16 memorable literary parties
The pages inside a book offer new worlds to explore and often times it is the fictional parties that serve not only as inspiration for readers but also as commentary on the zeitgeist of the moment. These parties offer a peek inside the author's imagination, and they also serve as an opportunity for satire of the rich and famous. Most of all, fictional parties are the best social event: you can have fun without the faux pas of a real-life party. Ahead, check out our round-up of some of the most memorable parties in literature.
Jay’s Saturday night parties in The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
This classic novel tells the story of the most famous host in literary history – Jay Gatsby. The extravagant and debauched Saturday night parties, as told by Fitzgerald, are part of Gatsby’s hopeful plan to reunite with Daisy Buchanan, the love of his life. Get lost in the exquisite world of Gatsby and his glamorous fêtes during a time when “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession.” Get it here.
The Mad Hatter's tea party in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, under the pen name of Carroll, created the captivating fantasy world of Wonderland during a boat trip up the Isis River. The story follows Alice as she meets unreal creatures that inhabit Carroll's world. During the tea party she meets the Mad Hatter, a pop culture fixture and inspirational figure, along with a March Hare and the drowsy Dormouse. The tea party has been imagined and re-imagined many times throughout the years and it continues to captivate the minds of both children and adults decades after its original publication. Get it here.
Clarissa’s party in Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)
Woolf goes deep into the mind of Clarissa Dalloway as she gets ready to host a party. The book is a complex, beautiful and at times dark exploration of a woman's thoughts, actions, and reactions in one day of her life. The film The Hours, starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Juliane Moore, was based on Woolf's book. Get it here.
The New Year's Party in Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding)
The best-selling novel tells the story of a single gal in her 30s who is still struggling to find her strut in life. The book opens with Bridget's very relatable assessment of the year gone by. Her 'sad' New Year's celebration leads her to some resolutions – lose weight, drink less, and fall in love – in hopes that these changes will lead to a happier and more confident year-end celebration. Get it here.
Bilbo Baggin's Eleventy-first in The Fellowship of the Ring (J.R.R. Tolkien)
Tolkien flips the coming-of-age celebration on its head with Bilbo's all-inclusive and lavish 111th birthday party. Everyone in the Shire is invited, the Hobbits eat, drink, and receive presents – that's the tradition. Gandalf treats the party-goers to an amazing firework display and then the host himself, Bilbo, disappears as the party rages on. Get it here.
Masque of The Red Death Party in The Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe)
Edgar Allan Poe's emblematic poem "The Masque of the Red Death" is referenced in Wolfe's classic novel about the sparkling and wealthy society of New York in the late 20th century. Sherman and Judy, Park Avenue residents, attend a high-society dinner party where an English poet gives a speech referencing Poe's work about the great plague. The guests, including Sherman, feel like the speech is direct criticism on their vain lifestyle and isolation from poverty, diversity, and the AIDS epidemic. Get it here.
The Headmistress' Party in Villette (Charlotte Brontë)
Brontë's last novel is a story of pain and loneliness and it's also often considered her most autobiographical. There's a scene in the novel, which many experts considered to be pivotal to the story of Lucy Snowe, where a play is performed during a ball. The play at the party in Villette is a metaphor about society and the disingenuous nature of parties. Get it here.
Wife-swapping Party in The Ice Storm (Rick Moody)
This novel captures the essence of America in the '70s when white picket-fenced suburbs in Connecticut experienced a literal and cultural ice storm. Kids dove deep into drugs, sex, and rock & roll. The parents, in Moody's novel, just as their kids, experience a renaissance. The alcohol-fueled "key parties" – where the husbands drop their car keys in a bowl, allowing chance to chose which woman they'd go home with at the end of the night – were all part of couples therapy. Get it here.
Dressed to Get Screwed Party in The Rules of Attraction (Bret Easton Ellis)
Drugs, promiscuity, privilege, and liberal arts school in the '80s are the main driving forces behind this satirical novel. The story follows Paul, Sean, and Lauren's love triangle as they participate in multiple drug-fueled parties that celebrate and critique the cycle of debauchery Ellis wanted to expose. Get it here.
The Feddens' 25th Anniversary Party in The Line of Beauty (Alan Hollinghurst)
Nick Guest, a young gay British man, is at the center of Hollinghurst's novel that touches on politics, homosexuality, drugs, and the emerging AIDS crisis. During the party scene the protagonist, high on drugs, meets Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and dances with her – a bold criticism of gay men and their attitude toward politics. Get it here.
Debauched Fiesta in The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway)
Hemingway's novel about the Lost Generation is widely considered a masterpiece and bold example of his writing style. The story is based on the author's favorite place to visit in Europe: Spain. The story follows a flamboyant character named Brett and his pal Jake as they drink, party, and reflect on nature. Get it here.
“Let’s F— Christmas Together” in Less Than Zero (Bret Easton Ellis)
Ellis' anti-Christmas party involves models, celebrities, and a Beverly Hills mansion owned by an insane couple – it's what Hollywood is all about. The author's debut novel is a twisted joy-ride through the party scene and all its hazardous second-hand effects. Get it here.
Mr. Hosokawa’s party in Bel Canto (Ann Patchett)
This novel, based on the Lima Crisis of 1996, tells the story of the Japanese embassy hostage crisis. The opening scene finds the characters at a lavish party in honor of businessman Katsumi Hosokawa. Unfortunately, the party doesn't end well, despite featuring a charming performance by Roxane Coss, the American singer known for her soprano voice. Get it here.
Truman Capote’s Black & White ball (fictional recounting) in Underworld (Don DeLillo)
Inspired by a real-life party held at The Plaza Hotel in 1966, DeLillo's not-so-accurate recount of Truman Capote's Black and White Ball is an indulgence. The masquerade brought together figures from different worlds – politics, show business, and even finance – for a night of excess, money, and power. Get it here.
Fancy Dress Ball in Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)
Du Maurier's thriller, which was published back in 1938 and has never gone out of print, tells the haunting story of the second Mrs. de Winter as she tries to live life under the shadow of the wife who came before her: Rebecca. Prior to the fancy ball, a yearly tradition for her husband, the narrator (Mrs. de Winter) is unsure of what to wear, so she gets some help from her maid ... or is she? Get it here.
The Orgy in Gravity’s Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon)
This 1973 novel, described as "encyclopedic and sprawling," analyzes the impact of technology on society with a lengthy and complex array of characters. There are many moments that combine high and low culture – one of them being the orgy that the protagonist, Slothrop, walks into when he boards the Anubis. Get it here.