In this 1907 novel about the extravagant life of New York City’s high society, the author of The Jungle, presents a richly detailed portrait of the wealthy elite of “The Metropolis.”
Allan Montague, a lawyer of thirty, moves to New York City from Mississippi, along with his mother and cousin Alice, to join his younger brother Oliver, who had taken up residence there several years before. The newcomers soon discover that Oliver has become a highly networked member of a fast-paced social circuit comprising some of the most powerful members of the business class. Oliver wastes no time in introducing Allan and Alice into this exclusive group in the hope that they will all prosper through their connections.
Sinclair devotes much of the novel to depictions of the profligate and jaded party life of the very rich, who spend vast sums of money on entertainment and new toys to relieve their boredom. Expensive cars (still a novelty at this time), lavishly furnished limousines and private trains, sumptuous dinners attended by liveried servants, tailor-made clothing costing thousands of dollars are described with meticulous attention to the enormous cost of it all. Sinclair also spares no detail in describing the rampant alcoholism, marital affairs, malicious gossip, backstabbing, and shallow values of this set.
When Allan agrees to represent a wealthy client in a suit against powerful insurance interests, he becomes caught in a web of influence and secret dealings that threaten his recently established social standing and the wellbeing of his whole family.
This early 20th-century version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with a cynical edge and a socialist reformer’s perspective provides a fascinating glimpse into the elite social life of the very wealthy of New York before the Great Depression.