Take a trip back in time to the Gilded Age inside the pages of The Social Graces by Renée Rosen. The late 1800’s in Manhattan is ruled by Mrs. Caroline Astor, the woman who decides if you are granted entrance into the glittering world of New York society. Along comes Alva Vanderbilt, whose possesses extraordinary wealth, but it is nouveau riche money. That simply isn’t good enough for Mrs. Astor, who detests railroad money and firmly believes one’s wealth should be inherited, not earned. One must have pedigree and a dowry to even be in consideration of entrance in society. The Social Graces transports the reader back to when two women, Caroline Astor and Ava Vanderbilt, battle for social supremacy.
There’s so much more to The Social Graces than two wealthy women vying for Queen Bee status. It’s about women wanting to feel power over something at a time when females had no control over any other aspects of society. As is often the result of desperation and dysfunction, there is not only a hierarchy, but an agreed upon dictatorship among the wealthy ladies. The agreement is Mrs. Caroline Astor is the one who grants admittance or rejection into society. This leads to Alva Vanderbilt attempting everything she can think of to impress Caroline.
The novel goes even deeper into the women’s lives and the reader gets a front seat to how each parents their children, navigates marital infidelity and grieves the loss of loved ones. Although they are two very different women from different backgrounds, both Caroline and Alva possess remarkable intellect, strength and resilience. Although their wealth makes their lives tremendously easy in a myriad of ways, the old saying about money not buying happiness remains true.
The meticulous research that Renée Rosen put into The Social Graces comes forward on every page. It is why the novel can be both tender and devastating, frivolous and serious, glittering and direful. Historical fiction works best when it has masterful and accurate details to accompany the fictional story and The Social Graces is a beautiful marriage of fact and fiction.
Although the novel begins with two women’s frustrations and lack of autonomy, it ends with an uplifting message of adaptation, bravery and strength. The Social Graces delightfully celebrates female empowerment in the most dazzling way.
Drink Pairing: Gilded Age Champagne Cocktail