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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

Belle Cora

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Belle Cora Cover

ISBN13: 9780385532761
ISBN10: 0385532768
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

A sweeping historical novel based on the extraordinary life and times of Belle Cora, the daughter of a New York merchant who went on to become a millworker, a prostitute, a notorious madam, a murderess, and eventually one of San Francisco's richest and most revered dowagers.

Some people remember her as Arabella Godwin, others as Harriet Knowles, and still more as Frances Andersen or other names too numerous to list. But let there be no confusion, this is the legendary story of Belle Cora (1828-1919), who survived by her wits and made a fortune off the greed and lust of men.

Orphaned at age nine, Belle and her brother, Lewis, are sent to live with their devoutly religious aunt and uncle in rural upstate New York. Nothing can prepare her for the cruelty of her watchful, jealous cousin Agnes, who would become a lifelong rival and enemy. Yet there, Belle also meets the love of her life, Jeptha Talbot. As she blossoms into a true beauty, however, two horrendous events separate her from Jeptha and Lewis. Heartbroken, Belle flees the countryside and finds work in a mill, where she is exposed to the looser morals of hard luck women and begins to harden into the powerful, cunning woman she will become.

Soon Belle finds herself in New York, where life takes a dark but alluring turn as she succumbs to the indulgent lifestyle of a highly sought-after prostitute to the city's wealthiest men. But beneath the silk and taffeta layers, she harbors a deep longing to be reunited with Jeptha, now a respected preacher. The road back to him will take her on a treacherous journey from the town houses of Manhattan to the dusty streets of San Francisco at the height of the Gold Rush. It's a road of good intentions, but paved with secrets and lies on which the conniving, sometimes ruthless Belle must transform herself again and again to get what she wants.

This is the spellbinding story of the devious exploits of a singular woman ahead of her time. Be prepared to be swept away by Belle Cora.

Review:

"Margulies, the author of numerous science and history books for young adults, strikes gold in his first novel. Depicted as the deathbed autobiography of Arabella Godwin, aka Belle Cora, the story begins with Arabella's childhood in 1830s Manhattan. When her parents die, her grandparents send her and her younger brother, Lewis, to an aunt's farm in New York, where she meets her cousin Agnes, who becomes her lifelong enemy. As they grow up, they vie for the attention of Jeptha Talbot, and Arabella succeeds in securing an engagement to him, but Agnes's lies force the two apart before they are married. Heartbroken, Belle braves one terrible hardship after another, finally ending up in New York, where, in despair, she becomes a high-level prostitute. When she takes up with Charles Cora, a gambler with the heart of gold, he bankrolls her own establishment. She enjoys being a madam and even bears Cora a son, whom she sends to live with her one kind relative. But then she discovers that Jeptha and Agnes are engaged and planning to go to San Francisco on a trip. Margulies's writing never falters, and the reader will easily get lost in the world he's built. Belle's remarkable story mirrors that of her young country, on the verge of civil war, and her sharp, engaging voice brings her tale to vivid life." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

About the Author

PHILLIP MARGULIES is the author and editor of many books on science, politics and history for young adults. He has won two New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

The Lost Entwife, February 22, 2014 (view all comments by The Lost Entwife)
I saw the cover for Belle Cora months ago - I believe it was with the initial buzz going around on the book blogs. I was fascinated and I can't really explain why. Every once in a while I get a bee in my bonnet and decide that I want to read some epic life story and usually I zone in on the most innocuous of things. The corset on the cover of Belle Cora, the roses on the cover of Leila Meacham's Roses, the word Eden in Steinbeck's East of Eden (I'm not comparing books, just epic journeys dealing with someone's life). Next thing you know, I'm obsessed and, in spite of knowing, usually, that the little thing I'm fixed on may not make up for the entire book, I still dive in the first chance I get.

Now, with Phillip Margulies story, thankfully, I wasn't disappointed. I was promised the tale of an epic life and I was given that. Arabella Godwin not only lives in the pages of Belle Cora, but she leaps off them quite often. She is larger than life, but she had to be - considering the life she led in the story. And, as Belle Cora was loosely based on some real historical figures, well... as you can imagine, I was caught up in the story fairly quickly.

As all of these stories go, there's usually heartbreak of some sort. From Arabella's riches to rags story through her years as a self-supporting woman until the end...when her family is left instructions that will allow her story to be finally free, I was caught. I loved Arabella's strength, and her ability to make some really tough choices. I grieved for the things that life threw her way and caused her to be put in that place, of course, but I love seeing a woman rise above it all and make something of her life.

Belle Cora has a little bit of something but it's tastefully lacking in what you might think it might contain in abundance. Margulies knew how to tell his story without resorting to cheap tricks and tasteless sex scenes. As a result, the story is even more powerful because it rises above a profession and, instead, showcases a woman.
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Melinda Ott, January 7, 2014 (view all comments by Melinda Ott)
Prostitutes! Gun Fights! Vigilantes! Unitarians! This book has pretty much everything. It tells the story of how an orphaned, but well-off girl named Arabella Godwin became the notorious San Francisco Madam, Belle Cora. At over 600 pages, it might seem intimidating to some readers, but I found it enthralling and very readable.

There was a real Belle Cora in San Francisco in the mid-19th century, and she was a madam. She was the lover of a gambler named Charles Cora, who was executed by The Vigilance Committee for the murder of US Marshall William Marshall. Yet, the story of her life--before and after this infamous episode--is the creation of Margulies. It would be tempting to dip into melodrama to frame such a sensational event, but Margulies takes the high--and more believable--road. While Arabella Godwin finds herself in the world of prostitution through some very unfortunate events, her rise to the role of the highest madam in the rough and tumble young city of San Francisco is the result of very shrewd decisions on her part.

Belle is not always a likable character, and she does do some rather shocking things, but she is authentic enough for the reader to believe that this really could have been the life of Belle Cora. Nothing in her narrative is so outrageous that I would question the possibility that it might have really happened.

One thing about this book I really enjoyed was Margulies's depiction of San Francisco. Other than the airport, I haven't visited that city since I was in diapers (despite being able to drive to it from my house in one long day). I was captivated about how it started out as a violent outpost populated by desperate and ambitious men and a handful of women, most of whom expressed their own desperation and ambition between the sheets. As Belle Cora's business grows, so does San Francisco so, by the time of Charles Cora's execution, it is a true American city.

I have very few complaints about this book. There were times when I questioned why Belle was so in love with Jeptha Talbot, a boy from her youth who grew up to be a minister and whose presence was one factor leading her on her life's path. But, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't that much of a big deal to me.

I'll admit that, after finishing this book, I spent some time on the internet trying to find out more about the infamous Belle Cora, but was able to find little more than the facts regarding Cora's execution. Margulies does list some other sources about this woman in his afterward, which I may check out--but, honestly, I'm quite satisfied with this version of her life, no matter how fictional it may be.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780385532761
Author:
Margulies, Phillip
Publisher:
Doubleday Books
Subject:
Historical
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
historical fiction;historical
Publication Date:
20140131
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Language:
English
Pages:
608
Dimensions:
9.5 x 6.4 x 1.5 in 2.1 lb

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Biographical
Fiction and Poetry » Romance » Historical

Belle Cora Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$16.95 In Stock
Product details 608 pages Doubleday Books - English 9780385532761 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Margulies, the author of numerous science and history books for young adults, strikes gold in his first novel. Depicted as the deathbed autobiography of Arabella Godwin, aka Belle Cora, the story begins with Arabella's childhood in 1830s Manhattan. When her parents die, her grandparents send her and her younger brother, Lewis, to an aunt's farm in New York, where she meets her cousin Agnes, who becomes her lifelong enemy. As they grow up, they vie for the attention of Jeptha Talbot, and Arabella succeeds in securing an engagement to him, but Agnes's lies force the two apart before they are married. Heartbroken, Belle braves one terrible hardship after another, finally ending up in New York, where, in despair, she becomes a high-level prostitute. When she takes up with Charles Cora, a gambler with the heart of gold, he bankrolls her own establishment. She enjoys being a madam and even bears Cora a son, whom she sends to live with her one kind relative. But then she discovers that Jeptha and Agnes are engaged and planning to go to San Francisco on a trip. Margulies's writing never falters, and the reader will easily get lost in the world he's built. Belle's remarkable story mirrors that of her young country, on the verge of civil war, and her sharp, engaging voice brings her tale to vivid life." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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