THE SPOILS OF WAR by Thomas Fleming


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Greed vs. idealism in post-Civil War America, 1866-1900--as Fleming's driven characters, wrestling with the war's legacy of guilt and anger in both marriage and the market-place, become embroiled with the makers and shakers in politics and Finance. Clinging to the idea of Union and the Lincolnian notion of ""some sort of destiny we're all struggling toward,"" General Jonathan Stapleton is bothered by the ""eat thy neighbor"" morality of the postwar era. Yet Jonathan, a pragmatic broadcloth Republican, will be the one who carries the ""carpetbag"" to Louisiana to insure the election of Rutherford B. Hayes, wheeling and dealing with iron persistence to break the hold of ""Leviathan"" Jay Gould on railroads and industry. Meanwhile, too, conquering Yankee Jonathan marries beautiful Cynthia Legrand, the Louisiana widow of his brother Charles--in a romance shadowed with doubt and dread. (Is she merely, thinks Cynthia, one of the ""spoils of war""--or is she the wily courtesan her dead father, with his ""purple dreams"" of empire, taught her to be?) But, as Jonathan's cronies and shady allies come and go, along with Cynthia's social circle (Vanderbilts, Astors, Roosevelts), the general finds a constant antagonist in his fierce son Rawdon--who pits a flaming idealism against the realism of the father he hates, forever pursuing the ""shining message"" of an apocryphal vision: Rawdon moves from Jeffersonian republicanism to dreams of world revolution, starting in Cuba; his wife Genevieve, daughter of a defeated idealist reformer (a suicide), seeks another revolution in working for equality of women, humiliated and indirectly tortured by the obtusely cruel ridicule of a husband with a limited, men-only dream of justice. And newsman Clay Pendleton, Genevieve's admirer, observes the passing scene from a distance, cynically removed from the events of the times--strikes, elections, newspaper feuds, panics. . . even the sour realities of the war with Spain. Somewhat stiff in its painstaking overview of the period-politics, more than a little preachy--but, if lacking the pizzazz of Vidal's 1876 (or the pop-appeal of Fleming's Officers' Wives), this is a sturdy panorama of late-19th-century American ferment by a veteran historical-novelist, earnestly informative and occasionally arresting.

Pub Date: March 13th, 1985
Publisher: Putnam