In New York City’s Gilded Age, one family struggles to maintain their place among the other members of high society.
Despite her prestigious Dutch roots and copious family money, Helen Maitland wasn't particularly popular among the eligible bachelors of Manhattan, and she was at risk of ending up a spinster. Then she fell for Joshua Wilcox, a country boy who lived near her family’s summer home. Her mother would surely have forbidden the match, but after discovering Helen in a compromising position, she has no choice but to allow the marriage to proceed. Years later, in 1874, it’s time for Helen and Joshua to present their eldest daughter, Jemima, to society, and Helen worries that her husband’s subpar pedigree may jeopardize Jemima’s chance at an advantageous match. Worse yet, Joshua has made poor financial decisions, and the consequences seem to be bearing out at the worst possible time. As the family falls from riches to rags, invitations to social events quickly dwindle, as do friendly visits from other members of Manhattan’s elite. In addition, both Jemima and her younger sister, Alice, have begun developing feelings for specific gentlemen who are clearly outside the purview of their mother’s desires for them. As this novel of manners meanders forward, the narrative shifts perspectives frequently, offering insights from many of the different characters, including Joshua and Helen, both of their daughters, and other members of the New York gentry. Characters travel around town to Washington Square Park, Delmonico’s, the opera, and other exciting locales, treating readers to many delightful details about Manhattan in the latter part of the 19th century. Character development and plot movement are strongest in the first third of the novel, after which the pace slows considerably. Even so, fans of Bridgerton and Downton Abbey will delight in this period piece and its plethora of charming details about fabrics, dance cards, and decorum.
An entertaining glimpse into Manhattan’s 19th-century high society and the conflict between tradition and innovation.