BECOMING BELLE "vividly reimagines the life of a nontraditional historical heroine"
A witty and inherently feminist novel about passion and marriage, based on a true story of an unstoppable woman ahead of her time in Victorian London.
In 1887, Isabel Bilton is the eldest of three daughters of a middle-class military family, growing up in a small garrison town. By 1891 she is the Countess of Clancarty, dubbed "the peasant countess" by the press, and a member of the Irish aristocracy. Becoming Belle is the story of the four years in between, of Belle's rapid ascent and the people that tried to tear her down.
With only her talent, charm, and determination, Isabel moves to London alone at age nineteen, changes her name to Belle, and takes the city by storm, facing unthinkable hardships as she rises to fame. A true bohemian and the star of a dancing double act she performs with her sister, she reigns over The Empire Theatre and The Corinthian Club, where only select society entertains. It is there she falls passionately in love with William, Viscount Dunlo, a young aristocrat. For Belle, her marriage to William is a dream come true, but his ruthless father makes clear he'll stop at nothing to keep her in her place.
Reimagined by a novelist at the height of her powers, Belle is an unforgettable woman. Set against an absorbing portrait of Victorian London, hers is a timeless rags-to-riches story a la Becky Sharpe.
“A thoroughly engrossing and entertaining read. O’Connor’s meticulous attention to period detail and scrutiny of the upper classes and their shallow lives [is] reminiscent of Edith Wharton at her very best. It also makes us question whether women have ever really escaped from the censorious judgement of Victorian times.”
—Liz Nugent, author of Unraveling Oliver
“Masterful storytelling! I was putty in Nuala O’Connor’s hands. She made the unsinkable Belle Bilton and her down-to-earth sister Flo real to me, and brought 1880's London to my living room. Encore! Encore!”
--Lynn Cullen, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe
"Nuala O’Connor is a gifted writer who, with incandescent characters and mellifluous prose, captivates the reader with the same command as magnificent theatre. Becoming Belle is so mesmerizing you will be distraught when it ends and you remember that she lives no more. O’Connor has resurrected a fiery, inexorable woman who rewrites the script on a stage supposedly ruled by men. Sensual, witty, daring, and unapologetically forward, Belle Bilton and her cohorts will dance on in your mind long after the curtains fall."
—Lisa Carey, author of The Stolen Child
“Becoming Belle is luscious, addictive and as satisfyingly wise as it is huge of heart. Nuala O’Connor has gone in deep to imagine the life of a fascinating woman, and from the dance floor to the townhouse to the bedroom, she renders Belle Bilton’s passion, determination and vulnerability bracingly real. A treat as well as a tribute; utterly absorbing”
-- Belinda McKeon, author of Tender
"O’Connor has a genius for finding the universal and unifying life essence of seemingly diverse women as they nurture their deepest sensibilities and draw upon their enduring strength. ... O’Connor’s rendering of a now little-known nineteenth-century music hall dancer in Becoming Belle is thrillingly dramatic and achingly moving and profoundly resonant into this present era."
—Robert Olen Butler, author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain