Nothing is more fatal to literature than prosperity. It was Henry de Montherlant who said that happiness writes white. It leaves no trace. This is why the headlines always bring bad news, the world explodes a dozen different ways at the cineplex each summer, and comedies end as soon as there’s a wedding. It is a fact generally acknowledged that excessive happiness can kill a story. But can a joyful era—a golden age of peace and prosperity—sabotage its novelists? The answer can be found by scanning the list of novels published in the period immediately preceding World War I, the last time that the United States was, in the words of the historian Mark Sullivan, “a peaceful country in a particularly peaceful time.” It was a pleasant time to be an American, but an awful time for American fiction.