1876: A Novel by Gore Vidal
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1876: A Novel

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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