It’s release month for Counterfeit Love and I thought it might be fun to share some of my behind-the-scenes research of the Hidden Hearts of the Gilded Age series. I’ll also be running a giveaway all month long with each Counterfeit Love / Secret Service post for your chance to win one of three prizes. Read through this post to the bottom to discover the details.
What is the Gilded Age?
When most people think of the Gilded Age, they generally think of the lavishly rich, fancy ball gowns and dinners, and New York. However the Gilded Age is so much more complex than that, and that’s why I love to write during this era.
The Gilde Age is actually a term coined by the ever sarcastic and famous satirical writer, Mark Twain, in a book he collaborated with Charles Dudley Warner on called The Gilded Age. The term Gilded Age was meant as a jab at the gross materialism and political corruption of his time. While everything was glittering, beautiful, and elegant on the surface, the moment one scratched at it, they’d discover gross corruption at the core. On a caricature level, the late 19th century was a period of massive immigration, socio-economic turmoil, rapacious Robber Barons, unscrupulous speculators, corporate buccaneers, shady business practices, scandal-plagued politics, and vulgar displays of materialism and wealth. This is one of the reasons why I love this era. It is so complex and intricate that I just never want to leave studying it.
While most people expect stories of the wealthy and elite when seeing “Gilded Age,” I love to take a look at it from the experiences of the varied classes and their experiences. There was a dark underbelly to the Gilded Age, and I love to explore it. However, I do like to see it from the perspective of the rich as well. It is like examing two very different worlds, and I find it incredibly fascinating.
A Period of Transition
During the 1870s, society as a whole was transitioning from largely agrarian to industrial–in part due to the repercussions of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, and in part due to the massive innovations brought on by the Industrial Revolution. Many farmers and immigrants shifted to big cities to work in the factories that provided steady work and steady pay. The way businesses operated transformed and cooperations emerged with a focus on gaining the most profit possible at the cost of others. Labor unrest was a constant issue during the Gilded Age as corporations were treated as people rather than businesses, an especially terrible slap in the face to now freed slaves who were people but had only been considered property.
This was a period where Robber Barons emerged–people who because rich through often ruthless and unscrupulous business practices. Of course, not everyone who became rich met that definition, but this was largely the view of society outside the ranks of the upper-class society. These corporations had huge influences on politics, and often politicians were portrayed as merely being the puppets of those corporations. The period from 1870 to 1900 was marked by increased poverty, rising inequality, and bubbling discontent beneath the gilded filigree of society.
Big Picture Events and Issues
While the “Wild West” will live on in infamy, it was during this period that the western frontier actually began to close. The open ranges were closed in by barbed wire fences. Millions of acres of land were snatched up and populated. Native Americans were confined to reservations and then pushed farther west onto new reservations. Treaties were made to the disadvantage of the people and another Trial of Tears occurred. In fact, part of my family’s heritage cannot be traced back any further than this time because of how much was lost in this tragedy.
Technology and communication exploded during the Gilded Age. Telephones, electricity, machines, even the mass-circulation of newspapers and magazines, redefined aspects of the United States in unprecedented ways. With technology came more leisure time for new sports and entertainment to be developed. Transporation grew exponentially, opening up the country to easy travel and new migration patterns. Over these years, horse-led transportation diminished as trains, automobiles, electric trolleys, and others were developed.
Mass immigration poured millions of people into country giving rise to anti-immigrant reactions. Limitations on immigration from certain places started to appear, and the grouping of immigrants arriving shifted to larger numbers of Hungarian, Italian, Polish, and Russian peoples. Often these unskilled workers sought out cities where they could work at factories, often for horrifically low pay.
I talked a little bit about big business already, but this period is when the modern American economy emerged. Our economy became more globalized, dependent on products from around the world to supply the materials needed. Small businesses were consolidated and bought out. It was a dynamic time of wealth and poverty.
Politics too played a significant role during this time. The 1880s and 1890s especially were years of turbulence. Political conflicts were constant with corporations having an influencing hand in many areas. Farmers and laborers fought for fair representation and support against those corporations who they felt took advantage of them. You also have the beginnings of suffragist and civil rights movements.
Why I Write Gilded Age
As you can see, there is just SOOOO much conflict and depth that can be mined from this time period. I love looking at all the different perspectives and challenges that were faced by the people. So while you might think of all that glitters when you see the words Gilded Age, know that it is so much more than that, and I hope to bring some of those aspects and struggles to life in my stories.
A Second Gilded Age
Something I found interesting in my research is that the term Gilded Age has been applied to our current era by many different sources. There are parallels, but not completely. I just thought it fascinating, and if you’d like to read a succinct article on some of that, you can visit the History Channel’s article about it here.
Your chance to comment: What sort of things do you think of when you hear “Gilded Age” in relation to a fiction story?
Enter the Rafflecopter below to be entered to win one of three prizes: (Grand prize) – A signed copy of Counterfeit Love with a book sleeve made by my Momma, a toe bag with story-related prizes inside, (2nd prize) – A signed copy of Counterfeit Love with a book sleeve made by my Momma, socks, and a bookmark, (3rd prize) A signed copy of Counterfeit Love with a book sleeve made by my Momma and a bookish zipper bag. Entries run from March 1st to March 31st, 11:59pm EST. *Open to those legally able to enter, U.S. residents only for the physical prizes, international winners will be given a prize of equal value to whichever level they win.*