THE BUCCANEERS/Episode 3/Intro by Russell Baker
We are now at the third and final installment of "The Buccaneers," Edith Wharton's last novel about four American girls of the 1870's who marry into British high society.
It's a story with one foot in America and one in England -- a fitting way for Mrs. Wharton to close out her career. She had lived her entire life half in America, half in Europe. It was France she loved best, and she eventually owned two houses there. The subject matter, though, was always America, from the bleak New England of "Ethan Frome" to the glittering New York of "The Age of Innocence."
Unlike her good friend Henry James, she was commercially successful from her first big novel "The House of Mirth," published in 1905.
There's a story about her arriving in a huge new car one day to take Henry James for a drive, and telling him she'd bought this gaudy machine with the profits from her last novel. Which prompted James to reply that with the profits from his last novel he had bought an unpainted wheelbarrow. With the profits of his next novel, he said, he might afford to paint it.
Now, as our final installment begins, the story focuses on Nan's unhappy marriage to the Duke of Trevenick. It's a theme that also fascinated Henry James -- the American heiress trying to survive the cultural trials of an alien society.
Let's see how Edith Wharton resolves it.
The Buccaneers, Final Episode.
THE BUCCANEERS/Episode 3/Extro by Russell Baker
Nowadays, a Duke's wife running off with another man seems perfectly humdrum, hardly interesting enough to rate an appearance on one of those televised confessional shows.
In the 1870s, however, it would have been an amazing scandal, shaking society for years. After their first joy, the runaway wife and her lover would have faced a lifetime of struggle to live it down.
Edith Wharton's outline for an ending to "The Buccaneers" suggests that, had she lived, she might have written something not quite so happy as we've just seen. Though, as she once said, "Americans like tragedy with a happy ending."
Having Guy's outraged father break with Laura may have been intended as the signal of a sort of lingering tragedy to come. In her outline, she says that Laura, rejected by Sir Helmsley, is doomed to a life "alone with old age and poverty." Sounds pretty grim, doesn't it?
So far as anybody knows, Edith Wharton herself had only one passionate love, and it didn't come until she was 46 years old. The man in the case was Morton Fullerton, an American, son of a clergyman, and Paris correspondent for the Times of London.
Apparently, he was brilliant and certainly charming. He had charmed Henry James, who sent him to meet Mrs. Wharton, and probably for the first time in her life, she was passionately enchanted by a man. Unfortunately, Fullerton couldn't resist enchanting people passionately.
The landscape was littered with his loves, male and female, married and single, Bohemian, bourgeois and aristocratic. The secret of his fatal charm is unclear. He was small, dapper, had big sad eyes over a huge mustache.
Whatever the secret, it had its effect on Mrs. Wharton. She fell for him like a ton of bricks (or body and soul). It didn't last long. Gradually she saw that Fullerton could never be more than a transient lover flitting off to wherever the next charmed victim called him, and she broke it off.
For the next thirty years she lived almost entirely in France, and during the first World War was honored by the French government for her work with war orphans and refugees. She died in 1937, age 75, and was buried in Versailles.
For Masterpiece Theatre, I'm Russell Baker. Goodnight.
Episode number: 1 2 3
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