THE BUCCANNERS/Episode 2/Intro by Russell Baker
Money talks, as the saying goes.
Our story is about the eloquence with which new American money spoke to English aristocrats of the 1870s. Or, if you prefer the romantic view, about the conquest of England by love and money. It's "The Buccaneers," Edith Wharton's story of the transatlantic marriage market. Mrs. Wharton furnished her market with two marriage brokers. Both are ladies of a certain age, both down on their luck.
One is Laura Testvalley. She knows the ins and outs of British society and has been hired as a governess in America for young Nan St. George, who will become the central figure in our story.
Last time we saw Laura cunningly persuade Nan's mother to take the girls to England for the social season. And off they went: Nan, her older marriageable sister Virginia, her mother, and Miss Laura Testvalley.
Laura has a friend with a lust for getting nice rich American girls married to elegantly titled Englishmen. This is Jackie March. Conniving with Miss Testvalley, Jackie gets Nan and Virginia lodged in a house where they are likely to meet the unmarried heir to the Marquess of Brittlesea -- Lord Seedon.
Jackie March seems to be looking for some kind of revenge. She's an American who came to England as a girl thirty years ago and was engaged to marry a peer of the realm -- who jilted her at the altar. This cad was none other the present aging and dim-witted Marquess of Brittlesea.
The Brittleseas are long on titles, but terribly short on cash. One solution might be for Lord Seedon to marry a fortune, and Virginia St. George has one. The problem is -- Seedon is quite content with his mistress Idina. It's Idina's house, in fact, that Jackie March has rented for Nan and Virginia. Idina, however, has ordered Seedon never to go there while it's rented out.
The Buccaneers, Episode Two.
THE BUCCANEERS/Episode 2/Extro by Russell Baker
The story of Nan's marriage to the Duke of Trevenick borrows a bit from the real-life marriage of New York heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Duke of Marlborough.
Miss Vanderbilt was more or less dragooned into the marriage, hated it, and finally succeeded in getting a divorce. The divorce made it a famous scandal in Edith Wharton's time. Julius, of course, does not marry for money. The Marlboroughs did. The eight and ninth Dukes between them had three rich American wives.
The seventh Duke's younger son, Lord Randolph, needed money for a political career and got it by marrying the American heiress Jenny Jerome in 1874. The marriage brought him three thousand pounds a year and produced a future prime minister, Winston Churchill.
Lord Curzon gave new meaning to the word "splendor" when he was viceroy to India and financed the spectacle with the money of his Chicago wife.
The Dukes of Manchester trolled America shamelessly for heiresses. The ninth Duke, goes the story, scoured the country saying only an Astor or Vanderbilt could save him, but settled for the Zimmermans of Cincinnati.
The foremost authority on the decline of the British aristocracy is the historian John Cannadine, who finds that from 1870 to the start of the first World War, more than a hundred sons of British peers married Americans.
What had happened? History had caught up with the aristocracy. It was invested in land at a time when farm prices were falling worldwide. Industry was the new engine of wealth. And of course it had borrowed heavily to build and maintain those enormous country houses we see in "The Buccaneers."
How would you like to have to meet the weekly payroll for keeping up Longlands, the Duke of Trevenick's estate?
For Masterpiece Theatre, I'm Russell Baker. Goodnight.
Episode number: 1 2 3
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