My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin

My last Duchess is the story of Cora cash – and I must say what a totally appropriate name that is as Cora is the wealthiest heiress in 1890s America!  Cora has been raised in the expectation of a great marriage.  She has been well educated, speaks 3 languages, plays music and is overall an accomplished young lady.  Add to this her beauty, cleverness and rather sizable dowry and lets face it she’s a bit of a catch.  Cora’s mother however wants to secure a title for her daughter and is determined to add some blue blood to the family (Cora’s mother is part of the new rich and greatly aware of her own shortcomings in terms of status and sees Cora as a way to boost this and elevate her own social standing).  In coming to England, Cora does indeed manage to secure herself a titled husband but the differences in culture between the English aristocracy and their stiff upper lips and the extravagant Americans with their sometimes vulgar money flaunting may be too much of a culture shock.

My feelings for this book are totally all over the place and I hardly know where to start!

Firstly, I will say that Daisy Goodwin does an excellent job of writing this novel.  The attention to detail is amazing.  The descriptions of dresses, accessories, parties, music, food (will somebody give me a break here – I’m on a diet!) and stunning homes is so evocative.  She really knows her stuff and it shows.  I can think of at least one person I know who would read this book simply for the descriptions of the dresses alone!  That being said I think the first two hundred pages – although starting out very well – could have been condensed.  Not because I was expecting an action packed novel but really if you had to do a quick synopsis of the first 1/3 of the book it would be brief – although as said above the introductory paragraphs were very good.

Also, I found the characters enjoyable to read.  I liked Cora, she’s a bit spoilt but I guess she’s a product of her own privileged upbringing,  she’s never wanted for anything and is used to being the centre of attention and getting what she wants.  Although – that being said she is completely dominated by her mother and longs for marriage as a means of escape and freedom.  Although lets face it marriage was never really an escape in that period – it was more like moving to a different form of control.  I thought her mother was brilliantly portrayed, truly dominating and formidable, and I would have enjoyed seeing more of her in the book (because she held her own).  Ivo I found annoying in that he could have saved so much trouble by simply being more forthcoming with the truth (although that would have killed his mysterious persona I suppose)!  I actually, and typically, liked the ‘baddies’ of the book – Charolotte and Odo (is Odo short for Odious I wonder).  I thought Charlotte was brilliantly written if a little easy to predict.  I liked her lazy insolence and thought the descriptions made her very easy to imagine.

Plot – to be honest I don’t think, there is a great deal of plot going on.  Personally I thought most of the story was predictable but I don’t think that detracts from the book – you don’t always have to have twists and turns, sometimes its nice simply to read a well written book and anyway so many novels are trying to come up with new ways to surprise these days that sometimes they forget about everything else!   The main focus of the book is Cora being in a different country and coming to terms with the cultures and learning how to ‘become’ a Duchess – not easy given her interfering mother in law (a double Duchess no less) and the malicious whisperings of the other ladies who do nothing to help integrate Cora into her new life.

In terms of frustrations I found very many similarities to a couple of other novels which are particular favourites – not in terms of the writing style but more the themes.  At first I found this interesting but then I found myself thinking – ‘ ah this is like xxx’ and ‘this is like so and so’ (I won’t elaborate for fear of plot spoilers and also these are simply my interpretations) and at a point I found this a little bit irritating – however, I then shook myself and said, ‘look, you’ve read a lot of books, including a lot of classics, and it’s not going to be possible to pick up a book along these lines without seeing similarities’.  Also, I think, if you are new to books and you enjoy reading period novels this will be a lovely experience because you won’t have these associations.

The other thing that was a bit irritating is I really wanted Cora to say her piece.  I know she wasn’t going to do that in public but in private she could have stood up for herself a little more.

In conclusion, even though I think this is a little over long I never found myself skipping paragraphs (or pages) and I had no difficulty reading it (although I have found some descriptions of this novel as a love story and I think anybody picking this up with romantic notions of heart stopping moments may be disappointed – not that there isn’t a love story its just very understated – so think on!)

Rating -B


My Last Duchess

My Last Duchess


2 Responses to “My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin”

  1. Kim

    You can read another review at

  2. plaintain1

    Yes, it’s an interesting book although I just wish the character Bertha was a little more rounded.

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