Buccaneersby Edith Wharton
The classic Wharton novel. Nan & Virginia St. George are beautiful & wealthy the two qualities prized in 1870s NY but they have the bad luck to come from new money. Shunned by the guardians of society, the girls attract many admirers but no offers of marriage. Their spirited governess determines to launch these buccaneers in London society, whose impoverished aristocracy, groaning under the burdens of massive country estates, are only too willing to trade a title for a fortune. But Nan dares to hope for more than position & wealth: a genuine, enduring love, for which shes willing to sacrifice everything shes attained for something true & real.
The New York Times Book Review
"The Buccaneers brilliantly showcases Wharton near the top of her form."
"Mainwaring has added gloss to the story's original elegance and wit, and the novel emerges like a master's painting from the hands of a highly skilled restorer."
"Mainwaring's version of The Buccaneers is a tour de force. . . . [She] deserves high marks for her ingenuity, novelistic skill, and critical intelligence."
"A sense of unobtrusive accuracy of tone and detail prevails throughout Ms. Mainwaring's [writing]. . . . It's hard to imagine a better writer equipped to take on Edith Wharton."
The Wall Street Journal
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Meet the Author
Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones on January 24, 1862, during the American Civil War, into a world that could hardly have been more discouraging of her desire to be a writer. Her parents, George Frederic and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander Jones, descendants of prosperous English and Dutch businessmen, bankers, and lawyers, were pillars of the fashionable New York society Wharton would depict in many of her novels. It was a society in which the only acceptable aim for a young woman of the upper class was to enter into marriage with a gentleman of the upper class and become mistress of a household. Edith's mother, a notoriously commanding and aloof woman to whom the birth of her daughter relatively late in life was an embarrassment, was perpetually critical and disapproving of her daughter's intellectual ambitions.
But Edith demonstrated early a formidable intellect and a great love for books. Though her education—at the ends of a series of governesses—was intended only to provide her the social graces necessary for a society wife, she spoke three languages before adolescence, and read widely in the great literature of Western culture. She first attempted to write a novel at the age of eleven, but her mother criticized her first lines, effectively dissuading her from fiction writing for several more years. She did, however, begin writing poetry, and achieve her first publication at the age of thirteen when a magazine published her translations of several German poems.
Attempting to elude the negative economic repercussions of the Reconstruction, the Jones family moved to Europe for six years beginning in 1866, when Edith was five; when she returned to America, after a life-threatening battle with typhoid fever that would indelibly mark her consciousness, she found her country ugly and deeply depressing. Though the family's move to Newport, Rhode Island temporarily revived her spirits, Wharton's affinity for Europe and her ever deepening loathing for the increasing materialism of American life would lead to many return trips to the Continent. She would settle permanently in Paris in the early 1900s.
In 1885, after the death of her beloved father, when she was twenty-three and thus dangerously close to being considered a spinster, Edith married Edward "Teddy" Wharton, a gentleman from Boston of appropriate social background twelve years her senior. The first years of her marriage were spent in frequent travel and in making the proper social rounds in New York and Newport. Edith was pleased to be mistress of her own house and garden. But as her confidence grew, and she became more and more involved in and excited by her writing, her kindhearted but intellectually unimaginative husband and their stultifyingly predictable, possibly sexless married life began to drain her spirits.
In 1907, at the age of forty-five, she would begin a passionate love affair—apparently the only of her life—with the journalist Morton Fullerton. The relationship was brief, but it marked a profound emotional and sexual awakening for Wharton. Teddy, meanwhile, began to suffer from mental illness—possibly manic depression. He also took a mistress, and embezzled money from his wife to buy his mistress a house. He was institutionalized in 1912, and in 1913, Edith divorced him. She would never remarry.
Wharton published her first short story in 1891; her first story collection, The Greater Inclination, in 1899; a novella called The Touchstone in 1900; and her first novel, a historical romance called The Valley of Decision, in 1902. That same year she began a correspondence with Henry James, to whom she had been introduced by mutual friends. He judged her at the time as a gifted writer but perhaps too imitative a student of his; their friendship would grow, as would James's estimation of his friend's talents, until James's death in 1916. The Age of Innocence, written soon afterward, is marked by several allusions to Wharton's dear friend and to his novel The Portrait of a Lady.
The book that made Wharton famous was The House of Mirth, published in 1905. Between that book and the publication of her autobiography, A Backward Glance, in 1934, she published sixteen novels and novellas, eight collections of short stories, several works of nonfiction, and two volumes of poetry as well as many articles, translations, introductions, and reviews. The novel she was working on before her death, The Buccaneers, was published posthumously in 1938. This impressive productivity was spurred on in part by the fact that many of her works, including The Age of Innocence, were contracted by magazines to appear on a serial basis, requiring her to produce a certain number of words within a limited amount of time and space. Wharton both prospered and chafed under this regime; she wrote prolifically and made a tremendous amount of money, but many critics have noted that the quality of her work, particularly after World War I, suffered under the influence of its rapid production for a mass market.
Beyond her writing, Wharton's life was also distinguished by her selfless service to France and to the European refugees who flooded Paris during World War I, work for which the French government made her—the first woman so recognized—a chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur. When she died in 1937, her coffin was attended by French war veterans on recognition of her adopted country.
Though she was a well-known public figure, Wharton was always guarded about her private life and real feelings. Her autobiography was so unrevealing that her publishers, to Wharton's fury, tried to adjust their contract to permit severe cutting of what they called long "dull" parts. Wharton had destroyed many photographs, letters and literary documents that might well have better illumined her life. Her letters to Morton Fullerton, which she had asked him to destroy, did not surface until the mid-1980s, many years after her death.
Edith Wharton's interior life is known best through her letters to many treasured friends, through their reminiscences of her, and through the miracle of her writing. As Wharton's biographer Shari Benstock noted, "Nothing in Edith Jones's background heralded her diverse creativity and abounding energy, nor was she encouraged her to develop her 'gift.'" Yet she did, through a force of character and imagination which enabled her to produce a body of work remarkable for its craft, its insight into human nature, and its depictions of the complex interactions between individuals and their limited social world, full of pitfalls and obstacles, in which they do or do not reach for meaning.
Marion Mainwaring has studied the work of Edith Wharton for several decades. Author of Murder in Pastiche, she lives in Boston.
- Date of Birth:
- January 24, 1862
- Date of Death:
- August 11, 1937
- Place of Birth:
- New York, New York
- Place of Death:
- Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, France
- Educated privately in New York and Europe
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I began reading a familiar-feeling (if also unfinished-feeling) Edith Wharton novel: then, about three-quarters of the way through, I was suddenly thrust into a mere bodice-ripper. Had Ms. Mainwaring ever even read a Wharton novel before setting about to "complete" this one? Edith wasn't exactly the Queen of the Happy Endings. Her characters find their passions in painful conflict with their conventions and their passions generally lose. The conventions in this particular case happened to be quite overwhelming, and yet they slunk away with barely a whimper. And don't even get me started about Mainwaring's melodramatic prose. This "completion" lacks the dignity, intelligence, depth and compassion of Wharton's work - and even its theme.
It is the 1870’s and the St. Georges are a nouveau riche family who are entirely looked down upon by the rest of New York’s upper-crust. The St. George girls are the statuesque and perfect eldest daughter, Virginia and the precocious and childish younger daughter, Nan. Included in this nouveau riche cadre are the Brazilian beauty Conchita Closson and the lovely Lizzy Elmsworth whose family is rather wealthy. In this time period, there is only one profession prescribed for wealthy young women: marriage. Mrs. St. George and Mrs. Elmsworth have a sort of “frenemy” (friend + enemy) relationship, engaging in conversation over whose daughter is better. In this marriage game, it is a competitive business and the mothers of these young women will stop at nothing to have them married. When it comes to Mrs. Closson, Mrs. St. George and Mrs. Elmsworth immediately dislike and snub her in anyway possible. Mrs. Closson is found to be rather crass and of such lowly character. She has this strange habit of smoking cigars like its no one’s business and playing the piano in such a loud manner. Moreover, both ladies are not at all fond of Conchita Closson whom they find to be wild-looking and almost entirely barbaric. While the mothers may be petty and nit-picky, the young ladies are affable and kind towards each other. They band together and have fun like any young teenagers would do. When the St. Georges engage an English governess by the name of Laura Testvalley for the young Nan, little do they realize that a world of opportunity is opening up for them. In time, Lord Richard Marabel comes to visit and, right under everyone’s noses, he falls madly in love with the unconventional Conchita Closson. And in time, the couple marries, shocking their small group of acquaintances. This marriage of Conchita Closson to Lord Richard Marabel sets the stage for the ladies. Assisted by Laura Testvalley and her American friend Jacqueline March, Nan, Virginia, and Lizzy set off for England in search of the best sort of plunder: marriages. Miss Jacqueline March, who was jilted at the altar decades before by Lord Brightlingsea (Lord Richard’s father), affectionately refers to the young ladies as “the Buccaneers” and instructs them in the ways of London society. Virginia, Lizzy, and Nan meet a whole host of suitors from the eccentric Duke of Tintagel, the brooding Lord Seadown (brother to Lord Richard), the charming Hector Robinson, and the splendidly romantic Guy Thwarte. First of all, I found this book to be rather exciting and it unfolded beautifully from the beginning. The original author, Ms. Wharton did a fantastic job of fleshing out her characters and breathing such life into them that it made them vastly interesting. The names were creative and altogether interesting. The character that I loved best was that of adoring governess Laura Testvalley. She was halfway between a wise older sister and a cultured best friend, imparting her knowledge to Nan. No matter what, Laura seemed to understand the struggles that Nan faced throughout the novel. It seemed like once you had begun to know Laura as a character, she always had a secret to share. My only critique of this story as that the ending fell rather flat. I do not in anyway attribute it to Ms. Mainwaring who attempted to complete Ms. Wharton’s final work. There seemed to be a lack of climax and the ending lacked any excitement whatsoever. * Reviewed by the Merry Wife of Windsor * www.MerryWifeofWindsor.com
This is a very interesting and intriguing book. The BBC movie version of it is also a great adaptation. It really takes a look at the freedom and personal issues and struggles of women living in America and England.
This book is wonderfully written. It explores the world of the aristocracy and the lives of five very independant young women at the turn of the century.