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What to Read: Meredith Haggerty is on alert for heiresses
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What’s your publication about in one sentence?
What comes up when you keep a Google Alert for the word “heiress” (if you have generally anti-capitalist politics, an unkillable interest in glamour, and unfettered access to Wikipedia).
What about heiresses and inherited wealth inspired you to start a Substack?
I’m interested in how money affects people, and generational wealth is a way to have a really compelling sort of control group. That’s my academic answer.
In practice: One day I was talking with some coworkers about fruitful Google Alerts (I have dozens, shameful ones, like “Lily James dating”), and it occurred to me that the single word “heiress” captures lots of the kinds of stories that interest me: gossip about rich people, royal wedding announcements, histories featuring feisty women, etc.
I set it up, but I didn’t realize it would include even more things I’m fascinated by and often feel complicated about: business stories about international finance, media and tech news, and so, so much true crime. When I saw what was actually in there, it sent me down rabbit holes I really wanted to write about.
Have you observed any trends when it comes to being a contemporary heir or heiress?
This is kind of inverted, but doing this for a year, I’ve picked up that many American heirs and heiresses don’t receive too much publicity around that idea. The alert brings back tons of international stories (a lot of the Daily Mail and Australian tabs, bless and keep them) but somewhat fewer local ones. I do suspect that in the U.S., rich people are less into the narrative of generational wealth. When America’s rich kids do explicitly come up, it’s often not on any kind of society page, but real estate or business press.
Outside of this newsletter, somewhat often, I’ll realize someone notable is generationally wealthy, and it’s not really part of their origin story. I don’t necessarily think that people have to be eternally defined by their family’s financial circumstances, but also there are many narratives out there that obscure the advantage of coming from money. It’s an interestingly incomplete picture.
What’s the weirdest or most surprising heiress-related discovery you’ve encountered?
This sucks, but I truly cannot tell you how many of the stories I come across are about a woman being murdered by her romantic partner.
That’s not to say that there’s a higher incidence of violence among the wealthy. It might be, though, that terrible things happen to people of all economic groups, and we’re slightly more interested when there’s money involved.
There’s also this kind of inverse corollary, which is that many of these women who experience violence weren’t, say, written up coming out at debutante balls; they only get attached to the word “heiress” after, and arguably as a result of their violent death. Like we care more about how much money someone has when they die, but we also care more when they die if they have money. There’s a whole tier of wealth and class who get written up as inheritors only if a terrible crime occurs.
When you first started, you said the project would be “fun but deeply low-effort.” How have you fared, on both counts?
I take delight in so much of this stuff: pictures of lavish houses, especially when they’re tacky; descriptions of lower-grade bad behavior, especially romantic in nature; or the devastating details of a well-done piece of longform journalism. Even a lot of the nerdier stuff too, like connecting the dots between a familiar brand name or product or financial services company and the lives it’s built. And I do try to take a light tone! (I also don’t want to be glib—sometimes I fail.)
But if someone asks you if you’re fun and you go down a full, overthinking spiral like I did answering this, the correct reply is probably “not exactly.” For instance, my last answer was about murders. Many of the stories are sad. People’s lives are complicated, and money doesn’t make them less so. That’s like, heiress lesson number one.
As for low-effort: lol, no. But it’s a good reminder for me in my day job as an editor how time-consuming research, writing, and fact-checking are.
Who’s another Substack writer you’d recommend?
I’d recommend Dave Infante, who runs the excellent newsletter Fingers, about the alcohol industry. We share a vibe of taking a sort of cheerfully antagonistic—or maybe antagonized?—view of money and power, and there’s a surprising lot of overlap between his beat and mine, and so we’ve worked together a bit, including on a podcast that we want to do more of.