Gilded City: Scandal and Sensation in Turn-Of-The-Century New York

M. H. Dunlop, Author William Morrow & Company $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-688-17144-5
It's unclear whether Dunlop (Sixty Miles from Contentment), who teaches 19th-century American literature and culture at Iowa State University, believes she is shocking her readers with tales of greed, excess and debauchery based on her close reading of period big-city newspapers, especially the New York Herald. Certainly, readers are well aware that even beneath the veneer of Victorian propriety lay the seamier side of the human condition. Nevertheless, she demonstrates that in the years between 1880 and 1910--an age of ""big new money"" where ""more and larger"" were important achievements--in New York City, ""there was more wealth in private hands, more stuff available to buy, more opportunity to get ahead, and more densely packed poverty than anywhere else on the face of the earth."" The wealthy flaunted their jewels, held elaborate social affairs and aspired to connections with European royalty. The general public was fascinated by such conspicuous consumption, in particular by ""what other Americans could be made to do in their service"" in exchange for money: ""rich and not so rich men [set] out to discover how many girls--at fifteen dollars apiece--would drop their undergarments in front of a group of men."" But this same public (rich and otherwise) was constantly on the lookout for the wealthy's errors in judgment and action; a New York Herald reporter, for instance, described how Giulia Morosini, who had invited him to view her diamond-encrusted wardrobe for the upcoming social season, had the gall to suggest that, in compiling such a wardrobe, she was serving as a benefactress of social welfare and a promoter of the arts.. Dunlop has perfectly timed for what has been called a ""new gilded age"" her captivating and enlightening work on Americans' obsession with money and privilege. Agent, John Ware. (Nov. 28; publication of this review was delayed due to a production error)
Reviewed on: 10/30/2000
Release date: 11/01/2000
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-0-06-093772-0
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