Prompt: A bestseller from the 1990s
Back in the 90s, Danielle Steel was my gateway into adult fiction. Along with Virginia Andrews, she was the writer my friends and borrowed from the library and shared amongst each other. I haven’t read a Danielle Steel book for years so this prompt was a chance to tick off one I missed all those years ago. I chose Jewels, first published in 1992.
What it’s about?
On Sarah Whitfield’s seventy-fifth birthday, memories take her back to New York in the 1930s. To a marriage that ends after a year, leaving Sarah shattered.
A trip to Europe with her parents does little to raise her spirits, until she meets William, Duke of Whitfield. In time, despite her qualms, William insists on giving up his distant right to the British throne to make Sarah his duchess and his wife.
On their honeymoon, the newlyweds buy an old French chateau, but not long after, the war begins. William joins the allied forces, leaving Sarah, their first child, an infant, and their second child on the way, in France. After the Nazi forces take over the chateau, Sarah continues to survive the terror and deprivation of the Occupation, unwavering in her belief that her missing-in-action husband is still alive.
After the war, as a gesture of goodwill, the Whitfields start buying jewels offered for sale by impoverished war survivors. With Sarah’s style and keen eye, the collection becomes the prestigious Whitfield’s jewelry store in Paris.
Eventually, their jewelry business expands to London and Rome, as their family grows. Phillip, their firstborn, is stubborn and proud; Julian, their second son, is charming and generous and warm; Isabelle is rebellious and willful; and Xavier, unusual and untamed, is the final unexpected gift of their love. They each find their own way, but will be drawn to the great house of gems their parents built.
In Jewels, Danielle Steel takes the reader through five eventful decades that include war, passion, international intrigue, and the strength of family through it all.
What I think:
This was long – over 400 pages – but a quick read. The story spans over 50 years, but Steel’s style is such that she never spends too long describing things and the story moves at a pace.
The romance between Sarah and William Whitfield is the centre of the story and the only relationship that is developed in any depth.
Sarah is beautiful but wounded. In European recovering from a disastrous marriage, heartbreaking miscarriage and humiliating divorce, she finds love with William Whitford, Duke and distant cousin of the Royal Family.
Sarah spends a chunk of the book comparing her marriage to William to that of Wallis Simpson to the Duke of Windsor. She later becomes friends with the Duchess of Windsor and sells her a lot of jewellery.
The first book covers the courtship of the Whitfields, their early marriage in France and the Second World War.
Sarah starts a new life in France with William and her children. They survive the Nazi occupation of their Chateau, actually making friends with the Nazi soldiers. It’s very much a fantasy version of the war.
The second half of their story sees the develop of the Whitfield jewellers. And the the story becomes quite episodic. Each chapter skips years. Everyone is beautiful and rich, the shops are successful. There are marriages, divorces, affairs and stacks of babies. But none of the Whitfield children are developed in such a way that you actually care about them.
Looking back I can see why these type of books felt very grown up. It was easy to read and the “adult themes” would definitely have felt scandalous at 13. It is not at all the type of book I would generally choose now, but it was a fun read.