Women of the Better Class

Therese Anne Fowler's A Well-behaved Woman is the fictional biography of Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, one of the doyennes of New York society during the Gilded Age. As a young woman, she is impoverished by her father's investments in the Confederacy and though she has impeccable breeding and ancestry, needs to marry well to save her family. She does, to one of America's richest men. However, Alva eventually discovers that while money can do amazing things, it can't get her who and what she really wants. So, she breaks the rules she has always lived by and finally becomes her own person.Full of drama and gorgeous description, this book has been quite popular here at the library, and if you're waiting for it or have already read it and want more, I have some suggestions. 

Before there were Crazy Rich Asians, there were the 400 families that made up Society in New York and Mrs. Caroline Astor was queen of them all. In the forthcoming What Would Mrs. Astor Do?, Cecelia Tichi illuminates the daily life of millionaires during the Gilded Age and how they behaved (and misbehaved) themselves. Full of lush illustrations, the reader is invited to imagine themselves as one of the privileged few and learn how and why this social echelon came to be.

Edith Wharton was a member of Society, and gave it a gimlet eye. Of her novels, the one that best correlates to A Well-Behaved Woman is The House of Mirth. In this exposure of manners and morals, Lily Bart attempts to scale the social ladder without money of her own. This novel announced the arrival of Wharton as a full-on woman of letters, and a literary force to be reckoned with.

Lucy Scarpelli, an Italian immigrant, finds work in an upscale dress shop in Nancy Moser's An Unlikely Suitor. She soon becomes the personal dressmaker of Rowena, a young socialite determined to make a splash in the resort town of Newport, Rhode Island. The two become close as danger threatens Lucy and her family from anti-immigrant forces in this inspirational romance.

City of Ash by Megan Chance finds Geneva Langley exiled to Seattle from Chicago by her powerful father for an indiscretion meant to pique the fading interest of her husband. She ends up patronizing a young playwright and angling to get a role in his latest play, much to the consternation of the actress he wrote it for. The fire that burned down Seattle in 1889 plays a prominent role in another intricately plotted tale of high drama.

Have more tales of strong women imprisoned by class and wealth? Tell us about them in the comments.

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