Excerpt from Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Belle Cora

A Novel

by Phillip Margulies

Belle Cora
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 608 pages
    Oct 2014, 608 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Belle Cora

Book One



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.  There was a time when I had three girls declaring in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence that they were the daughters of clergymen. 

Why it was useful to say these things, I can only guess.  God knows it wasn't to evoke pity. We weren't beggars, and the customers weren't softhearted.  The important thing was that it worked.  We knew from experience that these men paid more for the attention of a girl wrapped in the fiction that she had not chosen this life—she was unlucky, meant for something better, but here to enjoy thanks to her misfortune. 

Sometimes we lied even though the truth was perfect.  The pretty creature would run a fingertip along the rim of her glass and tell me, "I was a farm girl, but in Indiana" or "There was a boss's son, and a child, it did die, I did try to kill myself." I'd inquire, "Do you ever tell them that?" She'd answer, "No." I'd say, "Of course not: it's too personal.  But since it resembles what they want to hear, tell them something else on those lines. That way everyone's happy." 

The truth was withheld only because so much else had to be forfeited.  My case was like that.  I was the country girl.  And before that, I was the rich girl.

To begin with the first story, I was born in 1828, into a family of pious Yankee merchants. My grandfather, a silk importer, had come to New York from Massachusetts fifteen years earlier and had prospered. He owned what was for several years the tallest building in New York City.  My father was his chief clerk. My mother was an invalid, and we prayed every day that she would live and knew that she would die. 

Our home was in Bowling Green, a fashionable New York City neighborhood a little past its prime.  Its fine three-story buildings, with their pitched roofs and neat rows of dormer windows and wrought-iron fences, were being refashioned to live second lives as boarding houses, or being torn down entirely and replaced with hotels.  I think it is because I was born there that the world has always felt old to me.  The United States was young.  Newspapers constantly reminded us of that.  But in Bowling Green things showed signs of long use. I remember when a flood on the second floor of our house damaged a wall of the sitting room on the floor below, revealing many old layers of wallpaper, in quaint patterns, and my father told me that they had been pasted to the walls by the people who had been here before us, and deeper layers had been put there by the people who were here still earlier. How remarkable: there had been other families, surrounded by fleur de lis on yellow, before that by pussy willow twigs on green, and so on, layer on layer, back and back.  Digging in the courtyard I would find children's lost whip tops and penny dolls.  Who were these children?  Where were they now?

Excerpted from Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies. Copyright © 2014 by Phillip Margulies. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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!

Beyond the Book:

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
  • Book Jacket: So Say the Fallen
    So Say the Fallen
    by Stuart Neville
    Noir crime fiction – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett anyone? – is an American invention...
  • Book Jacket: The Mothers
    The Mothers
    by Brit Bennett
    Every now and then the publishing industry gushes about a young author destined to become the next ...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    North of Crazy
    by Neltje

    The remarkable life of a woman who carves her own singular path.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Comet Seekers
    by Helen Sedgwick

    A magical, intoxicating debut novel, both intimate and epic.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Next
    by Stephanie Gangi

    Fast-paced, wickedly observant, and haunting in the best sense of the word.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

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

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.