigues and dramas of the lives of a gallery of history’s heiresses from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Her colourful saga of abductions, elopements, clandestine Fleet weddings and cynical marriages of convenience where millions were at stake, is rich with perceptive detail and will keep the reader entertained to the very last page.” —Helen Rappaport, bestselling author of The Romanov Sisters
“An engaging study of the effect wealth has on women.” —Anne de Courcy, author of The Husband Hunters and Chanel’s Riviera
“Excellent ... [A] wonderfully entertaining book.” –Sunday Times (UK)
“[A] deeply empathetic study of heiresses through the ages.” –The Times (UK)
“Thompson, a gifted storyteller, obviously delighted in the writing of this book.” –Times Literary Supplement (UK)
“[An] absorbing study of women burdened by prodigious inheritances…Thompson presents a gossip-strewn survey of rich women with time on their hands.” –Financial Times (UK)
“[A] fluent, readable study of wealthy women.” –The Daily Telegraph (UK)
“Laura Thompson shows how heiresses have a knack of letting their fortune slip through their fingers...by marrying fortune-hunting men.” –Mail on Sunday (UK)
“An entertaining introduction to the adventures of independently wealthy women in Britain over the past four centuries…witty, wide-ranging and intelligent.” --BBC History Magazine
“A fascinating account of the lives of women born filthy rich.” --BEST Magazine (UK)
“Brilliantly entertaining.” --The Style Life (UK)