This book has been on my bookish antennae for some time so I was pleased to pick it up in one of the many second-hand book shops I visited on my recent trip to Hay. I had been looking forward to reading it and purposely saved it for when I knew I would have plenty of time to gobble it in large chunks. It was a good decision because as I expected I found it hard to put down.
The Last Duchess is the story of Cora Cash, the wealthiest heiress to come out of 1890’s America. She comes from a family who believe money can buy anything. Her mother whisks her away to England to secure her a suitably titled member of the aristocracy forcing her to leave behind Teddy, the man she loved. Her sadness is compounded as she is met with a frosty welcome this side of the pond by those who are critical of her vulgar American ways. Unexpectedly Cora falls in love with a Duke and the owner of the grand Lulworth Estate. However as might be expected the course of true love does not run smoothly and those cold Britishers who were suspicious of her initially do little to make her more welcome as she tries to find her place within their closed circles.
This book is full of decadence and glamour but is by no means shallow. It is a tale of , the misery and complications that go with a life of privilege and has themes of love, of envy, and of passion.
As a character Cora at first glance has the potential to be hugely unlikable. After all, she is rich beyond comprehension, she is beautiful and she is inevitably spoilt. And yet I liked her, she had a vulnerability that made her a trusting and loyal wife and friend. I admired her strength of character, her determination and her courage. She showed an unexpected willingness to immerse herself in a world that was snobbish, unfriendly and unforgiving.
Cora’s pleasing character was more than made up for by the collection of very displeasing characters. Both of the mothers in the story are monstrous creatures concerned only with vanity and image. The character of Charlotte, Cora’s supposed friend and confidant is spiteful and her husband is equally unpleasant.
I loved the detail of the food and the fabulous costumes, and any book that features leg of mutton sleeves as often as this one does is alright by me.
“The width of their enormous leg-of-mutton sleeves made it difficult for them to talk easily…”
“Upstairs the drawing room was now full to bursting. Women were having to turn sideways to pass each other on account of their leg-of-mutton sleeves. Heads crowned with ostrich plumes and diamond aigrettes twisted to get the best view of the new Duchess…”
This is a book to luxuriate and indulge in when the need to periodically come up for air or sustenance is infrequent. The last page in the book finishes with these words “Not The End” I’m thrilled by this and cannot wait for the next instalment.