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THE LAST ROMANTICS by Caroline Seebohm



Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 1986
Publisher: Macmillan

Here, from the author of The Man Who Was Vogue, 1982, a delightful first novel with echoes of Alice Adams' Superior Women (1984): four young women meet at Oxford and stay friends through enormous personal and professional upheaval. Alice Fugate, Penny Coverdale, Louisa Better, and Daphne Fanthorpe--all from more or less monied English families--room together at Oxford in the early 60's and are collectively smitten by the same man, the brilliant but chilly scholar, Edmund Wales. To everyone's surprise, Edmund marries not the voluptuous Daphne or the lusty Penny, but Louisa, who perhaps loves him the least. The old gang drifts apart, then, with Alice (who narrates most of the story) hitched to a bland but comfortable nutritionist, Daphne to a left wing playwright, and Penny to an effete younger son of an old family. But the upheaval of the 60's and early 70's brings changes: by the time all the women reunite in New York at a bicentennial party in 1976, Daphne has gone through a particularly obnoxious flower-child stage and is about to wed a Long Island tycoon who lives to play tennis, and Penny is separated from her husband, who has taken to wearing dresses. Edmund is still there, still brilliant--but fading, unable to exist in a crass, commercial modern age without the love of Louisa, who is too busy having affairs and working as an interior decorator to pay him much attention. After Penny, Daphne, and the staid Alice all refuse to have affairs with him, he kills himself. Rich with nostalgia (the Oxford atmosphere is Brideshead Revisited revisited), the novel surprisingly rises above the overused formula at the heart of the plot--it's by turns amusing, savvy, and mistily sad.