Vintage photo of the Barbizon, the hotel Plath lived in for a time
Books are like time capsules that take readers to whatever time and place the stories are set in. Even when there are exaggerations of life in each location, and fictional plots that revolve around wizards and dragons, readers get a glimpse into what life was like in New York City during the ’20s by reading The Great Gatsby; likewise, they can see the city through the eyes of the Beats in On the Road.
New York City has been the setting of countless books throughout time. Those books represent important culture, history, and values of our metropolis and those living within its vibrant walls. Here are five authors who crafted their novels around the culture and influence of New York City during their time.
5. Edith Wharton and The Age of Innocence
Photograph of Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava by Richard Silver
Edith Wharton was in the news last week as an unknown 1901 play of hers, called Shadow of a Doubt, was discovered in a Texas archive. The writer is most known for her novels like The Age of Innocence and The Custom of the Country, but she wrote a number of undiscovered plays that were never performed.
Wharton lived a high society life in New York City despite her family’s modest wealth; her parents’ pooled money allowed them to live abroad for periods of time, and they raised their daughter in a gilded lifestyle during the late nineteenth century. Wharton didn’t begin her novel writing career until she was almost in her forties and scholars believe she immersed herself into the world of fiction as an escape from her tumultuous marriage with Teddy Wharton. The couple was married in the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava, which was almost completely destroyed in a fire in May of 2016.
Despite being an iconic figure and a staple of New York City’s history, Edith Wharton often remarked about how she hated the city and her disdain for it is most noticeable in her novel, The House of Mirth. Her disinterest in the fake charade of high society is clear through her character Countess Olenska in The Age of Innocence. Olenska is the rebellious character who does as she pleases, defying nineteenth-century etiquette in direct contrast to the typical high society girl, May Welland, who is portrayed as unoriginal carbon cut of the other high-class girls.