Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies


Arabella Godwin is born into a wealthy New York trading family.  But her life changes forever when her mother dies of consumption and her father takes his own life soon afterward.  Her older brothers are sent off to boarding school and she and her little brother, Lewis, are sent to live with her grandparents.  But they decide that they can't handle two young children and send them to upstate New York to live on a farm with poor relatives.

Arabella's cousin Agnes decides the first day that she doesn't like Arabella.  She makes Arabella's life a misery by causing her to make mistakes that cause punishment and by telling lies about Arabella.  Both girls are attracted to a neighbor boy, Jeptha.  He chooses Arabella and they are to be married until she encounters a tragedy which causes him to desert her.

She and Lewis move to New York City but have no money and little prospects.  Lewis soon gets in trouble with the law and Arabella becomes Belle Cora, a madam of a high-end prostitution house in order to gain Lewis's freedom and to get wealthy.  As word trickles in about the Gold Rush in California, she and Lewis both go there.  After a short time, Belle once again becomes the most well-known madam and has the most expensive house and lots of influence with wealthy, powerful men.  Through the years, she ricochets between Jeptha and a gambler, Charlie Cora.  

This book is based on a real person and many of the other figures in the novel are also historically founded.  It is a real treatise on the Gold Rush and how California cities such as San Francisco were built.  Belle was scorned by a sanctimonious society yet was always loyal to those she loved.  This book is recommended to readers of historical fiction. 

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