Book Review: The Gods of Newport by John Jakes
John Jakes is a great writer of historical fiction and I've enjoyed reading his books. In The Gods of Newport, Jakes combines real names with real incidents and expands upon relationships, facts, and lifestyles of the nineteenth century.
The Gods of Newport is a light-hearted story about a railroad mogul trying to be accepted into Newport's high society. The trials and tribulations of this railroad mogul named Sam Driver, are intensified by his over-protectiveness of his only child, a daughter named Jenny.
The story begins with Sam Driver's past as a surviving robber baron which made him a wealthy man. Although Driver attained a wealthy status his reputation did not, and he was labeled a scoundrel by Newport's elite. Driver tried to gain elite social status with Newport society and was cast away. He gave up on this endeavor for many years until his only daughter became of age, and he wanted to secure a wealthy husband for her.
The Gods of Newport takes place in the late nineteenth century when wealthy moguls such as the Vanderbilt's, the Belmont's, and wealthy Europeans with promising titles such as duke, colonel, or commodore made Newport their summer home. This society was only for the elite and you had to be 'accepted' into this high-class society. In The Gods of Newport, robber barons such as Sam Driver, were seen as 'dirty money' and were not welcome into the 'clean' society of the elite.
In The Gods of Newport, John Jakes takes you into the homes of people who occupied the cottages of the Marble House, the Breakers, and the Ocean House all of which exist today in Newport. If you've ever visited these "cottages" in Newport, Rhode Island, then you can easily envision the lavish balls, high teas, and social gatherings that were the lifestyle of the nineteenth century. In The Gods of Newport, Jakes describes many of these social events as he introduces his daughter to high society.
Sam Driver's second attempt to infiltrate Newport society is successful, however, it's filled with boisterous arguments, muggings, bribery, and suicide. Jakes exposes the dark side of high society in Newport with compelling events.
One of the reasons I like reading John Jakes is his ability to combine fiction and non-fiction. In The Gods of Newport, Jakes mentions real Newport mansions or "cottages" as they were called back then, as well as real street names and places in Newport that the reader will recognize. The reader will envision these true places amidst fictional characters and events.
The beautiful and well known Cliff Walk is mentioned several times in The Gods of Newport, and this is where the elite would take an evening stroll to watch the ships and sailboats after dinner. The Cliff Walk is also where muggings and shrewd dealings take place late at night.
Of course, The Gods of Newport would not be complete without a fictitious and intense romance. Driver's daughter, Jenny is introduced to many high society bachelors with impressive titles, but she finds herself attracted to a low-life Irishmen with no fame or fortune. In total desperation, Jenny's father tries to keep these two separated. Driver's over-protectiveness nearly causes a heart attack for himself and does cause the suicide of a long time family servant.
Jakes usually has a happy ending to his stories, and such is the case in The Gods of Newport.
The Gods of Newport is very colorful with "racey tittle tattle" of the elite and their high-class snobbery. The reader has to wonder and be amused by the distinct social lines of that era.
This is a very light-hearted book that would be great reading on a plane or sitting in a lounge chair on the beach. The Gods of Newport by John Jakes will take you back in time for an interesting ride during that era.