Sunday, February 09, 2020

The Buccaneers - Edith Wharton


After finishing the Anne de Courcy's The Husband Hunters, I dived straight into Edith Wharton's last, and unfinished, novel, The Buccaneers.

I had seen the mini-series quite awhile ago and liked it and sort of remembered the basic outline of the plot, but it was great to read the novel. It was actually a very easy read and a fairly straight-forward plot--four young American girls find New York society impenetrable and so, along with their mothers and their father's cash, head to England to find mates.

The protagonist of the story is Nan St. George, the youngest of the lot, naive, dreamy, artistic, romantic, and talented. I loved the relationship between her and her English governess, Laura Testvalley, who shows the girls the ropes, introduces them, and wants to protect Nan from throwing her life away on a loveless marriage to a peer.

The focus of The Husband Hunters was on the ravenous quality of the American mothers who insisted that their daughters marry aristocrats, in some cases literally forcing them to do so. Wharton, however, chose to focus on the ambitions of the girls, painting the mothers as vague, indolent chaperones who were definitely out of their league and comfort zone.

Wharton completed 29 chapters of the novel before she died in 1937. These were published posthumously in 1938. In 1993, Wharton scholar Marion Mainwaring finished the novel, adding 13 chapters to mixed reviews. I only read the 29 chapters that Wharton wrote as well as her synopsis of the plot, which sketches out her intentions for Nan and Laura.

I felt that the 29 chapters I did read were extremely polished--it's hard to see them as first draft material, so perhaps Wharton polished as she wrote or they have been further edited. I don't know.

The Buccaneers is an interesting story and the ending that Wharton planned is bittersweeet--definitely less bleak for the protagonist than is usual for a Wharton novel but still not an unqualified happy ending.

This is my first book completed for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020 - category Classic by a Woman Author.

The also counts in my Classics Club, leaving only one book unread on my list, The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.

7 comments:

  1. I enjoyed The Buccaneers...both the mini series and the book! :)

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  2. Too bad that Wharton did not live to finish this. Though I have mixed feelings about these books being finished in modern times, I think that I would have been tempted to read the new material.

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    1. I probably will at some point--but I wanted to wait awhile so that I could anchor the part that Wharton in my mind before reading someone else's work.

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  3. I have been curious about this. The only last-unfinished novel I've ever read is Dickens' Edwin Drood - and I loved it (not only the story, but the wondering how Dickens would have finished it). But The Buccaneers is more interesting because Wharton has lined out the plot before she died, so at least we wouldn't groping in the dark. Can't wait to read this, but I think I'd save it till I've read all her major novels.

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    1. I'm eager to read Edwin Drood myself--it's one of my final Dickens novels to read for the first time.

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  4. Something sad about unfinished manuscripts, yet it sounds to reason that several established authors of classics have one. This is another to add to the list. I've never read any of Edith Wharton's books yet, but intend to before too long.

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  5. I love Edith Wharton and want to read more of her novels, though I'm a bit hesitant to read a novel that was never finished. I suppose I would want to read all of Wharton's other works first. Thanks for the interesting review - this book and Husband Hunters both sound fascinating.

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