cover image The Buccaneers

The Buccaneers

Edith Wharton. Viking Books, $22 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-670-85219-2

Aided by the gifted Mainwaring, Wharton delivers a posthumous gift to both the high and the low of brow with this novel, which was left unfinished at her death in 1937 and published in its incomplete state a year later. While filled with glamorous, class-obsessed characters and plot lines that Krantz and Sheldon might envy, it is a work of beauty--a grandly executed, full-scale counterpart to Wharton's classic story ``Roman Fever.'' Here, a Mrs. St. George, a matron of the 1870s whose husband has means but no social standing, schemes to advance her daughters' prospects; she hires a well-connected British governess, Laura Testvalley. The governess's taste and sensibilities make her the perfect commentator on the caste-consciousness of the other characters, both the parvenus and the British aristocrats whose sons are eventually conquered by the ``buccaneers,'' bold American daughters of rich fathers. The suggestion of cynicism, meanwhile, is elegantly balanced by an infusion of romance. Wharton's superb sophistication and literary virtues need no enumeration, and Mainwaring, who completed the novel in accordance with Wharton's notes and outlines, is also to be heartily commended. Her entrance, about three-fifths of the way through, goes unheralded by notes or typographical fanfare--and it is so smooth and so assured that it will likely go undetected by the reader. 50,000 first printing; $50,000 ad/promo; BOMC main selection; film rights to Twentieth Century-Fox. (Sept.)