2016: 107. The Buccaneers

It was the height of racing season in Saratoga.

The Buccaneers, Edith Wharton (completed by Marion Mainwaring)

This was my book club’s latest selection, and it felt like kismet, given that I had just bought the book in my summer used book sale shopapalooza.  I was super excited to read and discuss it, as I am a big fan of Edith Wharton.  But alas, I was unable to attend the book club meeting, and even worse, I was hugely disappointed by this book.  

It’s Wharton’s last novel, and it tells the tale of the women who went over to England to find husbands (the “buccaneers” of the title).  Perfect Wharton subject matter, and in the beginning at least, the novel reads like classic Wharton - the part set in Saratoga, with it’s subtle class distinctions, and the way the characters accept and get around them reminded me of The Age of Innocence, and the character of Laura Testvalley, British governess to American hoydens is perfection.  But as the book progressed it seemed less and less plausible and less and less Whartonian.  Which makes perfect sense, as Edith didn’t finish The Buccaneers.  It was a fragment that was found after her death and completed by a woman named Marion Mainwaring. Unfortunately my text didn’t make clear what was original Wharton and what was Mainwaring, though I have some reasonably good guesses.  The end is much more forthright about sex than you usually see in Wharton - and the ending seemed unrealistically happy and modern - not what you’d expect from the author of The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome.  It just feels wrong - and while I’d love to see a marked up text showing me who wrote what, without that information I can’t recommend The Buccaneers.  Read the other, amazing Whartons - Innocence, Mirth, the short stories.  If you’ve not read them you are wasting time by reading this instead, and if you have, this won’t satisfy your Wharton cravings.  A bust, I’m afraid.


© Carrie Dunsmore 2017