Summary and book reviews of Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies

Belle Cora

A Novel

By Phillip Margulies

Belle Cora
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Jan 2014,
    608 pages.
    Paperback: 7 Oct 2014,
    608 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Belle Cora

Book One

(1828)

I

There is a story about a girl who took the wrong path, and rues it all her life. She is too trusting.  She is too passionate. The result: an error than can't be corrected, a stain that can't be washed out. Back on the old homestead where she grew up no one is permitted to speak her name, and her picture is turned to the wall. 

Gentlemen love this story, so when any girl in a house of mine lacked some version of it I would help her to make one up. I'd take her to a good restaurant at a quiet time of day, order something very expensive and tell her, "You were an Ohio farm girl, and to help your folks out with the bank loan you went to work in a mill.  The mill agent's son noticed you.  He was very handsome.  That was your downfall."

Or I'd begin, "You're from a fine old Baltimore family. Your father was a good man, except, he was a bit reckless: he gambled; he was killed in a duel."

And so on. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What role do the forward and the introduction play in Belle Cora?

  2. Why do you think the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 prompted Belle to tell her life's story?

  3. Belle mentions that the book's purpose is not to instruct others on how to live, and insists that her sole purpose is "to   tell what happened."  Based on the rest of the novel, is she as indifferent to morality as she pretends?

  4. In Belle's introduction Belle calls Harriet Atherton, mother of the feeble-minded Jennifer "my old enemy, the good Christian woman."  Yet Belle's mother was also a good Christian woman who would never have approved of the way Belle has lived her ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse

Told from Belle's perspective as an older woman, this novel, over 500 pages long, masquerades as her memoir. Belle is captivating, not only because of her unique adventures, but because of her opinions of them. Belle Cora is a grand novel in every sense of the word. It will appeal to historical fiction and literary fiction fans alike.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (952 words).

Media Reviews
Library Journal

The charm and self-invention that served Arabella throughout her life give voice to a story that will captivate historical fiction fans as they follow her exploits during a turbulent era.

Kirkus Reviews

A convincing melodrama in which the victim takes charge.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Reader Reviews
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Millerism

Belle's aunt and uncle followed the preachings of William Miller, a New York farmer and the founder of Millerism. They believed Miller's prophecy that Jesus would return to earth in 1844.

William Miller Miller's idea was not profound - or original. The notion of the Second Coming is a core tenet of Christianity. Though the idea is central, the interpretation and definition of the Second Coming has not always been agreed upon by Church leaders and theologians. The early Christians read much of the bible, including the Book of Revelations' prophecy about Jesus's return, as allegorical, an interpretation that dominated Christian thinking until the Protestant Reformation. The Protestants, however, believed that the prophecies were literal. For example...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Belle Cora, try these:

  • Daughter of Fortune jacket

    Daughter of Fortune

    by Isabel Allende

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A sweeping portrait of the era of the Californian Gold Rush, a story rich in character, history, violence, and compassion.

  • The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb jacket

    The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

    by Melanie Benjamin

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A barnstorming novel of the Gilded Age, and of a woman's public triumphs and personal tragedies, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is the irresistible epic of a heroine who conquered the country with a heart as big as her dreams - and whose story will surely win over yours.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Promise
    The Promise
    by Ann Weisgarber
    Canadian author, Lucy Maud Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame, once wrote that "...all things ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Moon
    Black Moon
    by Kenneth Calhoun
    The popularity of book-turned-movie World War Z and television series The Walking Dead points to a ...
  • Book Jacket: Hyde
    Hyde
    by Daniel Levine
    In Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the story ends ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Sailor Twain
by Mark Siegel

Published Mar. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Steady Running of the Hour

The Steady Running of the Hour

"Exciting, emotionally engaging and amibtious. I loved it!" - Kate Mosse

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I T T O A Eye

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.