Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Setting the mood

Victorian tale a must-read for romantics, royalty buffs

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In this titillating snapshot of Victorian times, Daisy Goodwin compellingly narrates a woeful struggle for prosperity as characters weigh status and love in equal measure.

Goodwin delighted readers of historical romance with the publication of her first novel, The American Heiress, in 2011.

Fans of that bestseller will not be disappointed, as the British writer once again commands our undivided attention. The Fortune Hunter is an engrossing read for hopeless romantics, royal watchers and history buffs.

A result of Goodwin's lifelong fascination with Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as Sisi to her family and friends, the novel was partly inspired by Franz Xaver Winterhalter's portrait of the Empress.

A gifted rider, in the 1870s she spent a few seasons fox hunting in England. The Fortune Hunter is set during this time, while Sisi was a guest of Earl Spencer at Althorp.

With that connection to the childhood home of Diana Spencer established, the author notes other "ghostly parallels" between the tragic fates of the Empress and the former Princess of Wales in her foreword, including a reference to Winterhalter's portrait.

During her stay at Althorp, Sisi meets Bay Middleton, a charismatic cavalry captain whom, in this novelization, Earl Spencer retains as her pilot, a guide during the hunts. Middleton, a distant relation of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, was also an accomplished rider. In The Fortune Hunter, Bay Middleton's reputation as a lothario taints his relationship with the Empress, as well as that with blue-stocking heiress Charlotte Baird.

Goodwin captures this moment in their lives with resonant storytelling. Enriching her narrative with three distinct points of view, she develops a greater understanding of their hopes, their fears, and their emerging vulnerabilities.

This is not a typical account of the perils of dishonest romantic entanglements, and the effort is swoon-worthy.

A London-based television producer, Goodwin writes with a flair for the dramatic. With readers' empathies divided among all three characters, the author reveals her plot in an episodic fashion. Her dialogue prompts visceral reactions from readers as scenes unfold.

Conflict, however, is not the only literary device used successfully in The Fortune Hunter. Goodwin's ability to create mood is spectacular. From the stalls of an opera house to the fields of a British hunt, Goodwin complements her research with insightful observations.

Charlotte's interest in photography, for example, reflects the rising popularity of photography as an artistic pursuit of women in the late 1800s, which is evident in Amy Levy's The Romance of a Shop, published in 1888.

Undoubtedly, The Fortune Hunter will allow Goodwin to continue to prosper as a writer of historical romance.

 

Jennifer Pawluk is a Winnipeg communications specialist.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2014 G6

History

Updated on Saturday, August 2, 2014 at 8:18 AM CDT: Formatting.

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