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Gilded: How Newport Became America's Richest Resort

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  • Posted March 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Behind the Gilt?

    Deborah Davis has written a highly readable, well-researched history of Newport and the wealthy citizens who have settled there over several generations. She feeds the popular fascination with great wealth and its expressions, and nowhere were those expressions more ostentatious. Still, a little more perspective would have been appropriate; there were many other places where the very rich lived quieter and more meaningful lives.

    The wealthy Newport folk tended to be beneficiaries of enormous and recent wealth, and they set out to live in a way that they determined was appropriate. Architects like Stanford White were commissioned to design mansions that exceeded human scale or human needs, the settings for highly elaborate social rituals: dinners, balls, and the like.

    What these people lacked was tradition. "Newport was ruled by its women," Davis writes. The women had little or no formal education; some could barely read and write. They knew little of literature, art or music (opera was a social event). The men were busy with banking, the law, or business interests, they did have a token education at an Ivy League college, they seldom participated in government or the military, and almost never in the arts.

    So, though these self-styled aristocrats set out to imitate European models, the result was oinly a superficial obsession with social customs. Footmen in livery--including powdered wigs--were a novelty, not part of a real culture. Behind the gilt was practically nothing.

    Now the great houses, once called "cottages" because their use was seasonal, are preserved as bizarre curiosities of an era when, at least in Newport, being rich knew no bounds.

    Edith Wharton, who had Newport connections but preferred to live in Europe, writes brilliantly about the era and its people and really gets inside them. She was an insider; Deborah Davis isn't one.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2010

    Newport is everyone's dream town.

    I was born and grew up in Rhodes Island. During my childhood I visited Newport many times with my parents. I loved to look at the beautiful Cottages And dream what it would be like to live there. No visit was complete without walking on the Cliff Walk. When I was an adult and the houses were open to the public is visited them several times. After reading "Gilded" I now understand what took place behind those fences and understand about the ruined houses and friends of my parents going to auctions there.
    I thought that the book was very factual and the chronology of the information is very good and easy to read.

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  • Posted February 6, 2010


    This is a fantastic book! It takes four hundred years of Newport's history and nutshells it, including many anecdotes and explanations of how things happened and why they did. It covers several eras, well, and although each era could be expanded upon, it's almost just a taste to get you interested in reading about the different eras more in depth.

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    Posted October 1, 2011

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    Posted August 19, 2010

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    Posted December 5, 2011

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