The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin
Royalty, Horses & Photography
Having read and enjoyed Daisy Goodwin’s most recent book, Victoria, I chose an earlier one, The Fortune Hunter, to read just before the busy Easter weekend.
And what a good book it is. This is historical fiction, but how much is history and how much is fiction is something I wondered about as I read. The Fortune Hunter tells the story of the Empress Elizabeth of Austria, an Englishman, Bay Middleton, and the young Charlotte Baird.
Set in the mid 1800’s, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the novel is full of all of the pomp and ceremony, social expectations and mores of the time. And oh-la-la it is occasionally ever so slightly racy in a very Victorian way, which is plenty fast enough for me.
The Empress Elizabeth is spending time in England, riding at the hunt, and that much of the novel is based on real history. Yet the reader cannot help but realize the author has drawn a parallel between the Empress Elizabeth, a woman whose life was very much like that of the more recent Princess Diana. Charlotte Baird is a young heiress, but is determined to become more than a society matron, and is certainly in no great rush to marry any of the “younger sons” presented to her.
Charlotte has taken up photography and we learn about the early days of photography and the changes that come with the ability to take a picture of a person or event. I though the insight into this change, especially the ability to capture a true likeness of a loved one – a photograph that remains after death – and the beginning of the celebrity photographer elevated this book from being simply entertaining.
Charlotte’s “hobby” is barely tolerated by her family, but as the heir to the family fortune it is allowed. And it is through photography that much of her story is told, and we witness Charlotte mature from an innocent girl to a young woman much more aware of the ways of the world.
The Fortune Hunter is a novel that benefits from the reader knowing as little as possible about the time and place and the real characters portrayed in the story. We know, of course, the descendants of Queen Victoria, but I found myself wondering if some of the other characters might be ancestors to other present day members of the royal family. And, I’m not giving that away, as it was some of the pleasure and wonder of the novel itself.