By Leslie Lindsay
Longtime feud between NYC’s upper-crust women, Mrs. Vanderbilt and Mrs. Astor, THE SOCIAL GRACES is an atmospheric and gorgeous tale of the Gilded Age.
~WEDNESDAYS WITH AUTHORS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~
HISTORICAL FICTION SERIES
Renee Rosen, bestselling author of PARK AVENUE SUMMER, delivers readers a peek behind the curtain at one of the most remarkable feuds in history: Mrs. Vanderbilt and Mrs. Astor’s notorious battle for control of New York society during the Gilded Age in THE SOCIAL GRACES (Berkley: April, 2021).
In the glittering world of Manhattan’s upper crust, where wives turn a blind eye to husbands‘ infidelities, and women have few rights and even less independence, society is everything. The more celebrated the hostess, the more powerful the woman. And none is more powerful than Caroline Astor–the Mrs. Astor.
But times are changing.
Alva Vanderbilt has recently married into one of America’s richest families. But what good is money when society refuses to acknowledge you? When it carries on just as it has done for generations? Alva, who knows what it is to have nothing, will do whatever it takes to have everything.
Sweeping three decades and based on true events, this gripping novel follows these two women as they try to outdo and outsmart each other at every turn. As Caroline comes closer to defeat and Alva closer to victory, both will make surprising discoveries about themselves and what’s truly at stake.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Renee Rosen to the author interview series:
I’m always curious about why we write–what inspired THE SOCIAL GRACES?
THE SOCIAL GRACES is the story of Alva Vanderbilt and Caroline Astor vying for control of New York society during the Gilded Age. That’s my elevator pitch, but it’s also the story of mothers and daughters, of sisters, of husbands and wives, of class and examining one’s shifting values.
In terms of inspiration, it was more of a “who” rather than a “what”. I was brainstorming on new book concepts and my agent mentioned Consuelo Vanderbilt. Right after that, my editor suggested doing something in the Gilded Age. So really it was the two of them who inspired me, and after some preliminary research on New York in that time period, it was obvious that the rivalry between Mrs. Astor and Alva Vanderbilt had the makings of a really interesting novel.
“Rosen’s novel opens with a sly wink to that grande dame of the Gilded Age, Edith Wharton, before she deftly spins a captivating tale of her own, based upon the legendary rivalry between Caroline Astor and Alva Vanderbilt. And what a rich story it is, full of opulent balls and monstrous mansions, yet firmly rooted in the parallel struggles of two very different heroines as they fight for their dignity and rights as wives, as mothers, and as women.”
—Fiona Davis, bestselling author of GMA Book Club Pick The Lions of Fifth Avenue
Can you go into details about what it was like to write the feuding Mrs. Astor and Mrs. Vanderbilt, two of America’s wealthiest and most powerful women? Did you relate more to Mrs. Astor, or Mrs. Vanderbilt?
Bringing Caroline Astor and Alva Vanderbilt to life on the page was far more challenging than I had anticipated. When I first started working on the novel, I looked at my cast of characters and realized I had a group of rather unlikable people. On the surface, they came across as spoiled, entitled, greedy and superficial. I knew that if I wanted to engage the reader, I was going to have to really drill down to find the humanity in these people and find a reason for us to root for them. Once I started to see Alva and Caroline as wives, mothers and daughters themselves, they started to come alive for me. I found myself able to relate to both of them in different ways and for different reasons. I related to Caroline reaching the prime of her life and worried that her youth and significance were slipping away. With Alva I related to her passion, her drive, her unconventional spirit. In the end, I’m happy to say that I found them both women to be fascinating and bewildering characters to work with.
My editor tells me is that I should always discover something–about myself or my characters–as I writer. Did you discover anything in your research that surprised you?
I was really surprised by how understated the knickerbockers (the old money) were early on, before the nouveau riche began exerting their influence. For example, Caroline Astor and other society matrons of her ilk found those wonderful Worth gowns to be very gauche and pretentious. They never wore them and instead favored more plain gowns. The knickerbockers lived in very refined, nearly identical townhouses. It wasn’t until Alva Vanderbilt embarked on her architectural masterpieces (such as Petit Chateau and Marble House) that the rest of society began trying to out-build one another with their palatial mansions. The same goes for their extravagant entertaining. It wasn’t until the new money began throwing such elaborate and outlandish balls that the knickerbockers felt they needed to compete and became a matter of keeping up with the Joneses.
I always love asking this: If THE SOCIAL GRACES was made into a movie, who would you choose to cast as your two leading ladies?
Such a fun question! I think Kathy Bates would be a fabulous Mrs. Astor and I could see Julia Garner bringing Alva to life. After seeing her portrayal of Ruth Langmore in Ozark as well as a few other performances, I’m convinced she’d be brilliant in any part she plays.
For more information, or to connect with Renee Rosen via social media, please visit:
THE SOCIAL GRACES is a Spring 2021 release. If you think this is a book you’ll love, it really does help authors and publishers to pre-order. It will arrive on your doorstep the day it becomes available.
Readers who love the historical fiction world of Fiona Davis (especially THE ADDRESS) will enjoy THE SOCIAL GRACES, but I was also reminded of the work of Sara Donati, and also Suzanne Rindell, particularly THE TWO MRS. CARLYLES.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Renée Rosen is the bestselling author of Park Avenue Summer, Windy City Blues, White Collar Girl, What the Lady Wants and Dollface. She is also the author of Every Crooked Pot, a YA novel published in 2007. Renée lives in Chicago.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. She is at work on a memoir, about growing up with a mentally ill interior decorator mother and her devolve into psychosis. Leslie’s writing & prose poetry has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, Coffin Bell Journal, and others. Her cover art was featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available late this summer. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.
Querying MODEL HOME: Motherhood & Madness a Daughter’s Memoir. Available soon: 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA from Woodbine House.
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[Author and cover image courtesy of PRH and used with permission. Author photo cred: Charles Osgood. Special thanks to Berkley Publishing]