This book was written at the beginning of what is historically called the Gilded Age in America. A time when political corruption was rampant, and a period of conspicuous consumption. That term, was coined in 1899 by economist Thorstein Veblen, in a book titled The Theory of the Leisure Class. The theory, in a nutshell, is that people of the time were consuming goods not for want or need but purely to show off to their friends that they could afford such things as yachts, jewels, and lavish homes.
My research helped me understand the motivations of the characters in my Durant family saga. Along the way I picked up a book at a library book sale titled: Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: the Story of a Daughter and Mother in the Gilded Age, and I am shocked at the excess. One passage in particular caught my attention: after her divorce Alva Vanderbilt stays in Newport where the Vanderbilt mansion, the Marble House, was located. There, she "withdrew to a life of extravagant vacuity", inviting guests to dig for party favors of rubies, sapphires, and emeralds with silver spoons in a stream that ran through the center of the dining table.
Jeesh, my dinner parties would never pass the muster in this time period. Our idea of entertainment is letting go of sky lanterns on a quiet summer night.