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Hemingway scholar Young sifts 18th-century America ""to introduce to our consciousness of the nation's past a cluster of women"" long forgotten. He reminds us in passing of traditional revolutionary heroines such as Molly Pitcher and Deborah Sampson, and of such unfortunate victims as Charlotte (Stanley in life, Temple in fiction), seduced and abandoned, and Jane McCreath, done in by Indians. But Young's ladies are different. They are Ladies of Fashion. Born beautiful, wealthy, and talented, most of them add loyalist sympathies and a certain easiness to their virtues. Among them are Peggy Shippen who wed and perhaps led Benedict Arnold; Frances Wentworth who scandalized Halifax and advanced her husband by royally entertaining royal visitors; Mrs. Elizabeth Loring who occupied General Howe when he might have taken Manhattan and so, legend has it, lost England her colonies. Retelling their stories (and more), Young unravels several obscure historical and literary mysteries of sexual scandal and politics. But his throwaway conclusion that these ladies, by sexual manipulation, achieved ""something very like equality"" is a curious definition of equality and unsubstantiated in any case. At times his prose is as convoluted as his subject; but for all that, his account of the period--when it seemed ""as if everybody was connected with everyone else""--is as mundane, inconclusive, and perfectly enthralling as gossip.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Knopf