Recently The Socratic Salon hosted a discussion about what it takes for readers to go back to authors who have burned them before. It was an interesting and lively discussion about the ways that we make room for or dismiss authors who have maybe disappointed our hopes in the past.
The first time I read Daisy Goodwin, I was disappointed. In The American Heiress, I was expecting a Downton Abbey worthy story featuring a fabulously wealthy American who comes to Britain intent on snagging a titled young man to marry. And that is the bare bones story but it never really gelled with me. I remember being disappointed that there wasn’t more substance to the story. I’m not sure if I had hoped that she would marry for love or find that a title wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. I’m always annoyed when characters move to other worlds and just expect to be able to do whatever they wanted. I remember being disappointed, though, that the main character lacked any kind of spunk.
But when I saw The Fortune Hunter, and read that it featured the love triangle between Elisabeth of Austria, Bay Middleton, and Middleton’s fiancee Charlotte Baird, well I was immediately willing to forgive Goodwin her past transgressions against me.
If you’ve ever been to Vienna, you’re probably familiar with Elisabeth of Austria because of all the places that her portrait, the one of the young woman in the white ballgown with diamond stars in her abundant hair, is featured. When I went to Vienna and kept seeing the Winterhalter portrait, I was so entranced that I needed to know more about the woman. I found and purchased the Brigitte Hauman biography of Sisi (a book that Goodwin mentioned in her Afterword as being the best written about Sisi).
So I was somewhat familiar with the story. But there’s something so different about reading a biography of a person and having them brought to life by a fictional account.
The Fortune Hunter is a delight. It is the perfect kind of historical fiction novel that hits all the right notes. It manages to find the right balance of expressions that are right for the time without being heavy handed and phoney sounding. I thought Goodwin did an amazing job bringing Elisabeth to life as well as addressing her relationship with Bay Middleton. It’s not ever been proven whether their relationship was romantic and physical, although most tend to agree that it probably was. Charlotte Baird, the heiress to an immense fortune who Middleton did eventually marry, is the kind of heroine I can totally get behind. She doesn’t spend her time getting ready for parties and gossiping, she has an interest in photography and a disdain for the types of women who only think about The Season and getting married, as exemplified in her sister-in-law to be, Augusta.
Oh no I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and am glad that my previous experience with Daisy Goodwin didn’t prevent me from wading into this one whole-heartedly. In the same Afterword, Goodwin mentions that she so enjoyed writing the scenes that feature Queen Victoria (and I can see why, they were hilarious) that she has become a main character for her next novel. She also mentioned that the new biography of Queen Victoria by A.N. Wilson was one of the best biographies written about her. A biography I just so happen have sitting on my table.