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A Woman of Independent Means

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  3,344 ratings  ·  537 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 tru ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 1st 1998 by Penguin Books (first published 1978)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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 ·  3,344 ratings  ·  537 reviews

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Jun 20, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Linda Hart
Dec 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not many books do I read more than once. This was one. I read it about 35 years ago when I was busy raising 5 kids, and a husband, and it had a big impact on my life. I have just requested it from the library so that I can read it again! I can’t think of higher praise I could give for any book. It was recommended to me by my mother who, I believe, identified with Bess. I certainly saw the comparisons when I read it, as did my sisters.

One reviewer described the story as "A portrait of a woman wi
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
Oct 30, 2007 rated it liked it
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
May 17, 2011 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-college-years
What I remember most about this book is when she learned to drive and realized that she could get anywhere just by making right hand turns. I felt the same way when I learned to drive.
Linda Paupst
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
Jan 27, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 10, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read (well listened to) this for a book club and I guess I’m missing something because I thought it was just okay (I rounded up from 2.5 stars). Maybe it’s because times have changed since this was released, or because I just grew up differently, but I didn’t find Bess particularly independent or charming. To me she seemed demanding and self-absorbed. She certainly wasn’t afraid to speak her mind or let it be known what she wanted, but does that make one independent?

I will say, this passage fr
Donna Davis
I read this because it is a family member's favorite book and we're doing some female bonding--bit out of my usual lane, but the character is interesting. ...more
Valerie Petersen
Sep 10, 2010 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
Dec 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my favorite books. It has been years since I've read it and I wanted a friend to enjoy it too, so I ordered another copy and I'm reading it again. Tres fabu!
* * * * *
I do love _Fair and Tender Ladies_ too, but this one is even better. Best book I've ever read!
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Epistolary novel

Bess Steed Garner is an independent woman of - luckily enough - independent means. And luckily for the reader, Bess lives in the age of communication by mail. We get to know Bess through her letters to family, friends, sometimes mere acquaintances. We're privy not only to the events in her life but also to what she thinks about them. (Those events include two world wars and Kennedy's assassination.) Bess is generous to a fault and if that generosity also benefits her, well, so be
Sara Joseph
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book as a teenager and I wanted to understand why. I found a quote from it, which I had painstakingly copied into my journal when I was sixteen. The book had completely slipped from my memory, so I borrowed it from the library and embarked on a rediscovery of my younger self.
How much I've changed as an adult! This book is still one of my favorites because I enjoy Hailey's writing style. Her use of the language is so rich and fluid and I enjoyed how well she fleshed out her characte
Talya Boerner
Jul 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this oldie for the first time and feel I’ve discovered a hidden treasure. This story is told entirely in letters written by Bess throughout her life from 1899 to 1968. I enjoyed seeing references to familiar Dallas streets and places and reading about historic events through her eyes. This book is another reminder there are a lifetime of books waiting to be discovered. This book is an homage to the lost art of letter-writing.
Pat Shapley
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book! It's all in letter form, all from her to others and cleverly written to keep you up to date on her life. Covers a time period from 1899 to 1968. Travel with this woman through marriages, children, world travels and relationships. Sometimes she seemed pretensions, but possibly justified, sometimes I just couldn't decide. An interesting perspective of a woman with a husband but independence, her own money, and a strong will.
Highly recommend.
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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! ...more
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lowry Mainereader
I re-read this book every 10 years or so and love it every time. Linda Hart's review of the book here on Goodreads reflects my response to the book. That's a good review to read.
It is so interesting to read the reviews that describe the main character, Elizabeth, as strong-willed and meddlesome - words that would not be applied to full-featured male characters who live comfortably with strong personalities who not only speak their truths but also learn from seeing their impacts on others and s
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 27, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished, 2019
My love of epistolary novels lives on. Bess tells us her story through her letters to others from her childhood in 1899 through her last letter in 1968. Bess is, as the title suggests, a woman of independent means who is afforded a life different of other women of her time. We see her though love, loss, travel, and moving through her life.

This is a case of enjoying the writing style while not enjoying the character as much as I hoped to. I found Bess to be overbearing manipulative, a d at times
Jun 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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