The Gilded Hour is a historical novel set in 1883 in Manhattan, the first in a new series by Sara Donati
This is the story of Anna Savard and Sophie Savard, distant cousins, both orphaned as young children, who are taken into their Aunt Quinlan’s Manhattan home to be raised. It is an unusual household where rational thought and artistic sensibilities are equally valued, corsets are rejected as restrictive and demeaning, and little girls are encouraged to play, explore, and ask questions.
As daughters and granddaughters of talented physicians and healers, Anna and Sophie both pursue medicine at a time when women were finally establishing themselves as physicians.
On the day the story opens, William and Alva Vanderbilt throw a costume ball to celebrate the completion of their new, ironically named Petit Chateau, a mansion of marble, crystal and priceless artwork, some two hundred thousand square feet — as big as a city block. Alva spends millions of dollars to entertain a thousand of Manhattan’s social and financial elite, in a time and place when some 30,000 children wander the streets and sleep on doorsteps and fire escapes.
That morning Anna is asked to examine and provide health certificates for newly orphaned children of immigrant Italian factory workers in Hoboken. All of the children have suffered loss, but Rosa, Tonino, Lia and Vittorio Russo strike Anna as a particularly difficult case. At eight Rosa is responsible for the younger children and is ferocious in her determination to keep them together. Rosa’s situation strikes a chord with Anna, who believes she has overcome the traumas of her childhood, but will find that she has not.
At the same time Sophie is compelled to act when a young mother shows symptoms of severe post-partum depression. She takes steps which will bring her and Anna both to the attention of Anthony Comstock, the author of the infamous Comstock Act who referred to himself as the Weeder in the Garden of the Lord.