The ‘Golden Age’: What is truth and what is fiction?

A scene from this week’s episode of “The Gilded Age,” Julian Fellowes’ hit HBO period drama, takes us to Central Park in the late 19th century. Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson), young middle-aged, rebellious and new from the dark lands of Pennsylvania, was riding in a carriage with her two green-blooded aunts as the conversation turned to Caroline Astor, a fearsome demon of New society. York.

“Do you like Mrs. Astor?” Marian asked.

“That’s like saying, ‘Do you like the rain? ”” Her aunt Agnes (Christine Baranski, a wasp) replied. “She is a fact of life that we must live with.”

It’s one of many nods to New York history that appear in “The Gilded Age.” Set in a time of dramatic change, the series captures the moment when the city’s focus shifts to the city, as the rules of society are rapidly rewritten as new mansions take over. European inspiration sprang up along Fifth Avenue, and as old families like the Astors and Schermerhorns were challenged socially and financially by tourist arrivals named Vanderbilt, Gould, and Rockefeller.

Era name, word a book co-written by Mark Twain, making the point sparkle on the surface. “Gilded means gilded, not gold,” said Erica Armstrong Dunbar, history professor at Rutgers University and lead history consultant on “The Gilded Age” and co-executive producer. “. “It was a time when economic inequality, racism, violence and bourgeoisism were coexisting with luxury and extravagance.”

Carl Raymond, a social historian Whose podcast?“The Gilded Gentleman,” which focuses on the times, says the cultural change is largely driven by “major changes in commercial infrastructure, as money rushes in and old New York is dying.” challenged by the new”.

“That’s when new societies are created and everyone is fighting for power,” he said.

HBO’s series is primarily about the Golden Age of our imaginations, filled with large families, lavish interiors, lavish entertainments, strict social rules, huge fortunes and ambitions beyond the sky.

Most of the first half of the season, which ended on March 21, “The Gilded Age” blends fictional tragedy with actual historical plots, such as the importance of Black journalism, the wave of sugar Rich stratospheric iron poured into the city, and a seething society disputed the trendy opera house’s hospitality to newcomers.

The events that took place between some characters were entirely made up and others were clearly inspired by real people – Bertha Russell, Carrie Coon, the future award-winning Alva Vanderbilt channel, for example. themselves – as well as some people are portraits of real historical figures. These include the aforementioned Caroline Astor (Donna Murphy), queen of the Gilded Age society; Ward McAllister (Nathan Lane), the snobby social arbiter of the elite; Clara Barton (Linda Emond), founder of the American Red Cross; and T. Thomas Fortune (Sullivan Jones), writer, orator, civil rights leader and editor of the Black newspaper.

Tearing truth from fiction is part of the fun of watching “The Gilded Age,” which was recently refreshed for a second season. To help you, here’s the back story of some of the elements that shape the series’ world.

In the first episode, the wealthy, ambitious new Russell family cook accepts that the family has moved into stylish 61st Street, about 30 blocks west of their previous home. North. “Thirty Street is out of style,” he announced.

Indeed, the early history of Manhattan’s upper class is one of migration north, from Bowling Green to Washington Square to Murray Hill in the ’50s, and then straight up Fifth Avenue in the 1880s.

“Suddenly, the people you thought were underneath you, the people you didn’t want to associate with,” says Esther Crain, author of “The Gilded Age in New York” and the website’s founder. , is suddenly in your group. Ephemeral New Yorkwhere to discover interesting aspects of the city.

She describes it as a time when corruption, exploitation and bribery were rampant, but also when the city’s culture, way of life and institutions began to take shape, reinforcing New York’s sense of self. is the center of everything.

“New York is the epitome of the times — the financial capital of the country, the industrial base for so many great businesses,” she said. “It has culture, capital, theatre, shopping and fashion, and everyone wants to be here.”

“The Age of Innocence,” Edith Wharton’s subtle dissection of the Gilded Age in New York, opens with the protagonists preparing to watch “Faust” at the Academy of Music, the popular opera venue. Old guard of beloved New York. “Conservatives treasure it for being small and inconvenient, and therefore, shunned by the ‘newbies’ New York has begun to fear and is not yet attracted to,” Wharton writes.

Indeed, although Bertha Russell, the wealthiest and most brazen upstart in “The Gilded Age,” attends an opera performance as a guest, she discovers to her dismay that all of her fortune couldn’t buy her a dream box of her own. The academy is less than two dozen, owned by prominent New York families and passed on to their heirs.

“Going to the opera in this era was a social battleground,” says Raymond. “It’s about where you sit, what you’re wearing – and most importantly, who saw you do it.” The layout, he said, considers itself a social trend, with “boxes on one side of the stage looking at boxes on the other side.”

In New York, rich people annoyed by being left out of everything tend to establish their own more unconventional alternatives. In this case, a new group of money-related people pooled their money and built a bigger and better building. (A character from “The Gilded Age” describes them as “JP Morgan, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts – every New York opportunist.”) The result was the first Metropolitan Opera House, which opened in 1883 on Broadway and 39th Street. (Unable to compete, the Academy attempted to reinvent itself as a variety hall but closed a few years later.)

Dunbar said that the ease with which the rich could participate in society during this period reflected and reinforced one of America’s founding myths: it was a place where anything was possible, as long as you work and earn money.

“It seems like this is just a case of the ‘old’ rich and the ‘new’ rich,” says Dunbar. “But it speaks to the changing defenders, the changing traditions, and how this nation has always struggled with change.”

America was still a young nation in the Golden Age, less than 100 years old and forged by revolution that ostensibly negated the old ways. But for all that, Manhattan’s upper crust seems determined to emulate European customs.

In “The Gilded Age,” Mrs. Russell reflects on the tastes of the time by boasting that her new chef is French. Her lavish new home was designed to emulate grand European homes, as well as those built by real-life New Yorkers of the era. (The interior is generally also full of materials bought from Europe and imported at great expense.) The new opera house is modeled after its European counterparts. So are social customs – elaborate rules of dress, manners and decorations, regulating who can be introduced to whom – are also very European, perhaps an upper-class reaction anxiety over the interesting but threatening American conception of social mobility.

“Caroline Astor’s model is Europe; she wants to set up a European and American court,” Raymond said. “One of the funniest ironies about the Gilded Age is that you have a society that is desperately trying to compete with the courts of Europe and the English aristocracy.”

For many years, Caroline Schermerhorn Astor was the ruler of New York society and the epitome of the old protector of Manhattan. With the help of her friend Ward McAllister, she decides who and what is worthy, or not. It is said that her party is limited to 400 guests from 25 “older” families.

But she met her match in the amazingly wealthy Alva Vanderbilt, who flooded New York and in 1882 placed herself in The most luxurious new mansion the city has ever seen, at 52nd Street and 5th Avenue. Designed under the watchful eye of Vanderbilt by renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt and called “Petit Chateau”, it is huge, made of limestone and done in French Gothic and Renaissance styles. It really looks like a castle, to the point where you could have one in the middle of an American city. Astor himself has two homes, one in the unfashionable 30s and one in the 50s. But nowhere is it as beautiful as the Vanderbilt Mansion.

In 1883, Vanderbilt throw a lavish masked ball for more than 1,000 guests. Everyone clamored to be invited, but Astor and her daughter Carrie (who was said to be keen to attend) were dropped from the guest list. The story goes that after Vanderbilt told McAllister she was never introduced to Astor, Astor quickly called Vanderbilt – and promptly received an invitation to the party.

Alas, like virtually all Gilded Age mansions, the Vanderbilts’ “Petite Castle” eventually became too expensive for the family to maintain. In 1926, Vanderbilt’s heirs sold it to developers for $3.75 million, and it was demolished. One Office building now located on the site. The ‘Golden Age’: What is truth and what is fiction?

Fry Electronics Team

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