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November 27 , 2009

The Parvenu’s Plot

Gender, Culture, and Class in the Age of Realism


In this very readable volume, Stephanie Foote gathers a range of print sources—from novels by Edith Wharton and Henry James to gossip columns, fashion magazines, popular novels, and etiquette manuals—to ask how the realist period understood the individual experience of class. Examining the female arriviste (the parvenu of the title) in turn-of-the-century New York (where a supposedly stable elite was threatened by the nouveaux riches), Foote shows how class became more than just an economic position: it was a fundamental part of individual identity, exemplified by a shifting set of social behaviors that form the core of many nineteenth-century novels. She persuasively presents the female parvenu as a key figure in turn-of-the-century culture that embodies the volatility of social standing and the continuing project of structuring and justifying it.

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