Class: The Wreckage of an American Family

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Archie Douglas and Ellie Reed, two children of the American dream, met at a cocktail party in a New York town house in the fall of 1937. He was a Wall Street broker, the son of an heiress, handsome, trust-funded, Yale-educated, a young man with his future on a plate. She was buoyant, beautiful, Social Registered, a fashion model for whom life was a party that never ran down. Their marriage began with a honeymoon in Cuba and ended with her suicide in New York. The thirteen years between were an endless gaudy whirl...
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Overview

Archie Douglas and Ellie Reed, two children of the American dream, met at a cocktail party in a New York town house in the fall of 1937. He was a Wall Street broker, the son of an heiress, handsome, trust-funded, Yale-educated, a young man with his future on a plate. She was buoyant, beautiful, Social Registered, a fashion model for whom life was a party that never ran down. Their marriage began with a honeymoon in Cuba and ended with her suicide in New York. The thirteen years between were an endless gaudy whirl of glitter and gaiety, hurtling closer by the year to the perils that underlay it: alcoholism, debauchery, and abuse. The son of that marriage, the author, whose last memory of his mother was finding her dead, resurrects those years. Drawing on his own memories and those of others, as well as a wealth of records, diaries, letters, and keepsakes, Geoffrey Douglas offers a vision of corrupted privilege as haunting and personal as it is well wrought. In today's rootless climate, with the loss of "family values" being mourned from every pulpit in the land, the message of Class - that even among the "chosen," a family without love is a family without hope - should strike a chord in every husband, wife, or parent who has ever faced failure and sought a better way. This is the story of the wreckage of a family told from its beginnings: from the making of a nineteenth-century copper fortune, through the nannies, trust funds, and private schools that it bought, to its final awful end. Class is a tale of waste and loss that fills every page with the passions of its teller. It is a story superbly told by a writer of exceptional talent, a story of old money gone bad. An American tragedy.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Douglas's ruthlessly candid history of his parents is a significant sociological study as well as a wrenching memoir of great poignancy, for Archibald and Eleanor Douglas were members of the highest stratum of American society, made up of people who had inherited money and who viewed themselves as the nation's aristocrats. They felt no need to accomplish anything to prove themselves because they had been given high status by birth. Archie was a handsome, charming, intelligent bon vivant whom a psychiatrist also found to be shrewd and aggressive; although a poor student, he became a stockbroker through contacts he made at Yale and also served five terms in the New York State Assembly. Eleanor was beautiful enough to be a model, a vivacious and charming debutante when the two were married in 1940. Leaving their children to the care of nannies and other servants, the two devoted their lives to parties, to liquor and to pills--two vacuous individuals filling up their time. Eleanor killed herself in 1953. Archie presumably died in late 1962. His son, who is now a freelance writer, visited his drunken, maudlin father that Christmas at his Tuxedo Park, N.Y., mansion. Two days later, he went into the hospital with stomach pains. I never saw him again. A friend summed up the lives of this couple aptly: They could have been anything. It was such a waste. Photos. (Oct.)
Library Journal
``At a little after two in the afternoon on the last Saturday of September 1953, two days before the start of my fourth-grade year, . . . I took the paper to my mother's room and found her dead.'' Douglas would be 16 years old before he learned that his mother killed herself and over 40 before he discovered ``all the miseries that drove her to it.'' In this moving, eloquent memoir cum social history, Douglas combines his childhood memories with the recollections of family and friends to tell the story of his parents' 13-year marriage, ``a marriage endowed--then corrupted--by rank and privilege.'' When Archibald Douglas, a stockbroker and son of an heiress, married Ellie Reed, a socialite debutante, in 1940, they were a couple who had it all--money, beauty, and, most importantly, a ``good name'' and social status. But the good times of the early years quickly dissolved into alcoholism, adultery, abuse, and Ellie's nervous breakdowns and eventual suicide. Like Susan Braudy's This Crazy Thing Called Love ( LJ 9/1/92), Douglas reveals the painful emptiness and waste of lives that adhere to false ``family values.'' Highly recommended.-- Wilda Williams, ``Library Journal'' *
Eloise Kinney
The Douglases seemingly had it all--good breeding (and a long line of honorable, charitable forbearers), old money (and lots of it), and opportunities galore (though often bought and paid for). But by the late 1900s, the American "aristocracy" had stumbled, fallen, and broken into pieces--pieces picked up and reassembled into racism, cruelty, and elitism by the author's father, and into boredom and mental illness by his mother. In this scathingly honest, upper-class "Roots", Douglas employs interviews with relatives and friends, letters, and diaries to ferret out answers to questions that have plagued him a lifetime: why his father died an alcoholic failure and his mother committed suicide. What makes this more than a "poor little rich kid" tale is Douglas' ability to look unflinchingly at his family and to report honestly what he sees, however painful. Filled with wisdom, forgiveness, and eventual understanding, this introspective memoir provides a wistful, tragic look at the disintegration of an era and a family.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446600651
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 6/27/1994
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 264

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