1879: The Great Ones Remember
Every century, every major shift in social structure, every new opportunity for expansion or revision, has its Great Families. At the forefront, in positions of authority and power, these dynasties take the reins of their time and place. They may last only a season, or may succeed themselves for generations, but they leave their names writ large upon the face of history.
In Liverpool, in its golden days as the great shipping port of all of England, the Rathbone clan rose to power, merchants, ship owners, people leaving their proletariat roots behind to ascend to the bourgeoisie, a family with enough economic clout to produce political and religious leverage. They were non-conformists and bloody well proud of it. In parallel with them sat the Roscoes, who were Unitarians in a dourly Protestant land. They built their leverage within the system, practitioners of the law with a strong reputation for philanthropy, doing a little more to remember where they’d come from and give other folks a hand up. With a family tradition of interest in botany, the Roscoes also had impact on public green spaces, a hand in quite a few import lines involving tear or herbs or tobacco, and influence in a second academic sphere, which gave them lines of power into other families through their sons, classically educated.
In New York City, economics concentrated fast and under easy pressure in an openly corrupt political system. Instead of Great Families, there were only Great Men, and the occasional Great Woman who set everybody on their ear. We’ll talk more about Marm Mandelbaum later on, and have already mentioned her in previous entries about George Leslie. Let’s talk about the Robber Barons, the men who savagely carved out big chunks of the economy for themselves, often leaving a figurative and sometimes a literal body count behind. Jay Gould should be at the top of the list here. The term was practically coined for him. He contrived, dealt, bargained, traded, and outright swindled his way to a fortune in the railroad industry. More than one investor took their own life because of the sudden ruin Gould brought upon so many. Jubilee Jim Fisk partnered up with Gould for the attempt to corner the gold market that caused Black Friday. The President had to order a release of gold onto the market from Federal reserves to stabilize the market and halt Fisk and Gould’s corner. They lawyered up with the biggest rainmakers Manhattan Island could produce, and were exonerated on all charges. Even got to keep the profits. Fisk ended up dying messily on a hotel lobby couch after getting into it with a former business partner when Fisk’s mistress left him for Stokes, who left his wife and family for her. Oh yeah, we’re calling it the Novelas of New York, the drama factor here is really high.
So who are the Great Families or Great Personages of the Grosvenor World? Who’s making serious bank on the new business opportunities in London thanks to the Rabbit Hole? For that matter, who’s running Paris after the explosions and the national government throwing up its hands and staying in Versailles? What about Berlin, Moskva, Montgomery? We’ll work through these all given time, each to their own sourcebook. For now, let’s focus on Fort Alice, the town of Alice that surrounds it, and the trade going back to Earth. There’s those that were first in, and managed to survive, and there’s those who were first and didn’t and now hang around the edges. There’s the big money concerns from Earth that have established their presences in the Gruv, from the obvious like Harrison and Thurbert who’ve been handling scientific specimens for the Royal Society and prestigious institutions all across Europe and now handle shipping of specimens from the Gruv, to the less so, like Gatti, the Italian entrepeneur with the chain of showhall-eateries across London, who saw the franchise opportunities before anyone else and has prime real estate now on the high street.
There’s a large number of organizations to account for as well. Benevolent associations, trade unions, regulatory boards, all of these are pivot points in the balance of power. Having your people on the right committee is crucial to your success. The Alice Rotary and Royal Empire Society give power specifically to women, in a balance still sometimes needed in the face of persisting older patriarchal traditions like the gentlemen’s club. The Empire Marketing Board and the Imperial Economic Committee regulate trade, tariffs, export duties, transit fees, and a wealth of other levers that control the economy of Alice, and by extension gives leverage to the economy of London and the British Empire. The Grosvenor Association does away with much of the old patriarchal flummery and puts gentlemen and gentlewomen on an equal footing in a society dedicated to the advancement of the new world, modeled after the West India Association.
Can’t tell the players without a scorecard. We’ll have a list of the Great Families and Great Personages, the membership lists of the societies, the roll call of the various boards and committees, and a reference as to who owns what and who owes what to whom, in the Fort Alice sourcebook. I’m on the Zulus chapter right now, so this blog post is largely me organising my thoughts before writing the politics and economy chapter. After that, I’ll take a deep dive back into the Town of Alice chapter, and expand/revise it to weave the Great Ones back into the landscape. More on this story as it develops. Let me know if you want to get more transparency into the writing process, as I do love to ramble on about it, this blog post a case in point. Comments are open, play nice.