Posts Tagged ‘Gail MacColl’

Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace must be fans of Downton Abbey, because their book, To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery has been on all kinds of lists in the press and online about what to read between Downton seasons. The publicity even led to a new edition released last spring which quotes Downton creator Julian Fellowes on the cover.

The Downton connection, to be honest, is why I requested this book on inter-library loan. I’m a Downton Abbey fan, even this year when it’s fashionable to disdain it for being too soap-opera-ish. I love just about anything on Masterpiece Classic, or what my family calls “bonnet shows.” I’m a costume drama nut — in fact, after I took my children to see Harry Potter: the Exhibition and then a couple of years later saw some shows on Broadway I realized what I really am is a costumes, sets, and props nut. Can you imagine how much fun it is to take a script and then design the way it’s going to look on the stage or screen? If I ever decide to start a new career  . . . .

But I digress. To Marry an English Lord is about the period from the late 1800’s through the end of King Edward VII’s brief reign in 1910 when over one hundred American heiresses married into the English aristocracy. Like Lord & Lady Grantham on Downton Abbey, each side got what it wanted: titles for the women (and increased social prestige for their American families) and money for the gentlemen’s shabby or debt-burdened estates. MacColl and Wallace do a great job of telling this story and filling it with interesting historical details about the period on both sides of the Atlantic.

I found the sidebars and sudden interjections of two-page-spread asides a little distracting, though informative. In fact I wondered if the writing was somewhat diminished by the busyness of the design. I love the research and the plethora of details the authors shared, and the way they brought certain characters to life. Alva Vanderbilt for example — I had to admire her chutzpah after reading what MacColl and Wallace had to say about her. The book is richly illustrated, so you can see Alva and many of the other people the authors are describing as well as their dresses, houses, jewels, children and more. I can see what attracted Fellowes, because it’s perfect for a writer who wants to get the details right for a story.

One of the things I found most interesting was the way American women shook up English society a bit, not only with their lavish spending, their style and penchant for entertaining, but also with their modern views. The authors point out that the heiresses weren’t just rich ladies with expensive tastes who shopped and threw extravagant parties. They changed British views about inheritance, control over money, and divorce. They influenced or got involved personally in politics. And they did a lot of good in their adopted country, raising money for various causes as well as preserving a number of great homes.

I was also very intrigued by the way Edward, as Prince of Wales and later as King, had so much to do with the American invasion. This was a part of the story I didn’t know, that he loved America and Americans, especially women. I had no idea that until just before his reign, the U.S. only had a consulate, not a full embassy (his strong personal ties to influential Americans may have been a factor in the upgrade). Nor did I know that he befriended so many of the heiresses, sometimes endorsed various matches and was godfather to many Anglo-American babies.

A very interesting, edifying and entertaining read.

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