Heiresses: The Lives of the Million Dollar Babies

Macmillan Audio. Feb. 2022. 13:03 hrs. ISBN 9781250837554. $26.99. BIOG
Biographer Thompson (The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters) sketches the lives of British and American women who were shaped by inherited money. She sets the scene with an overview of heiresses in literature, particularly in Jane Austen’s novels, then jumps back to the tragic story of one of England’s earliest heiresses, Mary Davies, whose inheritance made her a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. This is typical of the lives of 18th-and early 19th-century heiresses: their value is in their ability to raise their husband’s status. The Gilded Age stories become more familiar yet equally tragic. There are some rays of light, such as Winnaretta Singer, heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune, who built a life as a patron of the arts (and an out lesbian) in early 20th-century Paris. The lives of 20th-century heiresses (Emerald Cunard, Barbara Hutton, Patty Hearst, et al.) are chronicled in the last half. Thompson narrates the audiobook in a crisp British accent that’s a good fit for the content; her tone and pace vary to heighten tension or share a good bit of gossip.
VERDICT Suggested to those who enjoyed Anderson Cooper’s Vanderbilt or Bill Dedman’s Empty Mansions.
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