Hosack's Folly: A Novel of Old New York

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Set in 1820s Manhattan, Hosack's Folly weaves a vibrant tapestry of a time, a place, and a people on the verge of surrendering their innocence and idealism for the greed and glory of the Gilded Age. In a cast of fictional characters as rich and colorful as any in Dickens stands one fascinating historical figure: David Hosack, the doctor who attended Alexander Hamilton during the fatal duel with Aaron Burr and who went on to found Bellevue Hospital, Columbia University Medical School, and the first Botanical ...
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Overview

Set in 1820s Manhattan, Hosack's Folly weaves a vibrant tapestry of a time, a place, and a people on the verge of surrendering their innocence and idealism for the greed and glory of the Gilded Age. In a cast of fictional characters as rich and colorful as any in Dickens stands one fascinating historical figure: David Hosack, the doctor who attended Alexander Hamilton during the fatal duel with Aaron Burr and who went on to found Bellevue Hospital, Columbia University Medical School, and the first Botanical Garden in New York. The novel opens twenty years after the ill-fated duel and Hosack is once again at the center of controversy. Struggling to contain an outbreak of yellow fever on the New York docks, Hosack must also contend with the malice of powerful merchants and corrupt politicians who aim to cover up the fever threat at all costs. Brought down by scandal, Hosack turns to his brave young assistant, Albert Dash, to expose the truth. Meanwhile, an influential newspaper editor and a visionary architect team up on a scheme of their own to save the city: the Croton Aqueduct, the most ambitious public works project since Roman times.

Climaxing in a mass exodus as a deadly fever epidemic sweeps through old New York, Hosack's Folly is historical fiction at its most thrilling. Generously seasoned with comedy and romance, it is a thoroughly satisfying reading experience.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Yellow fever, bad water and political corruption make for high drama in a lively, well-researched novel set in 1820s New York City. David Hosack was the doctor famous for attending Hamilton after his duel with Aaron Burr and for founding Bellevue as a hospital for yellow fever victims. As the novel opens, the fever epidemic of 1814 is still a grim memory, and the doctor and his young assistant, Albert Dash, are calling for a quarantine of New York Harbor, as they believe the sickness spreads from incoming ships. Eamonn Casey, publisher of the New York Herald, and John Laidlaw, a Wall Street tycoon, dispute this theory; Casey, planning to run for governor, agrees to protect Laidlaw's interests in the port in exchange for his financial backing. Dash and Hosack's struggle to thwart the politicians and the disease takes readers through reeking hospitals, closed-door meetings, society soirees and the raging, teeming life of the Bowery, climaxing with scenes of a terrifying riot in the Park Theatre and a panicky mass flight from the city. A love triangle subplot feels a bit hackneyed and sometimes threatens to take over the story, yet the novel contains such vivid scenes and reaches such a satisfying conclusion that it's easy to forgive some occasionally shallow writing. Wood admirably reminds readers of the strange and haphazard evolution of the science, government and culture we take for granted. (Apr.) Forecast: Local sales should be strongest for this New York novel by a transplanted Australian-it would sit well next to the massive Burrows/Wallace history Gotham. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The planning of New York's Croton Aqueduct and a yellow fever outbreak make up the historical backdrop for Australian-born Wood's debut. In the roiling, politically corrupt Manhattan of 1824, newspaper editor Eamonn Casey's visionary plan to construct an aqueduct that will bring millions of gallons of desperately needed fresh water to the city is possible only if he cuts a deal with Wall Street businessman John Laidlaw. And that deal means Casey must use the New York Herald to smear physician David Hosack, who warns that all shipping should be quarantined to prevent yellow fever from being imported from the West Indies. Dr. Hosack and his idealistic assistant, Albert Dash, who lost his entire family in the 1814 yellow-fever epidemic, battle the authorities' obstinate refusal to close the port, but they can't overcome the combination of Laidlaw's old-money clout and Irishman-made-good Casey's savvy manipulation of the popular press and of bare-knuckled Bowery-boy enforcers. Meanwhile, Casey's daughter Virginia pines over Albert, who enjoys her intellectual companionship but is engaged to her best friend, Vera Laidlaw, a flighty actress. The improbability of a patrician New Yorker like Laidlaw allowing his daughter to appear on the stage is one of several weak strands in the story, which is far stronger on period detail and atmosphere, from marvelous descriptions of shopping on Broadway to grim ones of agonized fever victims in Hosack's Bellevue Hospital. Fortunately, Wood is inspired enough by the historical material to make vivid Laidlaw's financial skullduggery, Casey's ethical quandary, and Hosack's stiff-necked rectitude. The old men's maneuvers are far more interesting than the youngfolks' romantic difficulties and drive the narrative smartly toward the inevitable arrival of yellow fever, which clarifies both sides of the plot to almost everyone's satisfaction. Only adequate as fiction, Wood's first brings to life a bygone age with such vigor-and points out the relevance of its conflicts with such intelligence-that readers with an interest in Old New York will readily forgive its failings. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590512296
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 4/11/2006
  • Pages: 408
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Gillen D'Arcy Wood

Gillen D'Arcy Wood grew up in Australia, where he worked as a jazz musician. In 1992, he came to New York on a Fulbright scholarship to study at Columbia University. He has since published extensively on nineteenth-century art and literature. Hosackís Folly is his first novel. He lives in Champaign, Illinois.

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Reading Group Guide

Reader’s Guide

Book description:

Set in 1820s Manhattan, Hosack's Folly weaves a vibrant tapestry of a time, a place, and a people on the verge of surrendering their innocence and idealism for the greed and glory of the Gilded Age. In a cast of fictional characters as rich and colorful as any in Dickens stands one fascinating historical figure: David Hosack, the doctor who attended Alexander Hamilton during the fatal duel with Aaron Burr and who went on to found Bellevue Hospital, Columbia University Medical School, and the first Botanical Garden in New York. The novel opens twenty years after the ill-fated duel and Hosack is once again at the center of controversy. Struggling to contain an outbreak of yellow fever on the New York docks, Hosack must also contend with the malice of powerful merchants and corrupt politicians who aim to cover up the fever threat at all costs. Brought down by scandal, Hosack turns to his brave young assistant, Albert Dash, to expose the truth. Meanwhile, an influential newspaper editor and a visionary architect team up on a scheme of their own to save the city: the Croton Aqueduct, the most ambitious public works project since Roman times. Climaxing in a mass exodus as a deadly fever epidemic sweeps through old New York, Hosack's Folly is historical fiction at its most thrilling. Generously seasoned with comedy and romance, it is a thoroughly satisfying reading experience.

Author biography:

Gillen D'Arcy Wood grew up in Australia, where he worked as a jazz musician. In 1992, he came to New York on a Fulbright scholarship to study at Columbia University. He has since published extensively on nineteenth-century art and literature. Hosack's Folly is his first novel. He lives in Champaign, Illinois.

Discussion questions:

1. Set in the 1820s, Hosack's Folly depicts a people on the verge of surrendering their innocence and idealism for the greed and glory of the Gilded Age. What are some of the issues covered in the book that illustrate the cracks that began the change? Will we ever be able to recapture that innocence? Do we want to?

2. What role does class play in the novel? Some of the characters crossed the lines drawn by class. How did they do it and what effect did it have on them and the other characters? How did characters from different classes react differently to the events that took place? How has the class structure transformed in this country and what role does it play in today's world?

3. Without the terror of yellow fever the Aquaducts might never have been designed. Discuss other catastrophic events, international and personal, that resulted in positive changes.

4. Some wanted to build the aqueduct for political gain, some for the good of the people. Discuss the differences in motivation between the characters and how they reached the same end. What other examples of this have you seen?

5. Discuss the conflicts between Dr. Hosack and the "powers that be." How did those conflicts affect his work? What part does Albert Dash play in carrying out Hosack's plans? There continues to be conflict between governments and medical professionals today. What are some of those differences and how does it affect each one of us? How are they similar to the effects upon the people in Hosack's time?

6. Hosack's Folly contains a bit of romance. Discuss the relationships between Albert Dash, Vera Laidlaw, and Virginia Casey. Do the characters or the interaction between them evoke memories of any Jane Austin novels?

7. What prompted Albert's memories of surviving the yellow fever epidemic when he was eleven years old? How did his survival shape him as a man? How much credence do you give to "having the will to live" in surviving a disease that is often terminal?

8. Who is your favorite character in Hosack's Folly? What is it about the character that draws you to him or her? Which character do you find easiest to dislike? Why?

9. Discuss the ending of the book. Does it feel like a "happily ever after ending" for everyone? Why or why not?

Author's Insights

Hosack's Folly is a tribute to the great age of novels, the world of Austen and Dickens, but with an American setting. Comedy, political intrigue, and romance are all in abundance--I wanted the richest ingredients for a novel-lover's feast. An "historical" novel, Hosack resurrects nineteenth-century New York as an age of epidemics. In the 1820s, New York faced a convergence of crises, in the threat of yellow fever imported by ships from the Caribbean, and the deteriorating water supply. It was a defining moment for the city, when its very future was in question. So much has been written about the excitement and decadence of the 1920s, the age of Gatsby. But few Americans know that the 1820s was the original boom decade in America, an age of great wealth, high living, and social transformation--and the time when New York first emerged as the nation's most glamorous and important city. Steamships carried news and fashions from Europe, the westward expansion brought riches to the city ports, and the rise of Andrew Jackson gave ordinary men their full political rights for the first time. The social impact was dizzying. In Hosack's Folly, almost everyone is on their way up or down, as the old aristocratic order of landowners gives way to the new world of bankers, businessmen and newspaper celebrity. And, as in the 1920s, corruption is a ready temptation for those desperate to make their way in the new New York. Because I am a novelist and not an historian, my main concern in the book is with people--how my characters feel and react to stresses, both personal and social. Some become visionaries; some become villains. And some become lovers, who would not have otherwise. 9/11 is our own benchmark--how a global event can effect the most ordinary people in the most personal way. The yellow fever threat was just such a factor in New Yorkers' lives in the age of Jackson. A principal concern of Hosack's Folly is the lives of women. Taking after Dickens, I have an ensemble cast from all social ranks, but if there is a principal character it is not Dr. Hosack or his dynamic young assistant Albert Dash, who are the obvious heroic male figures. The most sympathetic character is Virginia Casey, the daughter of a controversial newspaper editor, whose frustrated love for Albert is symptomatic of her larger predicament: an intelligent, ambitious young woman stuck in a society where only the men attend university and have professions. Albert is teaching her botany, and she is a brilliant student, but there is no career path for her. Only at the end of the novel, as a consequence of calamity (not to give too much away!), does the door crack open for her just a little . . . .

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