Hears about 19th Century “The Social Graces”

By Larry Atseff

On November 23, at Maggiano’s in Oak Brook, nearly 50 members of the Oak Brook Women’s Club got a real sense of what the “Gilded Age” was like in the late nineteenth century, thanks to Chicagoan Renee Rosen, and her new best seller, “The Social Graces”. She specializes in historical fiction which combines facts with a very active imagination to connect the dots on how people reacted to historical events with their actions and their conversations. As she puts it, “After I delve into a period of history, I can start hearing the people involved talking to one another and explaining to me what is going on and why, as if I am there.” The book certainly rings true. It covers the late 19th century among Manhattan’s upper crust where a legendary battle royale raged on for decades between “old rich” Caroline Astor and upstart “new rich” Alva Vanderbilt for leadership of New York City’s high society. Since money was never an issue, these ladies continually outdid each other. The audience gasped when Renee explained that the elaborate events these ladies created, in today’s dollars, would regularly run into the several millions. Renee narrated and shared actual pictures of the times, in detail, with a slide show. These were times when women, especially wives of business and industry leaders, were quite limited. They weren’t allowed to have a job, or be in business, or be in any outsidethe-home endeavor. Their “job” was to take care of the home and the children, while their husbands worked and made the income. Certain women of means didn’t accept that role and turned to social events and activities, like the opera, or creating lavish dinners, and events like elaborate balls where you wanted to see who was there and you wanted to make sure you were seen. They put themselves in charge of establishing fashions such as the décor of their homes and the clothes they might wear when they were to be seen in public. Importantly, they also used these events to raise funds for worthwhile causes. All in all, Renee captured the age and the drama, and club members appreciated the presentation. From Barnes & Noble: “… the book sweeps through three decades and based on true events; this is the mesmerizing story of two fascinating and complicated women going head-tohead, behaving badly, and discovering what is truly at stake.” President Marci Spingola told the group they can look forward to more interesting presentations like this in the future.