Executive Producer: Rebecca Eaton., Phillippa Giles
Producer: Phillip Saville
Director: Phillip Saville
THE BUCCANEERS/Episode1/Intro by Russell Baker
For American go-getters, the twenty years after the Civil War were pure bliss. Brand new millionaires shot up like weeds. And since there were no taxes to speak of, there was nothing to do with those millions but spend them.
And spend them they did -- with glorious extravagance. To show how rich they were, they built mansions fit for the pharaohs and filled them with the best furnishings and art money could buy. Since New York summers could be unbearable they also built gigantic summer places. "Cottages," they called them. The preferred location was Newport where we are right now.
As "cottages" go, this one is relatively modest. The rise of this new rich class is at the heart of "The Buccaneers," which we're presenting in three installments. The story opens in Newport -- in this very house, in fact.
Then it takes us across the Atlantic to the great country houses of England, where threadbare aristocrats trade old British titles for new American money.
"The Buccaneers" was the last novel of Edith Wharton. She was a New Yorker, born during the Civil War; an immensely sophisticated woman, equally at home in Europe and America. She chronicled international society of the Gilded Age and early 1900s in novels like "The House of Mirth," "The Custom of the Country," and "The Age of Innocence." "The Buccaneers" was unfinished when she died, but she had outlined how the story would end, and our treatment stays true to her plan.
Now, since this is a sprawling story with a lot of characters to get used to, let me suggest you concentrate at first on our four young heroines. They are the buccaneers -- out to plunder England. They are all daughters of America's vulgar new money class. Two of them, Virginia and Annabelle, are sisters -- their father, the third richest man in the United States. Their friends are Conchita and Lizzie -- Conchita is the feisty Brazilian girl. Her mother smokes cigars.
Lizzie's father is broke at the moment, so Lizzie's social stock is depressed. Obviously they do not belong to America's old-money society. Certainly they are not socially fit for entry into the British aristocracy. So let us see what happens...
The Buccaneers, Episode One.
BUCCANEERS/Episode 1/Extro by Russell Baker
Edith Wharton could never have flung herself at life with the zest of her daring young pirates.
They are children of a joyfully unbuttoned new class, and Mrs. Wharton was very much a creature of old New York society with its stifling codes of behavior -- one of which held that women must not be very bright or terribly interesting.
Young Edith's writing talent made her own mother uneasy, because women of their class simply did not write. She was born in 1862, and in the "Buccaneers" she was writing about a time when she herself had suffered the humiliations of the high society marriage market. She never had much luck with men.
There was a brief failed romance in her early youth, and one brief adulterous love affair in her mid-forties. All her life she loved the company of a sophisticated, dilettantish man named Walter Berry, but Berry was a confirmed bachelor -- long on charming companionship, low on passion. Her marriage to Teddy Wharton astonished her good friend Henry James, who found it, he said, "utterly inconceivable."
Well, she was twenty-three when she married -- dangerously close to the age when marriageable young society women suddenly turned into old maids -- and Teddy was socially acceptable. He has traveled to Boston and Virginia, he is handsome, knowledgeable about wines and food, and provides jovial company. Good with dogs. But hopelessly bored by everything that fascinated his wife: books, international affairs, art, the life of the mind.
It was a failed marriage from the start, but they kept it alive for twenty-eight years. At the end Teddy fell into what was probably acute manic-depressive illness and began openly supporting mistresses and raiding his wife's bank funds.
She divorced him and never re-married. A constant theme running through Edith Wharton's stories is of marriage as a prison.
For Masterpiece Theatre, I'm Russell Baker. Goodnight.
Episode number: 1 2 3
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