THE SOCIAL GRACES
By: Renée Rosen
Published: April 20, 2021
Historical fiction about real people is always a favorite and this one about two women I knew very little about hooked me right from the start. It’s gossipy, but also historically accurate. It is lavish and extravagant. It’s old New York and fancy, late-night balls with butlers and maids. But, it’s also full of friendships, family, and forgiveness.
Caroline Astor was the QUEEN of society in the late 1800s. Her husband was rich and had “old” money. She followed society’s rules to a “T” and expected her daughters to do the same. She had THE party of the summer, her annual clambake, and everyone begged and pleaded to be on her guest list because if you were, that meant you were “in”.
Alva Vanderbilt married money. But, it was new money and railroad money. Old society frowned upon them. Money should be inherited not earned as Caroline Astor believed. But, they were still millionaire rich. Alva was lonely and wanted to be part of Caroline Astor’s society as she knew that was the only way she could get noticed, but to no avail, the invites never came. Even after she saved Caroline’s daughter’s life.
So, let the feuds begin. Caroline despised Alva’s new way of dressing with bold colors. Alva wanted to try new parties and each lady tried to outdo the other. The extreme wealth and extravagance that was spent to host these balls blew my mind. I also was shocked that most of them started so late into the evening and went until the next morning.
Rosen’s attention to detail when it came to the details of the balls, the homes that Alva and Caroline lived in, and the relationships between their spouses and children sucked you right into their lives. I never expected to love these women as much as I did. Their lives are so different from ours, but oh to be a fly on the wall at one of their balls. Luckily, you can be through this book! Rosen takes you right there as if you were being ushered into the hall in your finest hat and gown.
Caroline and Alva are the kind of women you want to hate but can’t. They love their families fiercely and don’t know any other way to live than to live with wealth and privilege. As Caroline gets older and is struck by several tragedies in a row, you see her soften and willing to see the world in a new way. Alva also has to deal with harsh circumstances in her life and her desires become less about throwing the best party, but changing how society views women.
“Life was so fleeting, so fragile, and in the grand scheme of things, what difference did it make if someone used the wrong fork, or served the wrong wine? In the end – did any of this matter? Maybe William had been right all along – society was frivolous. And yet, she was so conditioned by it, she didn’t know how to be any other way.”Caroline Astor in THE SOCIAL GRACES by Renée Rosen.
I was absolutely clueless about the connection between the Waldorf Hotel and the Astoria Hotel until reading this book. We now know it as the Waldorf Astoria in NYC and the story behind the building of these hotels is quite hilarious. What people did to annoy each other was astounding…and extremely expensive.
If you love historical fiction that dishes on real-life people and events, pick this one up. I breezed through this one and wished there was more to read about these fascinating women. In Rosen’s author note, even she admits it was hard to find the humanity in Caroline and Alva so that we as readers would like and sympathize with them. Well, she did it. I couldn’t put this one down.
Renée Rosen is the bestselling author of historical fiction including PARK AVENUE SUMMER, WHAT THE LADY WANTS, WINDY CITY BLUES, WHITE COLLAR GIRL, and DOLLFACE, as well as the YA novel, EVERY CROOKED POT. Renée now lives in Chicago where she is working on a new novel about the iconic cosmetic queen, Estee Lauder coming in 2023. For more, check out her website, HERE.