In the late nineteenth century, Newport, Rhode Island was a
vacation haven for the country's wealthiest families. It was a
beacon for the likes of the Astors and the Vanderbilts, who built
elaborate summer "cottages" along fashionable Bellevue Avenue.
These mansions-turned-museums are now open to the public, allowing
visitors a glimpse of the Gilded Age excess that once reigned
supreme in this seaside resort. But even the most vivid imagination
can't fully conjure the realities of Newport in its zenith ---
unless you're historical fiction master John Jakes.
In THE GODS OF NEWPORT, Jakes uses Newport as the backdrop for a
story about class warfare --- not only between rich and poor but
also old money versuses new wealth. In 1894, after the murder of
his wife, self-made railroad mogul Samuel Driver is determined to
break into the Newport social circle that once spurned his beloved
spouse and find a rich and titled husband for his only child,
Sam and Jenny arrive in Newport, where Sam uses his vast wealth to
garner allies among the elite denizens, build an opulent mansion
called Red Rose, and thwart the actions of an old rival determined
to exclude and humiliate him. Sam's efforts also include preventing
Jenny from seeing a poor, handsome Irishman with whom she falls in
love during their first summer in Newport.
Part of the city's hardscrabble underclass, Prince Molloy's only
sin is falling in love with a rich man's daughter. Sam contrives to
keep the young lovers apart, ordering a thrashing that leaves
Prince Molloy scarred physically and mentally and later forcing
Jenny into a loveless marriage with a ruthless Count.
In this entertaining page turner, Jakes delivers an engrossing
storyline, brings to life a fascinating tableau of characters real
and imagined, and gives readers a glimpse into a bygone era that
epitomized both glamour and overindulgence at the turn of the
twentieth century. (Be sure to read the Author's Note for
additional information about what becomes of Prince and
Reviewed by Shannon McKenna on January 22, 2011