Title: The Fifth Avenue Artists Society
Author: Joy Callaway
Genre: Fiction/Popular Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 23rd November 2016
Synopsis: Devastated after being jilted by the boy next door, Ginny Loftin turns to writing in an attempt to rewrite their story with a better ending. But it is among the painters, musicians, actors and other writers she meets at a Fifth Avenue salon that she finds new purpose and a second chance at love. A richly told historical novel of family loyalties, loss and artistic desires.
‘The creative sisterhood of Little Women, the social scandal of Edith Wharton and the courtship mishaps of Jane Austen . . . The Fifth Avenue Artists Society is a delightful, and at times touching, tale of Gilded Age society and creative ambition with an inspiring heroine.’ New York Daily News
The Bronx, 1891. Virginia Loftin, the boldest of four artistic sisters in a family living in genteel poverty, knows what she wants most: to become a celebrated novelist despite her gender, and to marry Charlie, the boy next door and her first love.
When Charlie instead proposes to a woman from a wealthy family, Ginny is devastated; shutting out her family, she holes up in her room and turns their story into fiction, obsessively rewriting a better ending. Though she works with newfound intensity, literary success eludes her-until she attends an elite salon hosted at her brother’s friend John Hopper’s Fifth Avenue mansion. Among painters, musicians, actors, and writers, Ginny returns to herself, even blooming under the handsome, enigmatic John’s increasingly romantic attentions.
But just as she and her siblings have become swept up in the society, Charlie throws himself back into her path, and Ginny learns that the salon’s bright lights may be obscuring some dark shadows. Torn between two worlds that aren’t quite as she’d imagined them, Ginny will realise how high the stakes are for her family, her writing, and her chance at love.
A story that has romance within its pages, yet it is the kind that doesn’t take over everything else in the story that the characters experience and go through, and nor does it turn Ginny, the main character, into less than she is at the beginning of the novel. Virginia Loftin comes from a family of artistic ambition. Sister Bessie is a milliner, her twin brother Franklin is a painter, her younger sister Alevia is a musician, and Virginia is a writer. Only her oldest sister Mae isn’t an artist, taking to teaching orphans instead, yet supportive of the pursuits of her siblings. The years since her father’s death have been hard on Virginia’s family, all doing whatever they can with their creativity to bring in the money. Virginia’s best friend Charlie is an artist too, and together, they have grown up, sharing their love of art, painting and the written word. And an undying loyalty to each other that rarely wavers, and Virginia is sure that they will marry – until Charlie proposes to another woman.
As an aspiring writer, Virginia has faced sexism from other artists and writing groups because of her gender – because of how the society she was a part of at the time viewed the genders and what they were supposedly capable of. Virginia and her family, and Charlie, know that she is capable of anything. But Virginia still must find a way to prove herself, and it is The Fifth Avenue Artists Society that she attends where she uncovers a way to unlock her talent and to meet like-minded men and women. It all seems too good to be true, and perhaps it is: because nothing ever happens so easily.
Escaping as most writers do into her words, Virginia joins a society of artists – The Fifth Avenue Artists Society in New York, where she meets several characters who will change her life and the course of the lives of her family over the course of the novel. A courtship with fellow society member, John Hopper, encourages Virginia to share her writing, and to aim for publication of her work that is inspired by her feelings and the people around her. As she works on her novel, a shadow of mystery about Franklin’s new job begins to emerge, and it is not long before a series of tragic events unravel and reveal secrets that threaten to bring shame upon the family and alienate them from the upper class society that they are a part of.
A story that is based on the family history of the author, which gives the characters a depth and authenticity that makes one feel as though they are in late nineteenth century New York less than thirty years after the end of the American Civil War, where the war is briefly mentioned a few times to set the scene and the background to the families, The Fifth Avenue Artists Society celebrates the value of art to the individual, and society. It explores what society expected of men and women at the time, and what was accepted, but also shows a woman who, though she sees the value in the conventional, does not always ascribe to the roles society deems right. She is an intriguing character who ends up following her heart for love and for her goals of publication. An intriguing read that brings society life to light and shows how attitudes have changed in many ways.