"The American Heiress" had my attention when I saw that it would attract the "Downton Abbey" fan....guilty as charged so why not read it? It was also a longer read than anything else I've read this summer so I knew it would take me more than a week to finish it. I tend to get a bit of teenager ADD when I read books and after page 250, it better be damn good with great character voice and plot or I won't finish the book. Wouldn't you know it, this book got juicy at about page 225 so I was hooked until the end.
The premise of this story is one that is common to the origins of 19th Century aristocracy and birthright; women married for money, a title, a big house (manor) and prayed like crazy that they would birth a male heir so that they weren't homeless and penniless after their husbands passed away. They didn't vote or work for a wage; they birthed, shopped and had tea with their stuffy neighbors. If you're a Downton Abbey junkie, you know that Mary, the eldest daughter, is on the hot trail to marry a semi-decent titled man who can take over the estate so that she can continue to live the high life that she's had since birth. This book is the same gig. An American heiress, Cora Cash, sets out to marry a English man (cue the swoony music because he'll have an accent) because she wants to be that kind of woman: the woman who marries a man who needs her money, but has a little of his own (and a title) when she finds him so she is set in society and can keep her mother happy.
I'm not going to lie, I struggle with the facts of pre-women's rights days. I hate reading about women who were exiled because they could only birth daughters and women who had severe eating disorders because they were condemned to a marriage that was a political alliance and not two people in love joining in matrimony to have a fulfilling life and family together. As I read this book, I was oddly haunted by a lot of cultural expectations that still exist among women of the modern age. Yes, I know that you can totally go against the grain and do it your own way, but there are a lot of cultural standards that are still set and expected to be adhered to by religions and other sets of standards. I, myself, having been raised in the Mormon Church, have felt insanely ridiculous pressure to marry for the resume and not the human. I have friends who have been raised in other religious sects who have felt much of the same pressure. To that, I say "what the hell?" This is 2015, people. Life is short, it should be sweet and ENJOYED. We claim that we are on our way to equality, but are we? At what point will it be OK to say, "I'm exercising my right to be treated as an equal in a marriage by not forcing myself to marry random dude so-and-so because he asked and he seems to be a pretty OK choice and can provide me with a wedding in the church (temple) and he has a job that will pay our bills." Holy run-on sentence, but HOLY reality of life.
After the Supreme Court ruled for the equality of marriage earlier this year, I cheered. I cheered because I thought, there has to be more of a mentality for equality in ALL things and if the right to marry whoever you want, male or female, is the start then hear hear...I'll toast to that! I am a LOVER of the men, but I was so happy to see some movement for choices that served the masses. Women (and men) all over the world live in agony and abuse and a web of lies because they are living with relationships, both marital and professional, that are completely illegal, ridiculous and/or avoidable.
As "The American Heiress" continued there was a constant looming hunch that Cora's husband, the duke, was somehow being unfaithful to her. The social expectation (shudder) was that most men who were in politically driven marriages had a mistress on the side aka they were sleeping with the one who lit their fire while producing heirs with the one who was living in their castle and shared a sir name. Super awesome. Cora is constantly wondering if she is doing enough to please her husband and provide him with happiness at home so that he doesn't feel the need to take a mistress, if he hasn't already. I have to give props to the author because she had me guessing right until the end as to the correct answer. The moving pieces from all angles were nail-biting. As I've thought about these themes since finishing the book, I've come to these conclusions, or sealed what I already knew:
- I am SO grateful I was not born a rich girl. As much as I would love to not have a care in the financial world, I will take being poor, with substance, fidelity and true love, any day.
- We have a lot of work to do to be truly equal in relationships. We think we are liberal, but mentally we are still programmed to be submissive in some areas. Stop that. Embrace that you are a contributing human being to society for more than being the 9 month holding tank for humans.
- No matter what, we deserve to be in relationships with someone who is QUALITY not quantity. I bet if we could conduct an interview with Diana, the Princess of Wales, we would have all sort of facts to back this statement up. God rest her soul because she went through so much to be hitched to the carriage of a royal. Her consolation, as she watches from heaven, is a son who married the untitled woman he loved and has been an incredibly amazing husband and father, unlike his dad.
I hope that my musings on marriage and equality will provide a glimmer of hope and inspiration to someone out there who feels the pressure to marry for quantity over quality. If we are believers in true destiny, whether it be that which is provided by God or karma, then HOLD OUT to the day when your Gilbert Blythe comes walking through the door to love you til the day he dies and treats you like the incredible, smart, sassy lady that you are through and through.
The moral of the story: We deserve equality. Lean in, stand up, speak up, don't settle and make it happen.
Until next time, my lovelies.