1876: A Novel by Gore Vidal
Kirkus Star

1876: A Novel

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Once again as in Burr (1973) Vidal centers on politics as the manifestation and shaper of American identity. Here he illuminates one of the nation's dark moments, the disputed Tilden-Hayes election along with the centralizing drift of money, power and sectional interests toward the capital. Charlie Schuyler is again the journalist-narrator. He has returned to New York City after 37 years in France with his beautiful, widowed daughter Emma and some Rip Van Winkle obsessions: ""When I was young. . . The American was lean, lanky, often a bit stooped with leathery skin. . . Some new race has obviously replaced (him). . . a plump, voluptuous people. . . ."" They are the prosperous New Yorkers, from the monumental ""Mystic Rose,"" Mrs. William Astor, to the clients of cigar store brothels. As an admirer of the ailing Tilden, a scrupulous ascetic, Schuyler forgoes his detachment and reports the corrupt electoral tangles. While Tilden falls, notables in New York and Washington are observed: a smooth, intelligent Garfield ("". . . when you are dealt the cards you play them""); a glum, bewildered Grant; a ""deceitful"" Senator Conlding (""Senate seats are expensive. . . It is all money nowadays""); and also that likable rake, James Bennett, Jr. of the Herald. While Schuyler lives out what is to be his last year, daughter Emma breaks an engagement and marries a widower (whose son will appear in Vidal's next novel). 1876 is a rich, talky book, but the talk--rarefied escritoire to bock-beer blunt--moves easily. An achievement--Vidal revolutionizes the genre with a seriousness and a muscle both firm and new.

Pub Date: March 19th, 1976
Publisher: Random House