Surely I am not the only one who has harbored secret dreams of being an heiress — not the nouveau riche kind with a reality television crew trailing behind me, but the sort with a full staff, gobs of silver and afternoons spent on the hunt. Though I've come around to my untitled American life, I still adore reading books about drafty old houses and the privileged people who inhabit them.
If the success of the PBS series Downton Abbey is any indication, I'm not alone. The satisfying truth is that these individuals are rarely perfect. The glamour belies the financial strain that comes along with a house too large to keep up, and the customs of the aristocracy are difficult to maintain over several generations. The lives of heiresses are complicated matters, which of course means they provide excellent material for books.