This deeply evocative story of political intrigue and romantic scandal captures the love affair between President Warren G. Harding and his longtime mistress, Nan Britton
President Warren G. Harding was a strikingly handsome man with little political ambition. But in the United States, anyone can be president—especially during the chicanery of the Roaring Twenties.
At the center of his presidency was the young Nan Britton. Although she was only half his age, their passionate affair began in 1917 in a New York hotel room, and continued for six and a half years during his time in the Senate and then in the White House. Harding and Britton kept the affair secret, meeting in closets and private offices, including a small anteroom in the West Wing. Eventually, they conceived a daughter, Elizabeth Ann, born in October 1919.
Fluke is a story of corruption, obsessive love, a doomed presidency, and the lengths a woman will go to support the man she loves. Before Lucy Mercer, Kay Summersby, and Monica Lewinsky, there was Nan Britton, whose stories of carnal adventures in the White House coat closet scandalized the nation.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Though of course, my birth certificate would maintain otherwise, so far as I am concerned, my life truly began on duly 4th, 1912. Nothing in my then fifteen years on this earth could have prepared me for this crashing coming of age on that brilliant, red, white and blue morning, nor for the remarkable man who was to be its instrument.
A teenage girl's petite waving hand is but one of many sprouting from a festive, sun-drenched crowd jamming Main Street of a small, mid-American town, gathered to watch Marion, Ohio's Independence Day parade. Like last July and the several before that, the procession is led by the town's robust alderman, forty-six-year-old Warren Gamaliel Harding, astride a white stallion sashaying just ahead of a sparkling brass marching-band of uncertain pitch.
The musicians are followed by a troop of ancient, bemedaled Civil War veterans in faded Union blue, some dependent upon canes, a few pushed along in wooden wheelchairs. Next come unsmiling militants of the Anti-Saloon League, trailed by no less grim contingents of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and finally, in contrast, ebullient delegations from the Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Grange, and the Marion Boosters Club, for all of whom next year will always be an even better one. Each troupe flourishes its own particular banners, pennants and flags as they strut along, creating a gleaming, undulating satin river of purple, gold, maroon and green. Dogs dart in and out, barking patriotically.
Alderman Harding is a boundlessly contented, classicallyhandsome man, easily six feet, with a head you might expect on a Roman coin. He waves broadly at his townsfolk, tipping a Panama hat right and left, reveling in the heartfelt approval and affection that rises up to him all along the way.
A young man in the crowd gives Harding a mock salute. "Hullo, Alderman. Band just don't sound the same without you tootin' on that old tuba."
Harding smiles down at him. "Hey there, Greg--you back in Marion?"
"Just for the holiday. Here to see my mom."
"You tell your mom Warren Harding sends his best."
"I sure will, Warren--that'll make her real pleased."
A ruddy-faced man in overalls and a plaid shirt calls out to him. "How ya doin', Warren?"
"Doin' well, Petey. Good to see ya. Corn in yet?"
"First ears just this morning. I'll bring some by while they got all their sugar."
"Why I sure do appreciate that. Thanks, Petey."
Two young women costumed as "Miss Liberty" toss bouquets up at him. He snares them both and beams as each girl blows him a kiss. Warren Harding's contentment may be easy, but it runs the length and breadth of his soul.
The parade draws close to the fluttering teenage hand, belonging to diminutive, delicate Nan Britton, on tiptoes between her parents, bobbing up and down for a better view. Indicia of her later staggering beauty are already evident.
As a young girl I had wished desperately to grow up to be a great saint--like Joan of Arc. I would pray every night to Jesus, begging him to afflict me with some horrible disease I could suffer ecstatically, until the Pope recognized my beatific selflessness. This piety greatly alarmed my parents, neither of whom were Catholic, and most particularly, my father, who did not even believe in God. Or very much else.
Harding comes abreast of Nan, horse and rider luminous in the warm sunshine. Through the forest of bonnets, straw hats and waving American flags, she catches Harding's eye. He winks, then blinds her with his smile.
Suddenly all these aspirations for immortality vanished when, at that fateful moment, an authentic saint, a true knight on a white horse, rode into my life. In a heartbeat I'd found the man who was to forever be the center of my world. Anyone who has not experienced all-consuming devotion may well find it hard to comprehend, but Warren Harding was to touch me so deeply that I would thereafter dedicate myself to melding and blending into him, as he had inexplicably become so much a part of me.
Nan flushes. She pulls on her mother's arm and points.
"Mummy, who's that?"
"Oh--that's Mr. Harding, dear. You know--the Marion Weekly Star? It's his little newspaper."
Nan's father frowns. "Mindless Republican rag ..."
"How come he leads the parade, Mummy?"
"He's also everyone's favorite alderman. A very kind fellow ..."
Mr. Britton grumbles loudly. "Political hack. Fawning Republican toady ..."
Nan routinely ignores her father, having learned that however bright the sun, it has yet to shine on him. "What's an alderman, Mummy?"
"Another two-bit grafter ..." mumbles her father.
His wife overrides him. "An alderman is--someone townsfolk vote in to sort of preside over things. Help keep Marion running along."
Mr. Britton has thoroughly warmed to the subject. "Help himself to the public trough ..."
Nan persists. "Like they vote for the President."
"That's right, dear," affirms her mother. "'Cept that an alderman is strictly a local official. And just part-time, I believe. Quite different from a President."
Nan's gaze remains fixed on Harding's receding figure as the parade tramps on by. "Mr. Harding looks exactly like I imagine a President would look."
Her father's had enough. He hits his sibilants hard, sending spittle into space. "For your information, Miss Nan, the President--William Howard Taft--is said to weigh three hundred and seventy-six pounds. The White House had to build special chairs just for him."
Nan stands her ground. "Well, Mr. Harding certainly looks much more like a President than that. If ladies could vote, I'd vote for Mr. Harding."
Nan's mother nods in vigorous agreement.
Her father shakes his head in disgust. "That's precisely why, praise heaven, ladies will never get the vote."
The editorial policy of the Marion Weekly Star is well tailored to Harding's particular combination of strengths--a florid way with words, limited curiosity, aversion to change, and indefatigability as town booster and patriot. And reporting, as it did, only those stories which put Marion and its citizens in the best possible light, the paper is everywhere welcome, if not widely read.
Certainly one would not easily mistake the Star for the Cleveland Post Dispatch, or for that matter, the Marion Morning Tribune. The walls of the one-story wood frame storefront that had been its home since birth fourteen years ago were no longer plumb, if ever they were. The roof sags with fatigue. "Modest" was how Harding himself characterized his newspaper empire, always a bit behind financially and in subscribers, notwithstanding its gold letter bravado on the window:
The Marion Weekly Star Warren G. Harding Editor and Publisher Paid circulation 8,750
Yet Harding tremendously enjoyed putting out his little paper, and would never consider anything else. All his life the grass always looked greener right under his feet.
Nan, in pigtails, a white pinafore and white patent leather shoes, approaches the newspaper's offices from a park across the street. She reaches the front door, then pauses to gather up her courage.
Just within, Harding and long-time United States Senator William Foraker chat politics in the front office as they savor leisurely cigars. Soft blue smoke hangs drowsily around them in the still air. The two old friends, Harding tilted back in his well-seasoned wood and leather desk chair, Foraker reclining on a battered loveseat, share in the prestigious company of Presidents McKinley, Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt, whose framed sepia photographs eye each other from opposite walls. Harding's Airedale, Old Abe, sprawls on a frayed rug by Harding's chair, tail thumping as Harding scratches him behind the ears.
As always, Harding is reassuring. "Wouldn't think you'd have to campaign all that much this time 'round, would you, Bill? You've been down this road so many times ..."
"Ya never know what voters will do," counters Foraker. He jabs his cigar towards Harding. "You remember that when ya make the run for Governor, Warren, my boy."
Harding laughs. "Me? I'd sooner throw myself in front of a horse. Invite all that grief ..."
"Beware complacency," Foraker continues, "that's my motto. Look at old Blaine. Re-elected four times, figures he can rest on his laurels--and a Democrat squeaks right past him. No sir, I'm gonna be out there shaking hands every ..."
A bell over the front door jingles as Nan enters. The sunlight streaming through the plate glass behind her ignites the alabaster sheen of her dress, creating a halo around her.
Harding smiles at his young visitor. "Well, hello there, miss."
"Good afternoon, Mr. Harding," she replies, shyly.
Old Abe rises, sniffs Nan's shoes. No one he knows. He waddles back to his rug.
"What can we do for you today?" asks Harding.
"I brought you a poem."
"Yes sir. For the Marion Star's 'Poem of the Week.'"
"And you wrote it? All by yourself?"
"Oh yes sir."
"Well if it's good, we just might publish it." Harding winks at Foraker. "Like to read it to us?"
Solemnly, Nan nods, slides a piece of paper from her pocket, and unfolds it. "It's called 'My True Love.'"
Harding smiles at her encouragingly. "'My True Love.' Well, well. Let's hear it."
Nan begins reading to him in a small, clear voice. "My True Love, by Nan Britton." She takes a deep breath, then plunges in.
"Upon a white steed there rides into my life A man Fate had destined to make me his wife. A blink of an eye and I'm under his spell. From that moment on, in my soul he doth dwell."
"My, my," says Foraker. "'In my soul he doth dwell.' Please, go on child."
Nan draws another breath, then lets fly:
"Our lips meet in passion, our bodies entwine. My mind is aswim in desire divine. The heat of my heart exceeds that of the sun. Two loins meld together as we become one."
Harding and Foraker exchange a look of astonishment. Nan ventures her first smile. "That's my poem."
A dense silence.
Harding clears his throat. "Yes ... well. That's quite a--poem, er, Nan. Quite a poem. Yes indeedy."
Nan's green eyes glow. "Is it good enough, do you think? Good enough to be in the paper?"
Harding weighs his words. "Well, yes it's quite good." He pauses. "Not our usual thing, though. Most of our poems are more--actually, they're less ..."
Nan's face falls.
Harding shifts gears. "But, er, sure. I think with--a little editing we could put it in. Is that all right? If we change it just a bit."
"Oh yes sir," replies Nan, brightening again. "Whatever you think best. Thank you."
Proudly she hands it over to him. Harding takes it, affectionately pats Nan's shoulder, and looks the poem over in continuing disbelief.
Foraker squints at the budding poetess. "How old are you, young lady?"
"Fifteen, sir. Just this month."
"Fifteen, fifteen. Hmmm."
"Yes, sir. Well, I have to go. My mother asks that I come straight home after school."
Harding nods. "That's good, Nan. Always listen to your mother." Again he clears his throat. "Your mother--she hasn't by chance seen this ... ?"
"Oh no. You're the only one." Meaningfully, she looks up at him, her eyes deep green pools. "I wanted you to be my first." She gives him a smile that would set a glacier to the boil. "Well--good-bye, Mr. Harding." The merest glance at Foraker. "Good-bye, sir."
The front doorbell jingles as Nan returns to the street.
Foraker shakes his head. "You see? Teach young ladies to read and write--this is what you get."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In my quest to read novels about our former presidents and their ladies, it was, indeed, a “fluke” that I came across this one. I knew absolutely nothing about President Harding except that he died in office. Sadly, our present times politically in many ways, aren’t so different from those 75 years ago. However, as naive as President Harding may have been, he was a good man who tried his best, was manipulated by scoundrels he thought were his friends, and perhaps not given his due by historians. Our current President can’t hold a candle to this flawed but compassionate and kind man. Much the pity for us.
"Fluke" is absolutely the best book I've read in 2016, and I read four or five each month. Perhaps it is because it mirrors the political climate of today or perhaps the fact that I'm an Ohioan and wanted to know more about Warren G. Harding, our 29th president and native of Marion OH. What I discovered was a cleverly crafted tale that clung to the historical detail of a presidency maligned by treachery, deceit and then downright criminal behavior by cabinet members. Much like today, Harding rose to the presidency from a deadlocked national GOP Convention in 1920. The leading candidates -- General Leonard Wood and Illinois Governor Frank Lowden – refused to give in to one another after more than one dozen ballots, opening the door for a third unknown candidate – Harding, who wasn’t even at the assembly when he was nominated. Does any of this ring familiar? Told through the eyes of his mistress, Nan Britton, Harding was a complex and honest man who was too trusting of friends. He was a forward thinker who sought peace in a world fraught with warring nations and economic upheaval. He sought world peace through disarmament and equality for all men and women. He, in fact, was the first president to utter the words: "Ask not what your country can do for you; Ask -- what may I do for my country." In the end, Harding never got the chance to right his failing ship. He died suddenly of a heart attack in San Francisco while pressing his vision of world peace on a coast-to-coast campaign across the nation. Several members of Harding’s cabinet died from suspicious causes, were convicted of wrongdoing or committed suicide. Harding’s vision and reputation died easily with him. Still a forbidden love championed his cause after his death, and her memoirs are the foundation of Martin Blinder’s work of historical fiction. If you have been raised in Warren OH, as I was, this is a must read. If you are an American, shame on you if you don’t give it a try. There is much to learn from political ills of our past.