Caroline Maxwell is a young American heiress in the 1890s who “needs” a husband. Her parents, especially her mother, are setting up social events to introduce Caroline to suitable men. Caroline enjoys a life of luxury, living in a home with 60 rooms and many servants on New York’s Fifth Avenue.
Caroline, however, would rather be going on adventures with her brother, Eddie, and his best friend, Jack Culhane, instead of being shown off like a prize horse. Caroline’s mother learns that Lord Bremerton is visiting from England. Nothing would please her more than to have Caroline marry British nobility and become the Duchess of Endsleigh.
The summer season is about to begin in Newport at a friend’s cottage because the Maxwell’s cottage, Rosemead, is being renovated. Rosemead is not a cottage by today’s standards; it has 40 rooms. Caroline confides in Jack that she wants a relationship with passion, not one that is arranged.
Caroline’s days are beginning to be scheduled by her mother, including a bike ride with friends – in which she had to wear a long dress and wasn’t allowed to wear knickerbockers because they were “unseemly.”
While on the ride, Caroline notices that one of her friends, Harriet Vandermeulen, is interested in Jack. Other social outings include tennis matches – though Caroline cannot participate because her mother deems that too “sporty” and thus unappealing to men.
Jack’s father just acquired a house in Newport and Jack will be there in the summer while he conducts business in Providence. When Caroline’s mother arrives in Newport, she decides to host a costume ball for Lord Bremerton.
Newport is getting crowded and Harriet’s family is there too. On one occasion, Jack steals away from Harriet and finds Caroline alone. He tells her he knows Harriet is interested in him but he doesn’t want to marry Harriet. Jack kisses Caroline and despite her mother’s wishes, she becomes convinced that Jack is the man for her. Harriet has other ideas and confides in Caroline that she has already booked a church for her December wedding to Jack, even though Jack knows nothing of Harriet’s plans.
Meanwhile, to make Caroline more appealing to Lord Bremerton, her mother has hired a new governess to help Caroline learn proper English titles. Her governess also serves as a watchdog to make sure Caroline’s behavior is appropriate. Caroline eventually meets Lord Bremerton, who is cold and speaks of their future marriage as an exchange between her money and his title without romantic happiness, which he describes as “a peculiar American desire.” Lord Bremerton has noticed that she spends a lot of time with Jack.
Caroline learns that Lord Bremerton is asking her father’s permission to marry her.
Her mother says Harriet’s father would never allow Harriet to marry Jack because his family’s wealth is “new money” - it doesn’t extend back three generations.
Caroline tells her mother that Lord Bremerton treats her as a child and that they have no common interests but her mother is. You’ll have to read the book to find out if Caroline marries the love of her life or whether her mother marries her off to Lord Bremerton, about whom they know dangerously little.
The book offers a wonderful look into the life of the wealthy in the 1890s and makes you appreciate how much things have changed for women. Janet Evanovich is a bestselling author and Dorien Kelly lives in Michigan.
Maggie Braun is a teacher at Manhattan High School.