A young woman without prospects at a ball in Gilded Age Newport, Rhode Island is a target for a certain kind of “suitor.” At the Memorial Day Ball during the Panic of 1893, impoverished but feisty Penelope Stanton draws the unwanted advances of a villainous millionaire banker who preys on distressed women—the incorrigible Edgar Daggers. Over a series of encounters, he promises Penelope the financial security she craves, but at what cost? Skilled in the art of flirtation, Edgar is not without his charms, and Penelope is attracted to him against her better judgment. Initially, as Penelope grows into her own in the burgeoning early Women’s Suffrage Movement, Edgar exerts pressure, promising to use his power and access to help her advance. But can he be trusted, or are his words part of an elaborate mind game played between him and his wife? During a glittering age where a woman’s reputation is her most valuable possession, Penelope must decide whether to compromise her principles for love, lust, and the allure of an easier life.
“The opposite of a standard chick-lit, despite the story congruence.”
Can these two words even be in the same sentence? It seems they can, and if you are just a bit of an average woman, you will understand how Forbes created a story about a girl that can carry the two labels. The story of Penelope Stanton is told with a humorous language, and you can’t but admire Penelope’s cynicism over her destiny as she becomes an ineligible bachelorette once she nears a certain age, once her engagement is broken and once her dad’s fortune upon which the whole family relies on is lost due to the pre-Grand Depression crisis.
Despite the zing of humor, I didn’t find the story very funny, especially in the way she has to manage the inappropriate advances of the married Edgar Daggers who is insisting on her becoming his mistress. There is quite a bit of insidious and more open violence in the way he acts towards her. The fact that he decorates his aggression with “sweet romantic words” makes him even more unlikable and places a dark veil over Penelope’s lust struggles. However, Edgar’s presence in the book is just a reflection of a larger truth for her life as a suffragette when her she leaves her family and goes to live in the large city. She becomes a key actress in the suffragette movement as it shapes history taking a large wave parallel with her destiny.
The book gives a disillusioned but not overly dark view of women’s history. Glad I got it!