Class: The Wreckage of an American Family

Geoffrey Douglas, Author
Geoffrey Douglas, Author Henry Holt & Company $22.5 (253p) ISBN 978-0-8050-1737-3

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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.)
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