Excerpt from The Unfit Heiress by Audrey Farley, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Unfit Heiress

The Tragic Life and Scandalous Sterilization of Ann Cooper Hewitt

by Audrey Farley

The Unfit Heiress by Audrey Farley X
The Unfit Heiress by Audrey Farley
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    Apr 2021, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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"Did any of the help mistreat you?" this same reporter pressed. "Perhaps because your mother told them to?"

"No one ever struck me like Mother did. Though there was one maid in Paris, Eugenie, who used to follow along when my father would take me around the city. Every time I'd turn around, she'd make faces and obscene gestures at me."

"Why would she do such a thing?"

"I don't know," said Ann. "Probably because she was devoted to Mother. She used to clean my mother's shoes with her fur coats. Ordinary rags weren't good enough, she said."

"Do you believe your mother hatched a plot to kill you?" another reporter asked. "Your suit claims your mother would benefit if you died without any children. But one would expect your mother to die before you. How do you explain this?"

Ann froze for a moment, then bowed her head to wipe a tear from her cheek. Her attorney, Russell P. Tyler, put his hand on her shoulder and answered the question for her. "Mrs. Cooper Hewitt has always said that her daughter is sickly," he explained. "She has also refused to acknowledge her own aging. The woman probably presumed her life expectancy exceeded her daughter's."

The reporter looked to Ann to corroborate this, but the heiress refused to look up. Tyler added, "My client hasn't seen her mother since the day she turned twenty-one. As soon as she came of age, she demanded to live independently. She contacted me to set her up financially, and that's when I learned of this whole tragedy."

"Before you discovered you were sterilized, had you planned to marry?" someone else asked.

"No," Ann replied, finally raising her head.

"What you mean to say, Ann," said Tyler, "is that you had no specific man in mind. But you did hope to marry someone someday, didn't you?"

"Yes, that's right," said the heiress. "But I don't know if anyone will have me now."

Wanting to lighten the mood—and also to get a sense of the young woman's intellect—another correspondent asked what book Ann was currently reading. The heiress told him that she was enjoying a title by a contemporary of William Thackeray. "It's called Ten Thousand a-Year," she said. "I like it so well because of the sarcasm in it. It just reveals to you what the world really is."

"Have you read Voltaire?" the man asked.

"I peeked into Voltaire and found him insipid," Ann replied. "One author I love is Arthur Conan Doyle. He is so real."

"Have you read his ghost stories?"

"Yes," said Ann.

"Do you believe them?" The other journalists looked up with raised eyebrows.

"Of course not," Ann disappointed. "I don't read them to believe in them. I just read them."

"What will you do with the money if you're awarded it?" the same reporter pressed. "Take a holiday? Buy a new wardrobe?" The fur on Ann's coat was matted. Shortly after leaving her mother's home with a single trunk, the heiress had purchased the coat for $1 from a laundress, along with a few other items patrons had neglected to retrieve. Ann had since re-acquired many of her belongings, but Tyler had instructed her to dress modestly. He didn't want people to be distracted by her fancy clothes.

Before Ann could answer, Tyler interrupted to say that such a question was irrelevant and inappropriate. Ann was pursuing this lawsuit to protect others, not because the money was needed or wanted. The attorney explained that, in addition to sterilizing her daughter, Maryon had squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars from Ann's trust fund at gambling resorts across the world, including the Villa d'Este in Italy, the Deauville in France, and the Monte Carlo in Mexico. This showed clear disregard for her daughter's well-being, and Mrs. Cooper Hewitt now needed to compensate her daughter for the losses.

Ann elaborated that her mother had been gambling for as long as she could remember. "Mother always left me in the hotel suite with a maid when she went downstairs to roll the dice," she recalled. "I once told her, 'No, I'm not staying here another night. I want to come with you.' She promised me a nice moleskin coat if I stayed. I said, 'I don't want that,' and she called me a brat and slammed the door in my face."

Excerpted from The Unfit Heiress by Audrey Farley. Copyright © 2021 by Audrey Farley. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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