I had never heard of Isabel Bilton before getting this book. She is one of the earliest feminists in the Victorian period of England. She was the oldest of three daughters and had always dreamed of being on the state. At the age of 19 she told her father she wanted to go to London and pursue her dream. He gave her money and told her to go. Once she arrived she found a place to live and soon got a job at Empire dancing and singing and becomes a star. She is in the papers and the press know about her.
She gets her sister to come to London and they soon form an act The Bilton sisters and are a hit. Isabel is making a good amount of money every week. She also meets the wrong guy and finds herself pregnant. Luckily she has a close male friend Isidor (who is gay but in the closer) who helps her out until she has the baby. Not being maternal she leaves her son with a wet nurse and her family and returns to London and the spotlight.
She soon meets William, Viscount Dunlo, a young aristocrat and they fall in love and marry. William’s father is not the least bit happy about this and demands the marriage be over. William is sent away (he is underage at 20 and his father still controls him). Isabel (who has now changed her name to Belle is no happy about him going away or not standing up to his dad.
William’s father gets him to sign a paper demanding a divorce based on Belle being an adulteress. A public trial takes place and the Earl does everything he can to win his case and end the marriage.
Based on the real life story of Belle and William and The Earl it’s quite the story. This is author Nuala O’Connor’s second historical fiction novel (her first was Miss Emily). It’s a fascinating story not only of Belle but of the time in London. Women were considered to be seen and not heard. Not Belle. She didn’t play by the rules and she fought for what she wanted and that was her marriage and William.
You can pick up Becoming Belle: A Novel in stores on Tuesday, August 7th from G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
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