THE BUCCANEERS by Edith Wharton

THE BUCCANEERS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A major novel of manners, three-fifths completed at the time of Wharton's death in 1937 and published as a fragment in 1938, has now been finished with impressive spirit and skill by Wharton scholar Marion Mainwaring. The novel, grand in scope and ambition, is set in Saratoga, Fifth Avenue, and London during the roaring 1870's--Wharton's golden age. It's the slightly helter-skelter story of three newly rich (and, in New York, socially unacceptable) American families who--under the tutelage of a high-spirited Anglo-Italian governess, Miss Testvalley (Testavaglia), a first cousin of Pre-Raphaelite poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti--quickly conquer the upper reaches of English society. (The English aristocracy is drawn to the ``new money'' that Fifth Avenue rejects.) First, Brazilian-American bombshell Conchita Closson marries a disreputable younger son of an English marquis at the races in Saratoga, where Miss Testvalley has just joined the neighboring St. George family as governess. Then- -after a series of social snubs in New York--Conchita and her mother; Virginia St. George and Lizzie Elmsworth (Conchita's best friends); their socially aspiring, somewhat foolish mothers; and Miss Testvalley all set sail for London. There, through Miss Testvalley's offices, the beautiful Virginia St. George marries the respectable elder brother of Conchita's husband, and the dark and wily Lizzie Elmsworth marries a prominent MP. But the ostensible heroine here--and, inadvertently, the most successful social climber of them all--is Virginia's insignificant-looking but kind and intelligent younger sister, Annabel (Nan), who's prevailed upon to marry a socially exalted but utterly unloveable stick of a duke. The novel's last third tracks Nan's decision to divorce the duke, marry her true love--English gentleman Guy Thwarte--and flee with him to Greece. But what Nan never finds out is that her decision robs the deserving, adoring real heroine here, Miss Testvalley, of her own secret late-life lover--Guy's father, who suffers a heart attack on hearing the news about Nan and his son. Not entirely knitted together--some awfully vivid characters just drop from sight--but, still, this is wonderful to read. (First printing of 50,000; Book-of-the-Month Dual Selection)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-670-85219-9
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1993




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