Saturday, April 19, 2008

Five best: books about New York society

For the Wall Street Journal, Frances Kiernan named a five best list of books that helped her understand "the ways of New York society."

Number One on the list:
Washington Square
by Henry James

Just about everything I know about New York society I've gleaned from novels while looking for a good story, preferably a romance. If I've sometimes been disappointed, I've never come away empty-handed. I was 15 when I first read this uncharacteristically straightforward tale by the Master, in which he depicts the insular world of his New York childhood, a place where it was only natural to assume that a handsome young gentleman in possession of no fortune must be in search of a rich wife. By the time that I realized that Catherine Sloper, the plain and phlegmatic heiress pursued and then dropped by Morris Townsend, was no spirited Jane Austen heroine, I also understood that love affairs in great novels do not necessarily end well. Just as important, I understood that, for all that it valued fine manners and good breeding, New York society, like the steely-eyed doctor who threatens to disinherit his love-struck daughter, placed an even higher value on protecting its wealth.
Read about the other books on Kiernan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue