The Social Graces by Renée RosenDiscussion Questions
1. Mother-daughter relationships play a large role in The Social Graces. What did you think of the various mother-daughter dynamics in the novel? Do you think mothers still exercise as much influence over their daughters today as they did in the Gilded Age? Do you think that in today’s world daughters are more outspoken with their mothers?
2. Alva’s best friend and her daughter’s godmother, Consuelo Yznaga, the Duchess of Manchester, has an affair with Alva’s husband. In the book, Alva says she feels her friend’s betrayal is worse than her husband’s. How do you feel about that? Is there a so-called Girl Code between friends? Do you think Alva should have forgiven Duchy?
3. Because women in the 1800s had few opportunities outside the home, they sought positions in society and took these roles very seriously. Do you find this frivolous or an act of survival? Is it fair that the opinion of one society matron could make or break someone’s reputation?
4. When Caroline found out that her daughter Carrie had not been invited to Alva’s masquerade ball—the event of the season—Caroline was forced to pay the social call that thereby let the Vanderbilts into society. Do you think Caroline did the right thing for her daughter, or should she have stood her ground? What were your thoughts on the weight of this one gesture made by Mrs. Astor?
5. If you suddenly inherited millions of dollars, how do you think it would change your life, and what would you do with a windfall like the one Willie K. and Alva received?
6. The society pages and gossip columns were a new phenomenon in the 1880s. How do you think the press affected the behavior of the society matrons?
7. A secondary theme of this book is the relationships between sisters. We see it with Alva and her siblings as well as the Astor girls. Whether it was a matter of comradery or rivalry, how do you think these relationships influenced the characters?
8. The Gilded Age was definitely a time of the “haves and have-nots.” The divide between rich and poor was vast back in the 1800s. Do you think we’re still living in a world of “haves and have-nots”? To what extent are things different now? How are they the same?