"…but American girls are pretty and charming – little oases of pretty unreasonableness in a vast desert of practical common-sense."
– Oscar Wilde
The England of Victoria was scattered with the bones of their disappointment. They foundered on society's unforgiving landscape and were held fast, like sparrows caught on barbed wire. They swooned, jeweled wraiths, across a countryside of regret.
These were the daughters of America, bred from the new, raw, ricih. Vanderbilt. Morgan. Whitney. Jerome. Thjeir fathers were the barons and the bankers, dirty from railroads, mines and Wall Street. Their mothers were coarse and pushy – seeing their future in the calling cards accumulating in the salverby the door.
They had the money. But the family name needed something beyond wealth, it needed dignity, it needed respectability. So it was the responsibility of their dainty – if doomed – daughters to wash their fathers' hands and smooth their mothers' silhouettes and manners.
These nouveau riche had made their names. But they also needed titles. So they groomed their daughters, pressing them like flowers between the intolerant walls of behavior and decorum. They were being prepred for adventures across the sea, and England was ripe for plunder.
Waiting to be claimed by these "dollar princesses" were the impoverished sons of the peerage, languishing in ballrooms like dying wolves. English girls, steeped in tradition and hooded eyes, had no chance against the audacious competitors which invaded their country. There was a type of charm in their impudence and fresh faces. They flirted and teased with a rapier-like modesty. Like pirates they ransacked the aristocracy until their accents rang in every large house in the country.
But the Victorian aristocracy had been growing tired and decadent. The husbands who had married American money bore hidden depravities and resentments like coiled diseases. Their country houses were dank and moldy, chilling their golden brides. The romantic wistfulness, the daring hand on an ungloved arm, were all for show at the Mayfair parties.
So many times after the marriage, the heiress would fade away, her fine dresses never unpacked, her jewels clouded and tangled. When Consuelo Vanderbilt wed the Early of Marlborough, her tears made a diamante pattern across her wedding veil.
Maud Cunard sacraificed her bohemian mentality for a cold, bitter life in her husband's Northern lands.
Jennie Jerome's husband was a brilliant parlimentarian, and would die of syphilis.
Mary Leiter worshiped her parents' visits: "I love the chairs you sat on, and try to see you there, and my eyes fill with tears."
This was the Gilded Age, society's golden veneer, the false, desirable beauty. It only took a false word, the image of a young bride in a locked bedroom, to scrape the paint away – to reveal the terrible depths of a dark heart, its cruel, hidden realities.