A NOVEL BY PHILIP MARGULIES
Based loosely on true life, Philip Margulies lets his main character do the telling. Arabella Goodwin tells of her life before and after the death of both parents. She is shipped off with her brother Lewis from their comfortable New York City home to her aunt’s farm where she meets her lifelong nemesis, Agnes and Jeptha a man whose love becomes an obsession that lasts her entire life. Leaving in her trail murder, blackmail, forgery… she bears a gambler’s son, becomes a wealthy and sought after madam of the finest parlor house of the time.
Belle Cora is every bit as cunning as the curly, dripping font on its cover. I find the corset on the cover intriguing and a foreshadow of the story – while the narrative starts slow depicting a well-pieced together family, the cracks begin to show when the swift fingers of fate unbutton blow after blow on a seemingly ‘normal’ family. We are given not a glimpse, but a full glaring view of what lies beneath the corset of Belle Cora; the novel and character.
I’ll tell you what piqued my interest; first, the becoming of Belle Cora – the struggle and consequent acceptance of self. This confident well sought after madam flourishes on society’s disapproval and flaunts her status fearlessly. Au contraire, she helplessly craves acceptance from Jeptha, her one true love. When it finally comes in a letter from the war front she is torn and probably realizes she didn’t have to go through the rigorous scheme of being someone else. Her family chooses to relate with the girl she once was – innocent, morally uptight upright and descent. She finds herself hiding her identity from her son out of shame at the same time blatantly throwing it at her grandfather. The dynamics of love, sex, money and power peak in the Gold Rush San Francisco setting of 1883.
When she splits his toe with a short gun to prevent him from being enlisted in the army, Jeptha says to her ‘my friends were jealous and wished they had a woman who would fight to have them stay.’
Philip Margulies smoothly glides over an age-old profession to reveal a woman who’s been broken and remade and each time comes out more beautiful. The many facets of Cora and the rich historic setting lends such ‘realness’ to the story, creating a novel that’s deeply disturbing and intellectually satisfying.
Check out these reviews!
- “I was extremely pleased with this novel and recommend it to anyone who likes a good protagonist with an awesome backstory!” – Charming Chelsey’s
- “Long live good girls gone bad! A stunning read and an unforgettable story!” – The Lit Bitch