Morton Fullerton, Edith Wharton's secret lover and a friend of Henry James, served as the model for George Darrow in Wharton's The Reef and Merton Densher in James's The Wings of the Dove. Mainwaring's elliptical biography of this peripheral expatriate often resembles James's The Aspern Papers in that the portrait it attempts to paint is often overshadowed by the biographer's own travails. When Wharton first met Fullerton on home leave, she was a publicly established novelist in a privately unhappy marriage, and he, on the surface, was a successful Harvard-educated, Paris-based journalist, who had covered the Dreyfus trial for the London Times. Mainwaring was put on Fullerton's trail by Wharton's official biographer, R.W.B. Lewis, whose Pulitzer Prize–winning biography unfortunately contained some errors concerning Mainwaring's research about Adèle Mirecourt, one of Fullerton's ex-lovers who was blackmailing him during his affair with Wharton. Here, Mainwaring not only corrects Lewis but also recounts her years of tracking down letters, official records and surviving witnesses, showing how much research a biographer must perform to discover the smallest truth. The carefully concealed liaison with Wharton was only the first of Fullerton's many secrets. He had lovers of both sexes, had been married and divorced, and inflated his professional status to everyone back home. He was, in short, a cad and a liar, but, behind the facts Mainwaring digs up, also a charmer. Mainwaring has already established herself as part of the Wharton-James gang by completing Wharton's unfinished novel The Buccaneers, but Fullerton's elusive life ultimately resists neat completion. (Mar.)
Forecast: The publisher has secured blurbs from the right people (Louis Auchincloss, Leon Edel), but this biography is not destined to pull Fullerton out of obscurity.
Reviewed on: 02/19/2001 Release date: 02/01/2001 Genre: Nonfiction