Since the season finale of HBO’s “The Gilded Age” aired in late March, you may be wondering where you can get that next dose of period drama goodness. The series, created by Julian Fellows of “Downton Abbey,”https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/apr/17/local-book-lovers-recommend-titles-to-fill-gilded/”The Gilded Age” tells the story of 1880s New York through fictional events played against a backdrop of some real-life historical characters such as Caroline Astor, Ward McAllister, Clara Barton and Thomas Edison as well as real events such as the New York Times building being illuminated by incandescent light in 1882. While we wait for a new season to find out what will happen after the Russells’ ball and if Peggy Scott will be successful in her heart-wrenching search, several local book lovers suggested some books to tide us over until Season II.
Fayetteville Public Library
• “The Gilded Hour” by Sara Donati: A popular historical fiction writer, Donati combines romance, mystery, and social history in this illuminating novel of New York in the Gilded Age. Meticulous research and historical milestones set a vivid stage for memorable characters and their interpersonal relationships at a time of great change in the United States and, particularly, in bustling New York City in 1883.
• “The Luxe” by Anna Godbersen: Scandalous, steamy fun set in Manhattan’s high society in 1899. A privileged group of young friends indulge in lavish lifestyles and bad behavior while straining against social constructs (and corsets). This first book in the “Luxe” series isn’t just “Gossip Girl” in gorgeous gowns. The author brings socialites and their world in the Gilded Age to life.
• “The American Heiress” by Daisy Goodwin: Excess and scandal on both sides of the pond as American socialite, Cora Cash, seems to have it all, but her social climbing mother wants her to have even more. From Kirkus Reviews: “A shrewd, spirited historical romance with flavors of Edith Wharton, Daphne du Maurier, Jane Austen, Upstairs, Downstairs and a dash of People magazine that charts a bumpy marriage of New World money and Old World tradition.”
• “The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America” by Erik Larson: Larson is known for his narrative nonfiction writing. His ability to connect dual storylines about real people and significant historical events allows readers to view history from an entirely different vantage point. This book focuses on the spectacle of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and (who many believe to be) America’s first serial killer, HH Holmes. A true crime story plays out against the backdrop of social and cultural change as advances in science and engineering take the United States from one century to the next.
Two Friends Books
• “Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton: This is the quintessential novel of manners of the Gilded Age. Edith Wharton wrote it in 1920 and won the Pulitzer Prize for this layered novel about class, love in 1870s New York City. As a huge Jane Austen fan, I remember reading this book as a young woman and falling in love with it. (Also recommended by Renée Findahl.)
• “Portrait of a Lady” by Henry James: Widely considered Henry James’ most important novel, “Portrait of a Lady” is a contemporary novel written in 1870 about Isabel Archer, a lively American heiress traveling to Europe to see the sights and meet eligible bachelors; however, things don’t go quite as planned. James’ exploration of wealth and happiness is truly masterful.
• “The Knickerbocker Club” series by Joanna Shupe: If you’re looking for something that’s more “Bridgerton-meets-Gilded Age” might I suggest Joanna Shupe’s “Knickerbocker Club” series? Set during the Gilded Age, these historical romance novels are steamy, trope-y romps through New York City.
• “The Christie Affair” by Nina de Gramont: While not technically a Gilded Age novel, I think it scratches the same itch. Set in 1920s London, “The Christie Affair” follows Agatha Christie during her famous disappearance of her told from the point of view of her husband’s mistress of her. Lush, glittering, mysterious and glamorous, I think this novel would be a fun companion for someone deep in the Gilded Age! (Hallee Israel recommends this one as well.)
• “The Social Graces” by Renée Rosen: If you loved “The Gilded Age” on HBO, I highly recommend reading “The Social Graces” by Renée Rosen. It’s got the same upper-class Manhattan setting as the show, and deals with similar themes of social class and women’s relationships, plus the drama! An outsider, in this case Alva Vanderbilt, has recently married into high society and finds herself at odds with the powerful Caroline Astor as they battle for the top hostess spot. Rosen examines the relationships between women at a time where their social status was all they had, and does it with humor and emotion that will surely please readers. I highly recommend it as a book club pick as well! (Rachel Slaton recommends this one as well.)
Springdale Public Library
• “Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune” by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.: I highly recommend this book for those wanting to read something that provides readers an inside perspective of turn- of-the-century grand estates and how, through time, these estates are more than just physical locations. They are representatives of those who built them, owned them, and in the case of Clark’s three estates, left them empty. The book provides a biographical narrative of Huguette Clark, who was an incredibly private individual. Dedman writes this biography with a relative of Clark’s, Paul Clark Newell. This book will satisfy the literary needs of those who want more information on those in the Gilded Age and early 20th Century and [want to] have an inside perspective and understanding of grand estates and their wealthy inhabitants.
• “To Paradise” by Hanya Yanagihar: The first part is set in New York during the Gilded Age, but it is a reimagined America and certainly dabbles in similar topics as Wharton. And, at a whopping 704 pages, Season 2 might be out before you finish!
Heather R Hays
Bentonville Public Library
• “A Well-Behaved Woman: A Story of the Vanderbilts” by Therese Fowler. I have always been fascinated by women’s roles in society during that time because not only were the poor women trapped in their circumstances, in many ways the wealthy were also. Alva Vanderbilt was a woman ahead of her time; she played the society game very well but she was also quite progressive in her thinking of her regarding women’s rights. I can’t imagine being so wealthy that you could just decide to build a mansion in New York City, or have a party so lavish that it could cost upwards of five figures! If you enjoy reading about high society during the Gilded Age, Fowler truly makes the story come alive.
Monica Hooper is music editor for What’s Up! and writes for all the NWADG Features sections. Email her from her at firstname.lastname@example.org.