Characters Julian Fellowes’ Gilded Age Gets Right: Caroline Astor

Julian Fellowes’ portrayal of Caroline Astor is, in my opinion, spot on. Mrs. Astor’s self-appointed mission is to prevent the gates of Old New York Society from being breeched by crass new-money millionaires. Two key attributes give her the power she needs to pursue her mission: She possesses the three distinguishing characteristics of the Old Guard—birth, background, and breeding—and she is married to one of the wealthiest men in New York City. But Fellowes captures a key difference between the fictional Agnes van Rhijn’s no-holds-barred revulsion at the new-money set and Caroline Astor’s more calculated reaction through the scene in which Bertha Russell suggests to Caroline that they might “be friends”…that they might “help” each other. Caroline’s wordless, “I’ll think about it” facial response, leaves the door open to Bertha while signaling Caroline’s realization that there will be no keeping the new-money set out forever. What Caroline believes she can do (erroneously as it turns out) is manage the terms under which under which the nouveaux riches are allowed entrance into Old New York Society. The difference between Agnes van Rhijn and Caroline Astor is subtle but key and Fellowes manages to capture it beautifully.

Note: The Gilded Age airs on Max.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

Connie Nordhielm WooldridgeBiography | View

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