From the Gilded Age to the Golden Twenties: New York in Selected American Novels

Thesis (M.A.), 2002

92 Pages, Grade: 2,0 (B)


Table of Contents


1 Historical Introduction

2 The House of Mirth
2.1 Summary
2.2 Basic Structure and Narrative Technique
2.3 Interpretation
2.3.1 Lily’s Hybris
2.3.2 Other Reasons for Miss Bart’s Failure
2.3.3 Lily’s Moral Objections
2.4 The Satirical Ending of The House of Mirth

3 Manhattan Transfer
3.1 Style and Narrative Technique
3.2 The Central Issue
3.3 Interpretation
3.3.1 The Importance of First Impression
3.3.2 Advertising or Exploiting the Faith in Success
3.3.3 The Supremacy of Coincidence
3.3.4 Success versus Happiness
3.3.5 A Happy Outsider Within the City: Congo Jake
3.4 The City As Character

4 The Great Gatsby
4.1 Basic Structure and Narrative Technique
4.2 Summary
4.3 Interpretation
4.3.1 The Impossible Task
4.3.2 Gatsby’s Greatness
4.3.3 Gatsby as Messiah
4.3.4 Reasons for Gatsby’s Failure The Inappropriate Bait The Missing Contrast Gatsby’s Weak Spot
4.4 Gatsby’s Chances to Succeed

5 Conclusion



Oh, dear, I’m so hot and thirsty ― and what a hideous place New York is!

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

Why the time will come, and I firmly believe that you and I will see it, when bridge after bridge spanning the East River have made Long Island and Manhattan one, when the Borough of Queens will be as much the heart and throbbing center of the great metropolis as is Astor Place today.

John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer

The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The above quotations are taken from the three novels to be discussed in this essay, each of which focuses on certain aspects of New York. Manhattan Transfer is certainly more directly connected to the city that ― as the novel seems to convey ― loses its original center while it becomes one in itself than the other two novels, but the events outlined in The Great Gatsby or in The House of Mirth do not just happen to take place in New York or within its upper class society either. In both cases, a clear distinction is made between the geographical setting of the novel and the West: In The House of Mirth, it is Mrs. Norma Hatch, a rich woman from an unnamed location in the West, who is “unplaced”[1] in New York’s high society, and in The Great Gatsby, the first-person narrator himself repeatedly contrasts the East with his Midwestern homeland. In both cases, New York was certainly not casually chosen as a counterpart to the more rural West. The whole novels, and not only certain parts of them, are thus linked to New York; their “ensemble effects are cumulative.”[2] Therefore, an analysis of The House of Mirth and The Great Gatsby oriented on the plot-structure and the respective main character of the novel[3] will be given following a short summary and style description. However, there is no actual main character in Manhattan Transfer so that the analysis has to be guided along the principal theme, which seems to be the decentralization of the city and the effect of the same on New York’s inhabitants.

My selection seems to favor upper-class backgrounds, leaving out books like Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie or Stephen Crane’s novelette Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, but since Dos Passos’s novel provides a general view of all social classes, I have sought to balance the choice along different lines. Wharton’s The House of Mirth describes the social decline of its main character, while the title character of The Great Gatsby has changed from penniless to extraordinarily rich within just three years. In addition, Wharton’s personal narrator[4] contrasts with Fitzgerald’s I-narrator, while Dos Passos employs a technique that pushes his narrator even further into the background than Wharton’s.

Apart from their focusing on different themes, however, the selected novels are also set in different times, so that it seems necessary to provide a historical background to the partly overlapping temporal settings of the respective novels. Manhattan Transfer, for instance, is set between 1897 and the mid-1920s, while the main story line of The Great Gatsby takes place between June and September, 1922. Wharton’s The House of Mirth is set around the turn of the century, but although this time can also be regarded as the beginning of the Progressive Era, it is certainly a Gilded Age novel not only because it recounts the final two years of a thirteen-year-long period during which the heroine tries to find a suitable husband, but also because it clearly delineates New York’s Gilded Age high society in all the opulence typical for the age. Therefore, the overview of New York presented in the following, which is intended to illustrate the historical background of the fictional events delineated in The House of Mirth, Manhattan Transfer and The Great Gatsby, roughly encompasses the last quarter of the nineteenth and the first quarter of the twentieth century.

1 Historical Introduction

Originally the title of a satirical novel by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley first published in 1873, The Gilded Age has gradually become an expression usually terming the period between the end of Reconstruction and the Spanish-American War.[5] Considering that the end of Reconstruction also meant the end ― and often the reversion ― of social reforms at the expense of only recently emancipated Southern blacks and thus a heavy blow to (Republican) reformers who had lost credit due to the widespread corruption of the Grant administration anyway, it seems hardly surprising that the main achievements during the following years were not of political or social, but of economic nature. So-called robber barons built powerful trusts,[6] while an ever-increasing population not only eliminated the frontier ― an imaginary, continuous line beyond which the population density remained below seven per square mile ― but also produced more and more goods of increasing value. Indeed, when a depression followed the Panic of 1893, the nation seemed to have gotten used to the boom to such a degree that Theodore Roosevelt, who was to become the only president of the United States from New York City, could quite bluntly propose starting a war to “toughen the nineties’ generation” and ― probably more important ― to stop unemployment and reanimate the economy in 1895.[7] When president McKinley answered Roosevelt’s and, above all, the Hearst and Pulitzer papers’ calls by attacking Cuba three years later, the former British colony joined the imperial race, thus putting an end to its innocence and to the isolationism proclaimed during the Gilded Age.

As New York’s economy not only surpassed that of any other U.S. city, but also outpaced American growth rates, it was certainly a main factor in the development resulting in a boom that lasted for almost two decades; yet in addition, the city profited from the expanding economy by controlling the import-export trade: Ever since the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, New York’s already existing trade dominance has never been threatened any other U.S. city, and at the beginning of the 1870s, its harbor handled approximately seventy percent of U.S. imports and exports combined. While New York merchants have always directly benefited from the geographic situation of the city at the mouth of the Hudson River, city business owed its national preeminence ― by 1900, sixty-nine of the United States’ one hundred largest corporations were New York City-based ― to the constant flood of immigrants that kept wages low. Of course, it was again Manhattan’s location that made it the major port of entry for Europeans, and even though a significant change took place after 1883, when South and East Europe replaced northern Europe as the primary source of immigration, the Old Continent was still the main starting place for new arrivals to the United States well into the twentieth century.[8]

Consequently, a large portion of New York City residents was foreign-born: Immigrants ― a group that comprised only one out of nine New Yorkers in 1825 ― made up more than half the population in the 1860s and still more than forty percent fifty years later.[9] Of course, these people had reasons to come, whether it was the Irish potato famine in the 1840s and 1850s and the suppression following the miscarried 1848 revolution in the German states[10] or Russian pogroms and the “quasi-feudal” society of southern Italy during the last decades of the century;[11] but their need was generally exploited to full advantage. Although the city profited from the economic boom of the Gilded Age, it did so as a rather abstract entity, and this did not exclude the possibility that some persons profited more than others. In fact, immigrants as well as their children played an active part in the growth of the economy, but despite several attempts to regulate housing, their living conditions, which were already dreadful in the 1850s, rather worsened in the next decades and eventually reached the state documented in Jacob Riis’s illustrated book How the Other Half Lives. By 1897, about eighty-five percent of New York City residents lived in the slums south of Fourteenth Street, and only gradually their situation improved when a new Tenement House Law was enacted in 1901 providing for windows to be cut in 350,000 rooms, minimum sanitary standards for new construction, and yearly inspections; these, however, were usually ignored during the next couple of years.[12]

Few people cared about ― or even took care of ― newly arrived immigrants, who were usually seen as a nuisance and likely to become criminal. Even those who had arrived earlier disliked the newcomers ― especially those who did not share the same ethnic background ― for they were competitors on the job market willing to work for almost any payment. The one establishment that took advantage of this state of affairs was Tammany Hall: Initially a nationwide benevolent organization to aid widows and orphans of veteran common soldiers founded by William Mooney in 1788, the Society of St. Tammany was soon used by Aaron Burr for his political ambitions[13] and concentrated on New York City. In time, the Tammany organization, which in fact turned into the Democratic party organization of New York City, became so powerful that whoever was in charge of it usually had much more power over the city than the mayor and was likely to become the so-called boss. Tammany’s dominance was achieved by adjusting Burr’s simple realization that people not entitled to vote would probably so gratefully acknowledge a benefactor who helped them obtain the franchise that they would unreservedly give their vote to whoever their patron desired to be elected to the respective circumstances. In Burr’s time, when ― apart from being a man ― certain property qualifications generally had to be fulfilled in order to be entitled to vote, this meant providing possible supporters with sufficient credits.[14]

When the voting restrictions were removed for white men in 1826, however, the Tammany organization saw the chance to find a new clientele in the rising number of aliens who, according to federal law, could be naturalized after five years.[15] Apart from helping newcomers find a job and a place in the community, the organization would also facilitate the naturalization process, a task for which not much more than friendly witnesses and a not completely ill-meaning city judge was needed; not until 1906 was naturalization jurisdiction restricted to the Supreme Court of New York. As Boss Richard Croker put it, Tammany got “hold of the untrained, friendless man and converted him into a citizen,” thus Americanizing the immigrant.[16]

Since the late 1820s, Tammany had mobilized Irish voters, for instance by having its local leaders ally “with the gangs roaming the ward streets,” by seeing “that saloons had no trouble with the police,” by obtaining “city jobs for Irishmen as lamplighters, fire wardens, meat inspectors, and policemen”[17] and by (successfully) opposing frequent calls for prohibition; as Catholics held a simple majority in numbers by 1860, this strategy proved right. Tammany’s chiefs, however, had been Protestants like William Marcy Tweed, whose so-called Ring developed a system of kickbacks that brought corruption on a previously unknown scale to Manhattan. But after boss Tweed was arrested in 1871, it did not take John Kelly too long to take control over Tammany Hall and, eventually, over the city. Certainly, old-established New Yorkers had not been delighted with the career of an upstart like Tweed, whose parents were Scots and whose profession was politics,[18] but an Irishman concerned with the welfare of ordinary citizens and jobholders in charge was a different category:

The long-repressed fears of aristocratic leaders like Phillip Hone were now realized, and his elite class recoiled in horror as they recognized that political power now resided in the docile wards controlled by Tammany’s leaders.[19]

Usually indifferent to politics or even to the fate of the less affluent majority of New York’s inhabitants, the old elite generally seemed determined to bestow every effort on maintaining its seclusion by granting as few parvenus as possible access to their still appealing circle. But this circle was not utterly closed, and the admission ticket to it was ― aside from heritage ― money spent in the right way: If a man was rich enough and his wife showed enough competence to use surplus money for the arrangement of a party enough people belonging to the circle could not resist attending, the hosts were accepted unless the festivity turned out to be far less entertaining than expected. This way, for instance, William Kissam Vanderbilt, shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt’s grandson, and his wife Alva gained access to “New York Society’s inner circle [then] presided over by Caroline Astor and Ward McCallister” in the winter of 1883.[20] It is this environment of a self-centered upper-class society ― the house of mirth, as Edith Wharton seems to call it metaphorically and with reference to the bible[21] in the title of her novel ― into which Lily Bart, the tragic heroine of Wharton’s narrative, is born. Nothing changed in the time between the Vanderbilt ball and the turn of the century, around which The House of Mirth is set,[22] concerning the attitude of the elite towards outsiders, and since, in addition, the label of the era referred to the brilliant façade concealing the corruption of morals and the expansion of social misery,[23] it seems quite legitimate to call Wharton’s novel a portrayal of the Gilded Age high society in New York City.

One thing that did change, however, was the frequency of upstarts’ attempts to find acceptance among the select few: The vast majority of New York’s inhabitants certainly remained poor, but whether they were local businessmen furnished with lucrative city contracts ― even though the Tweed case provoked great outrage, it could only temporarily banish graft from New York City ― or newcomers like the Rockefellers, the number of the rich seemed to increase at least proportionally to the total populace.[24] Therefore, a Ward McCallister list of the “fashionable New York Society” published by the New York Times in 1892 and including merely 273 names aroused such a widespread dissatisfaction that The Social Register containing almost two thousand names became a generally accepted guide to the elite of the city,[25] offering an opportunity to break McCallister and Astor dominance.[26] This temporarily dynamic environment sets the ground for the misfortune of Miss Bart, for whom the Gilded Age not merely chronologically comes to an end.

The main event in the late nineteenth century concerning New York City, however, was certainly its merging with the surrounding communities, and consolidation ― which was settled by governor Morton’s signing of the new city charter on May 4, 1897, and took effect as of January 1, 1898 ― is also the earliest historical occurrence mentioned in Manhattan Transfer. The prospect of expanding Tammany’s influence over the whole Greater City persuaded Boss Richard Croker to return from Ireland, where he had gone a few years earlier to cure a sickness that was probably brought about by an official investigation carried out following charges of widespread corruption in the Tenderloin district. In Croker’s absence, the Fusion candidate William L. Strong had gained an easy victory in the 1894 mayoral elections, but with the boss back in town, Tammany could mobilize enough voters to make sure that the Democratic candidate Robert A. Van Wyck became the first mayor of the expanded city.[27]

During Strong’s administration, “Manhattan had [had] clean streets for perhaps the first time in its history,” and Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt had started “nocturnal forays into the city streets to discover corrupt policemen” and combat gambling and illegal drinking establishments. Thereby Tammany was damaged, which controlled eighty-five percent of the appointments to the police force and made sure that transfers and promotions of policemen only took place after consultation with local district leaders, whereas policemen kicked back to ward bosses and the Democratic party headquarters money they in turn received in the form of bribes from prostitutes, saloon keepers, gamblers, and merchants. But “Strong’s anti-Catholic school proposals and his mounting insistence on total compliance with Sunday blue laws,” which forbade the sale of alcoholic beverages, had cost him many voters’ support, and his neglect of loyal partisans in his appointments had aroused dissatisfaction within the Republican party so that Strong did not stand for reelection in 1897 and Van Wyck’s forty-five percent of the total vote sufficed to win the mayoralty against an opposition consisting of three different candidates. Van Wyck “willingly transferred his authority into the hands of” Boss Croker, and the old corrupt proceedings were soon reinstated.[28]

Again, however, these dealings were revealed by a state investigation. Apart from the usual graft, the investigative commission led by State Senator Mazet also uncovered the so-called Ice Trust: At the expense of the poor and to the benefit of Croker and Van Wyck, the American Ice Company, furnished with a city-granted monopoly, refused to sell blocks of ice for less than sixty cents. As a result of the discovery, Croker retired once again in February, 1901, while his successor, Louis Nixon, carried out an intra-party investigation the results of which remained unpublished. Another beneficiary of the Ice Trust, the former baseball catcher and saloon keeper Charles F. Murphy, replaced Nixon as Tammany leader in 1902, after the reform candidate Seth Low had gained the mayoralty.[29]

Low, mayor of Brooklyn between 1881 and 1885 and president of Columbia University, proved to be a true reformer. Not only were unqualified Tammany partisans ejected from their offices during Low’s brief administration, but tax rates were cut as well, a school construction program was started, design work for the subway system was accelerated, public baths were built on the East Side, tenement house reform was sponsored, and a “program under which indigent New Yorkers were treated in voluntary hospitals with their bills paid by the city” was expanded, “thus initiating the humanitarian concern that led New York to build the world’s greatest municipal hospital system.” One of the results of the Mazet investigation, however, was that the term of mayor was cut in half, and the reintroduction of the old four-year term following the 1905 elections came too late for Low. Like Strong a couple of years earlier, and basically for the same reasons, Low lost support of lower-class voters and backing from the Republican party.[30]

Consequently, Murphy’s candidate, George B. McClellan, won the 1903 mayoral elections against Seth Low, and he also defeated publisher William Randolph Hearst two years later. But although Jacob Riis was probably not the only person to believe that New York never had a better Democratic mayor, and even though Murphy was “[p]erhaps the most astute leader in Tammany’s long history,” McClellan remained one of merely three Tammany-backed mayors during Murphy’s control of the organization, which only ended with the latter’s death on April 30, 1924, and McClellan broke with Murphy at the beginning of his second term just like his successor William Gaynor did as soon as he was elected. McClellan was mayor when the first nine miles of New York’s subway system, which gradually came to replace the elevated line established in 1866, were opened in 1904 ― four years later, eighty-four miles of tracks were already in use ― and during his mayoralty, the Queensboro and Manhattan Bridges were opened, while the last horsecars were replaced by motor buses; in addition, the American movie industry began in New York.[31]

Besides the construction of two important bridges, New York experienced other physical changes in the first decade of the twentieth century: The so-called Flatiron Building, the New York Stock Exchange, the Plaza Hotel (site of the confrontation between Gatsby and Tom in The Great Gatsby), the Singer Building, and the Metropolitan Tower, which at a height of two hundred meters replaced the Singer Building as the tallest building in the world after just one year, were all constructed in this period and gave the city an ever-changing appearance. In 1911, the New York Public Library opened, and two years later, the Woolworth Building surpassed the Metropolitan Tower by forty meters and remained the highest building in the world for almost twenty years. In addition, the Long Island Railroad ― frequently used in The Great Gatsby ― was equipped with electrified tracks in 1910.[32]

Proportional to the heights of the buildings signaling New York’s preeminence not only in the United States, but also in the world, social tension in the city was rising. Despite all efforts to improve housing conditions, the number of tenement dwellers increased by five hundred thousand between 1900 and 1910 as more immigrants than ever kept pouring into the city, with an all-time high of 1.28 million recorded in 1907. Tensions erupted not only in riots expressing the resentment of earlier arrivals against newcomers, but also in increased labor militancy, “especially in those trades dominated by Jewish immigrants with militantly socialist backgrounds,” resulting in frequent strikes in the textile industry. Working conditions were equally appalling as housing conditions, but only after a fire killed 146 Triangle Shirtwaist Company workers in 1911, two days before the building was officially declared unsafe, which further heated the atmosphere, did the state legislature react by introducing reform measures.[33] Anyway, “the deaths in the Triangle fire intensified unionization across New York,” which was “on its way to becoming the preeminent ‘union town’ in the nation.”[34]

Following an assassination attempt early in his mayoralty that left him physically handicapped, Gaynor proved incapable of attenuating the heated atmosphere in the city. He was going to stand for reelection anyway ― this time on a reform coalition ticket ― but died a few months before the end of his term, leaving Ardolph L. Kline interim mayor. The Democratic candidate Edward McCall was consequently the favorite for the mayoralty, but his campaign was tainted when Murphy bluntly displayed power by having New York Democrats impeach Governor William Sulzer, himself a Democrat, and McCall was beaten by John Purroy Mitchel, who had accepted the vacant reform ticket. Unlike the mayor, however, other officials were elected every two years, and although the Board of Aldermen, which officially formed the legislative branch of city government, was in fact merely a “parochial body which rubber stamped the decisions made by the mayor and Board of Estimate,”[35] the executive branch of government, this only applied as long as the majority of aldermen backed the mayor. The Democrats’ success in the 1915 elections, therefore, left Mitchel politically isolated, and as his economy measures were unpopular among lower-class voters and the Hearst press, which had backed him in the beginning, started to support the Democrat John F. Hylan, the latter won the mayoralty in the 1917 elections (and was reelected four years later), while Mitchel received only ten thousand more votes than the socialist candidate Morris Hillquit. The 1920s in New York City are often associated with Hylan’s successor, James J. Walker, but in the mid-decade, when both Manhattan Transfer and The Great Gatsby were written, the former was still holding office. Hylan was also “there when automatic phone dialing began in October 1922; and he became the first mayor heard over the facilities of WNYC Radio.”[36]

In the meantime, the outbreak of World War I had not only strengthened New York’s previously deteriorating trade dominance on the continent, but it eventually replaced “London as the center of international finance.” In addition, the harbor facilities were significantly improved as New York became a major port of embarkation after the United States entered the war in 1917.[37] Anti-German incidents, frequent in other parts of the country, did not occur in New York.[38]

The war had other, less immediate effects. In New York State, for instance, women were given the vote in 1917, but when female suffrage became a constitutional right in 1920, this was partly a result of “the patriotic contribution women made to victory in the world war.”[39] During the war many women had taken on jobs that had previously only been performed by men, many of whom had to fight in Europe, and they were unwilling to give up “their new-found emancipation once the War came to an end;” consequently, in “the 1920’s an ever-increasing number of women attended college, entered into the job market, and married later in life.”[40] Most of these women were members of a rapidly growing middle class that probably developed because the number of immigrants first diminished due to the war, and then was restricted by immigration laws, so that only few people ― for example Southern blacks who came to New York during the so-called Great Migration[41] ― were willing to accept badly paid jobs. Manhattan’s population decreased as the middle class tended to move to the suburbs and use the efficient public transportation system to get to work in Manhattan. In spite of the subway and other public transportation facilities, however, there were probably “more automobiles in New York City than in all of Europe.”[42]

While more and more people bought stock (often on margin), hoping to benefit from seemingly ever-rising rates, unions became less attractive, and as a result of the Russian Revolution and, more immediately, of a Wall Street explosion on September 16, 1920 “that killed thirty-three and was blamed on terrorists,”[43] the so-called Red Scare was brought about. The paranoia peaked in the questionable execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, “two anarchists and draft-dodgers [who] were arrested on May 5, 1920, and charged with participation in a payroll robbery and murder in Brockton, Massachusetts,” on August 23, 1927.[44]

Although New York’s physical appearance kept changing ― the Equitable and Strauss Buildings, the Paramount Theater, Gimbel’s Department Store, the McAlpin, Ambassador, and Waldorf-Astoria Hotels, and the new Madison Square Garden were all constructed in the 1920s[45] ― perhaps the most noticeable change was one that was supposed to be concealed: It was “a growing disrespect for the laws of the land,” expressed in the widespread attendance of so-called speak-easies (establishments that sold alcoholic beverages during the Prohibition, which took effect on January 16, 1920) and in the admiration of the bootleggers “flaunting the laws that everyone despised.”[46] The Golden Twenties ended two months early, that is, with the stock market crash on October 24, 1929.[47] But both Fitzgerald and Dos Passos, who seemed much more critical of the period than “the average American who applauded the booming times,”[48] saw the delusion that lay in prosperity much earlier.

2 The House of Mirth

2.1 Summary

Edith Wharton recounts the story of Lily Bart, an ― at the beginning of the novel ― twenty-nine-year-old woman who has spent her adult life searching New York’s high society for a suitable husband. On the monetary level, Miss Bart cannot compete with most of the people by whom she is surrounded ― her father went bankrupt and died when she was nineteen years old ― yet the allowance she irregularly receives from Mrs. Peniston, her aunt who condescended to take care of Lily when her mother deceased some two years after Mr. Bart’s death, had always sufficed to keep up the lifestyle her mother had taught her to be the only thing making existence worthwhile. But just like her mother’s expenditures for clothes, jewelry, dinner parties, and frequent vacations had obviously exceeded Mr. Bart’s financial means, Lily, too, has started spending more money than would have been reasonable. Realizing that she cannot go on like this, Lily is determined not to miss yet another opportunity to marry into an affluent family, and during a visit to her wealthy friends, the Trenors, she starts courting Percy Gryce, making use of her perfect manners and her beauty, which form her greatest capital. Mr. Gryce has come into a fortune, but he is a rather dull person, and when Lily is confident that her courtship will be successful, the prospect of spending the rest of her life with him combines with Lawrence Selden’s appearance to create a strong desire to pass one more day in freedom. Lily happily yields to this wish and goes for a walk with Selden, a lawyer who fascinates her due to his broad perspective distinguishing him from her usual company. Selden’s differentiating view, however, can be explained by the fact that he is an outsider whose restricted means do not make him a suitable candidate for Lily, who accordingly turns to ridicule his indirect offer of marriage. Lily’s company with Selden, however, annoys Mrs. Dorset, who is interested in him herself, to such a degree that she tells Gryce about Lily’s gambling-debts, obviously aware of the effect this will have. Gryce is shocked and later marries Evie Van Osburgh, a girl as boring and rich as he is.


[1] Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1993; p.273.

[2] Lopate, Phillip (ed.). Writing New York. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1998; p.XXII (introduction by the editor).

[3] See Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971.

[4] See Stanzel, Franz K. Typische Formen des Romans. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck u. Ruprecht, 1969.

[5] According to Cook / Waller the period ends with the 1896 presidential elections (Cook, Chris / Waller, David. The Longman Handbook of Modern American History. Harlow (etc.): Longman, 1998; p.325 f.), while Brogan merely believes that “[t]o apply the label to the whole period 1865-1929 would be seriously misleading” (Brogan, Hugh. Longman History of the United States of America. London / New York: Longman, 1985; p.392). In The Great Gatsby, the narrator speaks “of the faded gilt nineteen-hundreds” (Fitzgerald, Francis Scott. The Great Gatsby. Cambridge (etc.): Cambridge University Press, 1991; p.54).

[6] Heideking, Jürgen. Geschichte der USA. Tübingen / Basel: Francke, 1999; p.199 ff.

[7] Burrows, Edwin G. / Wallace, Mike. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York (etc.): Oxford University Press, 1999; p.1209.

[8] Lankevich, George J. American Metropolis: A History of New York City. New York: New York University Press, 1998; pp.117-122.

[9] Ibid.,pp.71, 146.

[10] Burrows / Wallace, p.735 ff.

[11] Ibid., p.1111 ff.

[12] Lankevich, p.128 f.

[13] Burr was narrowly defeated by Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 presidential elections and thus became vice president of the United States during the latter’s first administration (1801-1805); in 1804, he ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York. His political career practically ended when he killed Alexander Hamilton, who was largely responsible for Burr’s two defeats, in a duel on July 11, 1804.

[14] Lankevich, p.54 ff.

[15] U.S. Constitution, Art. I, Sect. 8.

[16] Lankevich, p.119.

[17] Ibid., 78

[18] The career of Gus McNiel, who is obviously of Scottish descent and becomes an important Tammany figure, in Manhattan Transfer bears a remote, but noticeable resemblance to the one of William Marcy Tweed. In addition, McNiel’s obscure dealings seem to hint at the fraudulent activities Tammany leaders kept performing, for instance the establishment of the so-called Ice Trust.

[19] Lankevich, p.118.

[20] Burrows / Wallace, p.1071 f.

[21] See Eccles. 7:4.

[22] An event said to have taken place ten years earlier (Wharton, p.189) is obviously identical with a 1891 incident mentioned before (Wharton, p.170).

[23] Heideking, p.207 f.

[24] Between 1870 and 1900, the population of the areas making up New York City since January 1, 1898 (Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island; before this date, New York City consisted only of Manhattan and, since 1874, part of the Bronx) more than doubled from 1,478,103 to 3,437,202 (Lankevich, p.259).

[25] Burrows / Wallace, p.1072 f.; The Social Register was first published by Louis Keller in 1887.

[26] In The House of Mirth, it is Bertha Dorset who breaks Judy Trenor’s dominance by accepting more people as (almost) her equals.

[27] Lankevich, p.131 ff.

[28] Ibid., p.131 ff.

[29] Ibid., pp.141-143.

[30] Ibid., p.142 f.

[31] Ibid., pp.144-146.

[32] Ibid., p.149 f.

[33] Both strikes and industrial accidents are also issues in Manhattan Transfer.

[34] Ibid., pp.146-148.

[35] Fuchs, Ester / Travers, Tony. “Governance in London and New York” in The London – New York Study: The Economies of Two Great Cities at the Millenium. London: Corporation of London, 2000; pp.55-79; p.58.

[36] Lankevich, pp.151-155.

[37] In Manhattan Transfer, too, the economic benefits of the war are frequently depicted, for instance when Mr. Densch comments his wife’s acquisition of an expensive dress with “She must think the war’s still on” (Dos Passos, John. Manhattan Transfer. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 2000; p.325).

[38] Lankevich, p.154 f.

[39] Brogan, p.478.

[40] Gates, p. 68 f.

[41] Even though the black population of Manhattan doubled in the third decade of the twentieth century, still only 327,706 blacks (4.7 % of the total population) lived in New York in 1930, mostly in Harlem (Lankevich, p.171). However, African Americans had a large influence on arts and music: Blacks like, for instance, Duke Ellington introduced jazz to New York City (Heideking, p.288).

[42] Gates, Robert A. The New York Vision: Interpretations of New York City in the American Novel. Lanham: University Press of America, 1987; p.65.

[43] Lankevich, p.155.

[44] Gates, p.68.

[45] Lankevich, p.157.

[46] Gates, p.69.

[47] Brogan, p.526.

[48] Gates, p.68.

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From the Gilded Age to the Golden Twenties: New York in Selected American Novels
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From, Gilded, Golden, Twenties, York, Selected, American, Novels
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Thomas Bednarz (Author), 2002, From the Gilded Age to the Golden Twenties: New York in Selected American Novels, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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Title: From the Gilded Age to the Golden Twenties: New York in Selected American Novels

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