Jacob (National Historic Publications and Records Commission) portrays the parties and scandal that characterized the society in the nation's capital during the Gilded Age. She argues that the capital's social elite has always been unique because its fortunes are tied to the presence of the federal government. Jacob identifies three distinct aristocracies that competed for prominence during the period, and examines the ongoing clash between the Democratic residential elite and northern Republican elected figures. Includes b&w illustrations. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.
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Jacob reveals that while Washington, D.C.'s cocktail- and dinner-party circuit has changed in its makeup over the last 200 years, its spirit remains the same. Jacob (assistant program director for publications at the National Historical Publications and Records Commission) focuses on three subsets of D.C.'s elite during the Gilded Age, as dubbed by Mark Twain: the Antiques (who later became known as the Cave- Dwellers), the Officials, and the Parvenus. Before the Civil War, the fine old Southern Antique families reigned in society. After the war, with Southern ways and means felled by Confederate defeat, war heroes, Bonanza Kings, and patent profiteers poured into the capital, and the Northern Republican officials who came to administer the restored Union set the social agenda. By the turn of the century, masses of new millionaires had streamed into Washington, which, because of its regular post-election population turnover, was known as the easiest American society to break into. The bankrolls and ballrooms of the nouveaux riches ruled the social pages of the newspapers. In each of the three eras, snubs, scandals, seasonal belles, and supermarriages fed the rumor mill. Interestingly, the First Ladies of the last century suffered some of the same travails as their 20th-century successors: Mary Todd Lincoln was criticized for her expensive clothing tastes, and Julia Grant was caught up in a gold speculation scandal. Despite such occasional juicy historical gossip, the book often resembles a who- was-who catalog. Ultimately, the social gaze Jacob casts upon D.C.'s well-born and well-to-do proves superficial, like a party- goer who describes the setting, the guest list, the seating, the menu, and a few snippets of overheard conversation without ever catching the double entendres. In describing social jockeying in pre-Beltway D.C., Jacob sacrifices incisiveness for comprehensiveness. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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