A RICH WIFE by Barbara Wyden


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A first novel set initially in the turn-of-the-century New York and Newport of Edith Wharton (though here the comparison ends) that propels its stormily married hero and heroine through WW I, the Roaring 20's and the Crash; from riches to rags they go, through infidelity, blackmail and threatened incest, until at last they come to the prosaic realization that "". . .marriages don't just happen, they take time to develop. Like a good wine."" The marriage of Fredericka Schumacher, an ungainly and unsophisticated nouveau fiche heiress, to the deucedly handsome, Belgian-born Alexandre de Granville does not, however, just happen, but is instead the result of an arrangement between father Schumacher and fortune-hunting Alexandre, for at 26 Fredericka wants off the vine. And no sooner is she off, and flourishing, than Alexandre finds himself unexpectedly hot for his wealthy wife; once fleshy and plain, she's now described as Venus-like; once scorned at Madame Roussy's subscription dances, she now brings all of New York's polite society to its knees. So, after Fredericka bears a darling daughter, all should be idyllic in the Murray Hill mansion of the de Granvilles, except that Alexandre proves a wretched financier, nearly ruining the Wall Street firm of Schumacher and de Granville, and falls prey to the advances of the coltish (and thoroughly caricatured) Kitty Parseval, who entraps him on a transatlantic crossing of the Luistania. While Alexandre does penance for his adultery by driving an ambulance in the trenches of war-tom France, Fredericka has an affair or two of her own, managing at the same time to set the family business back on its feet, even coolly predicting the Crash. Fortunately, when Alexandre comes marching home again, husband and wife are able to forgive and forget, although they don't actually discuss their indiscretions for another ten years or so--just in time to present a fortified front to Alexandre's surprise bastard son (by Kitty, of course) and the cataclysm of Black Thursday. Given the baldness of the historical canvas stretched behind the action, there are certainly more convincing WW I soap operas available (The Long Afternoon, by Ursula Zilinsky, for one). And the characters who populate this novel--especially the de Granvilles--are an unlikable, inconsistent lot, one minute locked in an embrace, the next hurling invectives at one another across the silver service, their motives thin or nonexistent, the plot that carries them predictable. A ""no go"" for readers of serious historical fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1985
Publisher: Macmillan