Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sisters of Fortune by Jehanne Wake


As gripping as the best historical novel -- an exuberant account of the American sisters who enthralled high society in the wake of Waterloo. The Caton sisters were Southern belles descended from the first settlers in Maryland, and were expected to 'marry a Plantation'. But they were independent, fascinated by politics, clever with money, romantic in mood. Arriving In London in 1816 the three sisters forged their own destinies in the face of intense prejudice, against both Americans and Catholics. 

The widowed Marianne shocked the world by marrying the Wellington's wayward elder brother, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and appearing as a 'Catholic Yankee' among the Protestant Anglo-Irish. Louisa eventually became Duchess of Leeds, and a friend of Queen Victoria, while the sphere in which Bess shone was the stockmarket, as queen of speculators. 

 Based on intimate unpublished letters, Sisters of Fortune is a brilliant portrait of love between sisters, a most unusual story of money and power and a fascinating glimpse of how these extraordinary women influenced the social and international relations of their time. 

Jehanne Wake's Sisters of Fortune is a biographical book about the lives of four sisters: Marianne, Bess, Louisa, and Emily Caton. Granddaughters of Charles Carroll of Carrollton who signed the Declaration of Independence and a Senator Maryland, they were born into a world of wealth and politics. Of the four sisters, Marianne was the most beautiful and is depicted foremost on the cover. Suffering with asthma, she travelled to the more humid climate of England for health reasons accompanied by her sisters Marianne, Bess, and Louisa. Their sister Emily remained behind. 

Needless to say, the sisters took English society by storm and they soon found love, married, while causing a few scandals along the way. Marianne, the great beauty of the trio, married the Marquess Richard Wellesly and became Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Adelaide. Louisa married twice. Her first husband was Colonel Felton Hervey whom she deeply loved. When he died, she married Lord Carmarthen, a future Duke of Leeds. And last, but not least, Bess also found herself married to nobility – George Jerningham, Baron of Costessey Hall. 

Beyond capturing the women’s lives, the book does not shy away from depicting anti-American sentiments by the British. When reading the book, it becomes readily apparent that author Jeanne Wake did an incredible amount of research, much of it based on actual letters written amongst Caton family members. It is an incredible story of three educated American women who were able to influence European politics and managed handled financial affairs – rare indeed during the early 18th century. A fascinating, detailed, memoir about three women who reigned victorious under difficult social and gender-based restrictions!

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