Set in the 1870s, the same period as Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, The Buccaneers is about five wealthy American girls denied entry into New York Society because their parents’ money is too new. At the suggestion of their clever governess, the girls sail to London, where they marry lords, earls, and dukes who find their beauty charming – and their wealth extremely useful. After Wharton’s death in 1937, The Christian Science Monitor wrote that The Buccaneers, if it could have been completed, would doubtless stand among the richest and most sophisticated of Wharton’s novels. Now, with wit and imagination, Marion Mainwaring has finished the story, taking her cue from Wharton’s own synopsis. It is a novel any Wharton fan will celebrate and any romantic reader will love. This is the richly engaging story of Nan St. George and guy Thwarte, an American heiress and an English aristocrat, whose love breaks the rules of both their societies.
Nan and Virginia St. George have the great good luck to be born beautiful and wealthy – the two qualities prized above all others in 1870s New York – but the insurmountably bad luck to come from “new money.” Shunned by the snobbish guardians of Manhattan society, the lively girls still attract many admirers, but no offers of marriage from eligible men which is the grail pursued discreetly but with single-minded intensity by all young women of polite birth (and their mothers). Their spirited governess, Laura Testvalley, 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 the earls and lords have failed to reckon with the strong wills of the buccaneers – especially exquisite Nan’s. She dares to hope for more than position and wealth: a genuine, enduring love is what she craves, and she’s willing to sacrifice everything she’s attained for something true and real. Edith Wharton’s novel pits tradition against vitality and change in a lushly romantic tale, observed with all her characteristic elegance and wit.
Oenguin Books (US), 1994 (1938)