The Vanderbilt Era

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In this thin and minimally evocative account of the Vanderbilt era, Auchincloss’ anecdotal profiles of numerous nominally prestigious but otherwise vapid and pretentious individuals comprise a tale of gold (read greed) in pursuit of grandeur (read ostentatious extravagance). The period he focuses on, a pivotal one certainly, extends from the 1880’s to World War I--a period overshadowed by a new plutocracy, and a period that encompassed the Mauve Decade, the Edwardian age, and the belle epoque.

“I do not suggest,” Auchincloss writes, “that members of the Vanderbilt family were responsible for the era, or that they deserve particular credit or blame for it. I chose them because they were richer and more numerous than the other clans that dominated business in the decades that followed the Civil War, and because they made a greater splash with their money.” Such splashes contributed to the notable features of the age of gold and alloy, Auchincloss says; but readers may wish he had spent some time discussing the damage done to a nation, to its economy and people, by such splashes.

Himself married into the Vanderbilt family, Auchincloss may have decided to weave together and publish here notes he had compiled for the writing of THE HOUSE OF FIVE TALENTS, a much more engaging and entertaining narrative about many of the same people and their era. As it is, THE VANDERBILT ERA is no more than a generally uncritical primer for the beginning student of the era.