Gilded Age: A Tale of To-day

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Novel by Clemens and C. D. Warner, published in 1873 but dated 1874. It was dramatized by G. S. Densmore (1874), and Clemens revised the play the same year. The theme is that of unscrupulous individualism in a world of fantastic speculation and unstable values, and the title has become a popular name for the era depicted in the book, the boom times of post-Civil War years, when unbridled acquisitiveness dominated the national life.

“Squire” Si Hawkins moves, with his wife and family, from Tennessee to a primitive Missouri settlement, the current speculative project of his visionary friend, Colonel Beriah Sellers. During the journey, Hawkins adopts two unrelated orphans, Clay and Laura. Ten years pass, Sellers's optimism costs Hawkins several fortunes, and the children grow in constant expectation of great wealth. When the Squire dies, his family moves to Sellers's new promotion center, Hawkeye, where Laura is attracted by a philanderer, Colonel Selby, who abandons her after a mock-marriage. Her beauty impresses Senator Dilworthy, who invites her and her foster brother to Washington, and there they and Sellers are involved in the intrigues and financial deals of the unscrupulous senator. When Selby reappears, Laura resumes her liaison with him, later murdering him when he attempts to desert her again. She is acquitted after a spectacular court trial, but dies of a heart attack when her career as a lecturer is a failure.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Charles Dudley Warner (1829—1900)