The Gilded Hour
By Sara Donati
Author Website: http://rosinalippi.com/weblog, www.thegildedhour.com
The year is 1883, and in New York City, it’s a time of dizzying splendor, crushing poverty, and tremendous change. With the gravity-defying Brooklyn Bridge nearly complete and New York in the grips of anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock, Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie—both graduates of the Woman’s Medical School—treat the city’s most vulnerable, even if doing so may put The year is 1883, and in New York City, it’s a time of dizzying splendor, crushing poverty, and tremendous change. With the gravity-defying Brooklyn Bridge nearly complete and New York in the grips of anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock, Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie—both graduates of the Woman’s Medical School—treat the city’s most vulnerable, even if doing so may put everything they’ve strived for in jeopardy.
Anna’s work has placed her in the path of four children who have lost everything, just as she herself once had. Faced with their helplessness, Anna must make an unexpected choice between holding on to the pain of her past and letting love into her life.
For Sophie, an obstetrician and the orphaned daughter of free people of color, helping a desperate young mother forces her to grapple with the oath she took as a doctor—and thrusts her and Anna into the orbit of Anthony Comstock, a dangerous man who considers himself the enemy of everything indecent and of anyone who dares to defy him. (Goodreads)
The Gilded Hour is a magnificent historical drama that is first in a new series that follows the families of The Wilderness Novels series that took place 1792-1823. The author takes us to 1883 New York City. There was no Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge was barely complete, and birth control of any kind was illegal. Known as the Gilded Age, a term coined by Mark Twain, many fortunes were made and the very poor lived within a train stop or two from the very rich. Prejudice was rampant against many European immigrants, black and mixed-race people.
Two women, orphaned and taken in to live with their Aunt Quinlan when young, became physicians. Anna Savard was a surgeon and Sophie Savard was an obstetrician. Both cared primarily for the poor, Sophie was originally from New Orleans, a free woman of color whose grandparents were French, African, and Seminole. She was described as ‘mulatto’, not only giving her an empathy for many of her patients but sometimes seen as a surprise to her patients as a mulatto woman and doctor. She was also a woman who turned down the proposal from the love of her life, Peter ‘Cap’ Verhoeven, an attorney of high social standing and childhood playmate to the two women as said marriage would cost him his position. She finally changed her mind when his health was failing, but he refused to marry her only to put her health at risk.
The morning that changed Anna’s life forever was when she filled in for one of Sophie’s commitments. Anna accompanied two Sisters and an NYPD detective to examine and give certificates of good health to children of Italian immigrants who had died in the recent smallpox outbreak before they could go to the New York City orphanage. She met a young girl, Rosa Russo, and the younger siblings she cared for: Tonino, Lia, and infant Vittorio. Their mother died and their father had gone ahead to look for work. There was something about Rosa that reminded Anna of herself at that tender age. Anna had assumed that Detective Giancarlo “Jack” Mezzanotte, who had helped translate for the children, was Father Moreno, as planned, and only learned the difference later. Young Sister Mary Augustin, Mezzanotte, and the Russos would be part of her life in completely unexpected ways in the near future, especially after Rosa’s brothers completely disappeared.
Many men still valued their wives, in part, by how many children they gave them. Many ladies, were worn out from bearing children every year or two and caring for them all, and desperately wanted to use a birth control or be able to have safe abortions. The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice made themselves overseers of those who distributed pamphlets about abortion or contraception and those who performed abortions or distributed contraceptive devices. Some take physician materials that taught future medical professionals about the anatomy of men and women. Mezzanotte and Anna became embroiled in a manhunt in which women who went to an unknown practitioner to obtain abortions were subsequently murdered. Anna and Sophie were investigated in a case in which one of their patients died; Sophie was accused of giving the woman contraception information and Anna regarding her surgery to try to save the woman after a badly botched abortion.
The Drs. Savard were ladies ahead of their time, raised by an independent woman who looked far to the future when raising them. They are both extremely intelligent, hard-working, taking little time for themselves. I admire both for their wisdom, kindness, and courage. Other main characters could also come to life from the pages, including Rosa, Jack, Cap, and the Lee’s.
The Gilded Hour is intense, extremely well written with likable characters and well-researched historical facts woven seamlessly in with fictitious prose, and plot twists that keep the reader invested in the story. More than one mystery is being investigated by Anna and Jack, and there are loose ends from said mysteries not yet revealed, yet overall I consider this to be literary fiction or drama that drew this reader into a setting reflecting the tumultuous years after the Civil War and early years of the women’s movement. I learned from it and enjoyed it, and highly recommend it to adult readers of historical or literary fiction with drama, mystery, and romance.