10 reviews

The Fortune Hunter: A Novel
by Daisy Goodwin

Published: 2014-07-29
Hardcover : 480 pages
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12 clubs reading this now
4 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 9 of 10 members

Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, is the Princess Diana of nineteenth-century Europe. Famously beautiful, as captured in a portrait with diamond stars in her hair, she is unfulfilled in her marriage to the older Emperor Franz Joseph. Sisi has spent years evading the stifling ...

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Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, is the Princess Diana of nineteenth-century Europe. Famously beautiful, as captured in a portrait with diamond stars in her hair, she is unfulfilled in her marriage to the older Emperor Franz Joseph. Sisi has spent years evading the stifling formality of royal life on her private train or yacht or, whenever she can, on the back of a horse.

Captain Bay Middleton is dashing, young, and the finest horseman in England. He is also impoverished, with no hope of buying the horse needed to win the Grand National—until he meets Charlotte Baird. A clever, plainspoken heiress whose money gives her a choice among suitors, Charlotte falls in love with Bay, the first man to really notice her, for his vulnerability as well as his glamour. When Sisi joins the legendary hunt organized by Earl Spencer in England, Bay is asked to guide her on the treacherous course. Their shared passion for riding leads to an infatuation that jeopardizes the growing bond between Bay and Charlotte, and threatens all of their futures.

The Fortune Hunter, a brilliant new novel by Daisy Goodwin, is a lush, irresistible story of the public lives and private longings of grand historical figures.


Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.



THE BALL WAS AT ITS HEIGHT. IT WAS AT THE POINT where the women were rosy from the dancing, but before the moment when coiffures began to slip – carefully curled fringes flattening in the heat. The guests, who had been delaying their arrival so that it would appear that they had been dining at one of the more fashionable houses before the ball, had finally dared to make their appearance. The parliamentary lobbies on the Suez bill had closed and the ballroom was spotted with MPs and ministers. It was the last event of the season before people disappeared to the country for the summer, so there was an energy to the occasion as the guests tried to make the most of this last opportunity to squeeze what they wanted from the world: a promotion, a liaison, a husband, a mistress, a loan, or simply a piece of delicious gossip. No one wanted to miss this party; it was the final opportunity to acquire the baubles of hope and intrigue that would make the arid summer months bearable before the fashionable world reassembled in the autumn. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. The fortune hunter of the title, of course, is Bay Middleton. What do you think of his character, and what fate do you think he deserves?

2. In her day, the Empress of Austria, or Sisi, was considered the most beautiful woman in Europe, married to one of the richest and most powerful men. In what ways do you see her position as enviable or otherwise?

3. By the time the novel opens, Sisi is in her 30s, and so worried that her beauty is fading that she refuses to sit for new portraits or to have her photograph taken. How do you regard her beauty rituals and her fears? Were you struck by the similarities between Sisi’s routine and that of a modern celebrity: the exercise, the veal, etc.?

4. While very different, both Sisi and Charlotte Baird face constraints because they are women: Sisi is defined by her husband’s position, and Charlotte, whose wealth gives her certain freedoms, is nevertheless ordered around by her aunt and her future sister-in-law. Maintaining at least the appearance of propriety is essential for both. In what ways has life improved—or not— for women in the 21st century?

5. Queen Victoria offers a different perspective on a woman with unusual power. What do you think of her in this story? How do she and Sisi reflect the privileges and/or burdens of royalty?
6. What is your view of Charlotte? Do you think that she and Bay could be happy together?

7. Daisy Goodwin has said Sisi reminds her of Princess Diana: Each was unhappily married at a very young age to a much older husband with whom she had little in common; each was idolized and hounded for her glamour; each found consolation both in affairs and in charity work. What do you think of these parallels?

8. In the love triangle here, do you see one of the three principals as the central figure, or does the focus seem equal? Do your sympathies lie with one of the characters more than the others, and do your allegiances shift in the course of the story?

9. How do you feel about the ending? Would you have wanted something different for any of the characters?

10. What role do photographs play in the story? How do pictures hide or reveal the truth?

11. Charlotte compares Caspar’s photos of the American west to her own work: “How I envy you your deserts and your endless light. We have nothing like that here, that’s why we have to create little tableaux in studios…housemaids dressed up as goddesses.” Similarly, Sisi feels the need to “escape the stifling formality of the Austrian court.” What does this say about Victorian society, and do you feel things have changed for the better or the worse?

12. The Author’s Note says: “This novel is based on fact: The cast of characters, Sisi, Bay, Charlotte, Earl Spencer, and even Chicken Hartopp are all real, even if their thoughts and feelings have been supplied by me.” What do you think of the mixture of history and fiction here? (One fascinating footnote: In real life, Lady Blanche Hozier’s daughter Clementine, whose paternity has been much debated, grew up to marry Winston Churchill.)

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Book Review from Publisher's Weekly:

"Goodwin’s second novel (after The American Heiress) travels the difficult protocols of Victorian-era fox hunting, as well as the even more complicated protocols of love and marriage in the era, especially for an intelligent young woman with a fortune. England, 1875: Charlotte Baird is the eligible heiress to “the Lennox Fortune.” Her lovely, reckless mother was her father’s second wife, and she died young in a hunting accident, leaving her fortune to Charlotte. Charlotte’s brother, Fred, is engaged to Augusta Crewe, an ambitious woman from a good family who’d rather settle for Fred than stay unmarried (and she covets the Lennox diamonds). Charlotte is more interested in photography—especially composing unusual portraits and developing the plates and prints herself. When Bay Middleton, an expert horseman and friend of Fred, arrives for hunting season at Melton, Augusta’s family home, he and Charlotte form an unlikely alliance that turns into love. Fred and Augusta believe Charlotte can do better. Further confusing matters is the arrival of the Empress of Austria, who comes to a nearby estate and appoints Bay as her “pilot” for the hunts; she later decides that Bay can provide her happiness beyond horseback. Charlotte and Bay are faced with listening to their hearts, or falling victim to the machinations and customs surrounding them. Goodwin manages to take the reader deep inside the characters’ longings and flaws in a way that makes the reader root for them. An enchanting, beautifully written page-turner. "

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Christie L. (see profile) 09/17/17

by Pam G. (see profile) 12/14/15

by Mary S. (see profile) 10/21/14

by Candace B. (see profile) 10/21/14

  "Great read!"by Carly H. (see profile) 09/22/14

This was our most recent book club pick and at first I thought this is going to be a long read, but about 30 pages in I was totally in to the story and couldn't wait to see how it ended. The other girls... (read more)

  "The haughtinesss of the aristocracy comes through loud and clear."by Gail R. (see profile) 08/29/14

This story is woven around 3 characters, Charlotte Baird, an heiress and orphan aspiring to be a renowned photographer, Elizabeth, the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, and George “... (read more)

  "Fortune Hunter"by Kathy W. (see profile) 06/26/14

Daisey Goodwin researched her topic very well. I questioned some of the time lines in the book and I was surprised to see she really know her facts.
I enjoyed reading the book and enjoyed
... (read more)

by Sue L. (see profile) 06/26/14

by Crystal I. (see profile) 06/11/14

I thought this was a very good book and interesting because some of the characters where actual real people.

  "THE FORTUNE HUNTER by Daisy Goodwin"by Becky H. (see profile) 05/23/14

The Empress Elizabeth of Austria is a leading character in this historical romance that has many historical persons in both major and minor roles. I would have appreciated an epilogue telli... (read more)

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