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A Woman of Independent Means

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  2,566 Ratings  ·  424 Reviews
A bestselling sensation when it was first published by Viking in 1978, A Woman of Independent Means has delighted millions of readers and was the inspiration for the television miniseries starring Sally Field.

At the turn of the century, a time when women had few choices, Bess Steed Garner inherits a legacy—not only of wealth but of determination and desire, making her trul
Paperback, Virago Modern Classics, 288 pages
Published March 2nd 2000 by Virago Press Ltd (first published 1978)
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Community Reviews

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Jun 20, 2007 Cristin rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is another book that reaffirms my belief in books having the uncanny power of choosing their readers when the time is just right.

My gaze has lingered on the tattered spine of A Woman of Independent Means for many months now; I've been perusing my shelf and consistently pausing there, hearing an echo of my sister's voice saying, "I think you'd like it. Here, take my copy." Still, it wasn't until a few days ago that I actually heeded its call.

Mortality is a topic every thing and one can rela
Jan 28, 2012 Laurie rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Laurie by: My dear mother
This is not about the book itself.

Found my copy of this book as I was gathering books to take to the Half-Price Book seller/buyer. (My husband does this for me so I won't come home with more than I took there. So I've never been in the store. Not that I need to with a Kindle Fire and a hot Amazon account.) I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw an inscription from my mother who has been gone from this life so many years ago. She always gave me a book for my birthday, a hard back book with an ins
Aug 31, 2008 Tamara rated it it was amazing
I tried a book without a single recommendation - very scary for me! I picked it up at the dollar store or a clearance rack and I fell in love with it. The entire book was written in letters over the span of an American women's life (late 1800's - 1969ish). She was a great character of strength and determination albeit selfish at times. Life deals her tragedy yet she often rises and grows from her losses. The word independent describes her perfectly (a bit like Scarlett O'Hara ) I am not sure if ...more
Jul 04, 2012 Marci rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-fiction
My dear friend told me to run, not walk, to the bookstore and purchase a copy of this book. And my, am I glad I did. This epistolary novel is written through a series of letters throughout the life of Bess Steed Armstrong, a forthright woman of the early 1900s who believes in living life on her own terms. Because of inherited money, she is indeed a woman of independent means, which helps her fulfill her chosen life's paths. Through her letters we come to intimately know this woman of indomitable ...more
Linda Paupst
Apr 02, 2013 Linda Paupst rated it it was amazing
I read this book thirty years ago and it was a light bulb moment for me - the first time I had read a 'how-to' on becoming independent in a relationship. Not meant to be a how-to book, this is a beautiful story of a woman, her loves and life, told in diary format. It is a page turner, but the take-away for me was how Bess illustrates the importance of every woman having her own financial security, her own thoughts and dreams. I thought it was so important that I bought copies for my own three da ...more
Oct 30, 2007 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
It's a book of letters from a woman of high society, beginning with her childhood letters to her sweetheart. She later marries him and they enjoy a life of luxury until his death. The book is touching, but I find the main character to be a bit bossy. Her insistence to have things her way all the time becomes a bit annoying, and she is outspoken to a fault. Her children, especially her daughter, become estranged from her near the end of her lift, as a result of her intrusive personality. The book ...more
Alberto Delgado
A todos mis amigos de goodreads:

No puedo hacer otra cosa al terminar de leer este libro que escribiros esta carta para que en algún momento la podáis leer. Acabo de terminar de leer la historia de la abuela de la escritora Elizabeth Forsythe a la que ella dio vida en su primer libro en forma de novela epistolar. Nos encontramos con una mujer que fue una adelantada a su época y que con su fuerte personalidad derribó muchos de los convencionalismos que se suponía que tenían que llevar las mujeres
Oct 29, 2008 Graceann rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of epistolary novels
This excellent novel, made up of a lifetime's correspondence from a woman to her family and friends running from the turn of the last Century to 1968, is a page-turner in all the best senses of that phrase. I cried at least twice while I was reading this story (an unusual occurrence for me) and couldn't read it quickly enough in order to find out what would happen next.

The author is very sneaky in that she gives Bess noble motives but a less-than-ideal way of going about them. She runs a fine th
Oct 29, 2009 Wendy rated it it was ok
This book is the life story of a woman born in the 1890’s through 1960’s told via her letters to friends and family. I did not know this was the book’s formats and it took me awhile to get used to. The book kept my interest and I read it in 3 days, but there were so many things I didn’t like about it. They all had to do with the heroine. I could not relate to her on so many fronts.

If you don't want to read all my ramblings: in a nutshell, she was too materialistic, too concerned about status an
Apr 23, 2015 Donna rated it liked it
This was different, but overall, I liked it.

In the beginning, I was a little put off by the frivolity of this woman. It had me wondering why this book has received so many 4 and 5 star rating. As I read further, there were threads of truth that remain poignant even in this century, that were woven throughout.

It is a short book, so this isn't an in depth look at the MC. But there were plenty of glimpses, both subtle and powerful, into the woman she was becoming.
Feb 06, 2008 Laurie rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: any woman who likes to read
I liked the creative way in which this book was written, through letters and other types of correspondence from Bess to various people in her life. We learn a lot about her not only from what she writes, but from her references to what other have written to her. She is a very controlling woman, who seeks to manipulate everyone and everything to her wishes and usually gets her way, but sometimes at a price to her personally. Very well written and wonderful 3-dimensional character development.
Valerie Petersen
Sep 10, 2010 Valerie Petersen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this many years ago and wondered if it would have lost its luster for me since I don't have the same mental set as I did then. However, so far, I'm loving it all over again.

This is an outstanding study of an unusual (for the time) woman who, through her letters, conveys a strong spirit, a strong sense of love of family, and a series of lessons on life ranging from child rearing to finance to business strategy to the honor of doing the right thing.

Bess begins writing letters in the fourth
Sonia Gensler
If you like epistolary novels, this is a must-read. Bess Steed is fascinating, flawed, and so very endearing. Her adventures and heartaches kept me riveted until the end.
Mar 16, 2017 Nancy rated it really liked it
Four and a half stars. This book might be more meaningful to an older reader because the main character's progress through life's twists and turns is what is fascinating. She is an annoying person, but there is much wisdom in her story, which is in the format of letters she has written over fifty years. I really liked this book!
Jan 27, 2009 Shelley rated it it was ok
Written by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey in epistolary form, A Woman of Independent Means, portrays the life of a middle to upper-middle-class white woman, Elizabeth Alcott, coming of age at the turn of the 20th century. Through letters written by Elizabeth we are shown portions of her life, though because these are letters, we are never able to get as truly close to Elizabeth as we would like. She is honest and forthcoming in many of the letters she writes, including those to her father, her cousin ...more
Nov 13, 2009 Anna rated it liked it
A Woman of Independent Means is a little saga that follows the life of Bess, a woman living through the tumultuous first half of the 20th century. It is a time of war, of depression and hardship, of a blossoming women's rights movement and confusion over modernity and tradition. Bess stumbles through each of these obstacles throughout her life. The book is written in a letter format, which is a little annoying, because the reader must figure out who the letter is to, what the date is, what event ...more
Feb 05, 2011 Makereal rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 05, 2012 Alice rated it really liked it
I always find novels written in the form of letters interesting (not that I's want to read more than one a year!). Though this novel was different in that the letters were all from the same person, so you had to glean from them what was going on with the people she would write to. This was well done by the author.
I found myself putting this book down and reading other things because somehow it was becoming too much a part of my thoughts!! It wasn't that I related to Bess and her lifestyle of tr
Jun 01, 2008 Petrea rated it really liked it
This was a Mother's Day gift from Megan and James and what a treat it was to read! The author chose to present the story of her grandmother through letters and it was a nice literary device in this case. The women of the story lived through so much history--besides her personal life which was amazing! I always find it interesting to read a person's life as they approach dates I know will be significant and see how they are affected. This woman lived through two world wars, the depression, the in ...more
Susan Fetterer
Aug 12, 2011 Susan Fetterer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really loved this book. It's written diary-style so you fly through the pages. It's the story of one woman --- over decades of her life, relationships, marriage, children, the pain of loss, coming to terms with change, forgiveness and redemption. There are a handful of books, if we're lucky, that stay with us for years. We remember what we felt while reading it, how exciting it was to have found a book that had us forego everything needing to be done because we couldn't put that book down. Now ...more
May 17, 2013 Holly rated it liked it
This book is written entirely as letters from the main character, Bess, to family and friends throughout her life. The first letter is written when she is a young child to her friend, who later becomes her husband. I was surprised how the one sided letters read so well like a story. I was still able to get to know the other characters even though they had no voice in the book. Bess, the Woman of Independent Means, is a very strong character and sometimes comes off as a little pushy and egocentri ...more
Andrea Homier
Oct 21, 2010 Andrea Homier rated it really liked it
This is a 3 1/2, but I will bump it up to four. I thoroughly enjoyed Elizabeth's personality, her life story (even if fictional) and great thoughts that are relayed through this book of letters. It's one of those books that one can reread every few years just to remind oneself of the right way of thinking about things! And as I find when reading any book of letters (John and Abigail Adams; The Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Society), real or creatively imagined, I find myself longing to writ ...more
Jun 20, 2015 Kate rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kate by: Susan
Shelves: 2015-books, 2015-tbr
This epistolary novel was recommended by Susan Gregg Gilmore at Booktopia Petoskey 2013 and has languished on my TBR pile since that wonderful weekend. I was looking for something different and picked it up. The letters are all written by Bess Steed Garner who was born in 1890 and by age 9 has become a prolific letter writer. Through her letters we not only see her life, but use them as a mirror to see how life was in the early part of the 20th century for wealthy Southern citizens. At times, sh ...more
Lisbeth Solberg
Aug 28, 2009 Lisbeth Solberg rated it it was ok
Although I like the basic premise of this epistolary novel, I quickly became impatient with the voice of the narrator and the exhaustive yet often unremarkable and/or repetitive detail. I would have liked to have seen a steeper learning curve in Bess over her long lifetime; she seemed extremely self-centered throughout. There were some good little surprises, though, and I did like the last entry.
May 04, 2009 Andrea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Andrea by: my Mom
I really enjoyed reading this book and recommend it highly. The format of this book are letters the main character has written to family, friends, colleagues, etc. Although it took getting used to reading in this format, it'll make you nostalgic for receiving and writing letters yourself. The book spans through the main character's life 1890's to 1968 and I was much impressed with the still current thoughts, feelings, triumphs, tragedies, and life experiences Bess talks about in her letters.
Nov 12, 2008 Adri rated it really liked it
This is a fun read. I thought the format was interesting: written entirely as letters from the main character, Bess, to her family and friends. As a woman of not only independent means but independent ideas, it is fun to imagine how she would have fared in her time, when women didn't do many of the things she did.

I think this would make for some good discussion, both literary-wise and culturally, in a book group.
Dec 13, 2008 Randal rated it really liked it
At first I was put off by the technique of this book--letters written from the main character to her friends and family--but I was quickly charmed by its content. Bess, the main character, is quite independent for a woman born in 1890. She could be charming and subtly manipulative in her epistles, often at the same time. This book was a treat to read.
Erin Rouleau
Jun 08, 2009 Erin Rouleau rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I could relate to so much of her desire to live life to the fullest and to travel and see everything. I also loved all her questions to life and how she always had some sort of answer. She was able to articulate so many of my own ideas. I really thought it was a beautiful book, but wonder if I had read it at an earlier time if I would have thought so.
Jul 16, 2013 Lara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
the character's attitude is scarlet o'hara esque contagious. the way she accomplishes what she likes is startling sometimes... I really like this book and I should probably fess up that a bit in the middle made me bawl. sigh.
Brynne Betz
First time read and even though it didnt totally impress me, I really enjoyed it. Its one of those books you just have to read...a big book that speaks volumes of its era. I felt closer to my grandmother while reading and that, felt lovely.
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