The Bucaneers

ISBN: 0517152789
ISBN 13: 9780517152782
By: Edith Wharton Marion Mainwaring

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About this book

Nan and Jinny St George have both wealth and beauty in generous supply. In the New York society of the 1870s, however, only those with old money can achieve the status of the elite, and it is here that the sisters seem doomed to failure.Nan's new governess, Laura Testvalley, herself an outsider, takes pity on their plight and launches them instead on the unsuspecting British aristocracy. Lords, dukes, marquesses and MPs, it seems, not only appreciate beauty, but also the money that New York's nouveaux riches can supply.A love story of love and marriage among the old and new moneyed classes, The Buccaneers is a delicately perceptive portrayal of a world on the brink of change.

Reader's Thoughts

Ellen B.

Less echoingly sad than The Age of Innocence, which is my... most thorough experience with Edith Wharton, having been read for an American Literature course in college and less sad than my vague memories of Ethan Frome, but it doesn't really change my impression of her work as "beautifully written books about rich people being sad."The part that I had the most difficultly with in this book were the sudden, unannounced time jumps. The chapter changes and it's two years later and oh, these characters are married now with nothing said of their courtship, marriage, or early married life apart from what comes through later in recollection. Now, with a story spanning several years like this, I can see that happening, but it still threw me off kilter.And I guess I have to say something about the fact that it was finished by another. I didn't notice, as some did, the exact point where Mainwaring took over and finished the uncompleted manuscript (and the fact that it was an unfinished first draft may have something to do with the jarring nature of those time jumps), but I could feel it in the tone the deeper I got into the last third of the novel. (To be a little snarky about it, it was that people were having emotions other than echoing emptiness and regret and impossible love.)Long story short, I enjoyed it and I'm glad that it was our first pick for the Hairpin Bookclub.

Hilary Hicklin

As is quite often the case, Wharton's later work doesn't quite measure up to her earlier masterpieces, such as Ethan Frome, which is what I would recommend to anyone new to this writer, and being her last (unfinished) novel it lacks the polish of her other books. Marion Mainwaring has done a pretty good job of completing it though. Wharton has fun exposing the petty snobberies of New York society as well as the pointless traditions of the British class system, as when the Dowager Duchess of Tintagel says "What would happen next, as I said to her, in a house where the housekeeper DID take her meals with the upper servants?".This is a story of the clash of the Old World and the New, of marriages of convenience, of infidelities and boredom. But the key character throughout this book, the person who holds the plot together, is Laura Testvalley (or Testavaglia which is her original name) who belongs in neither camp being the daughter of Italian immigrants. An unmarried governess with spirit and allure, she perhaps points to a more independent style of womanhood and provides a contrast to the other female characters in this novel.The story ends on a note of hope and optimism in contrast to other novels by Wharton which end in sadness and despair. Is that the ending she envisaged, or was this tacked on to make the book more appealing to modern readers?


Lots of fun and often overlooked, this chronicles the marriage prospects of four daughters of nouveau riche Americans who hope to land cash-poor English aristocrats. After all, new fortunes can’t buy entrance to New York society, but the doors have to swing wide open if the families can boast a duke for an in-law. But can a titled marriage bring happiness? Of course not (at least not always), but the individual journeys make for great reading.


Although this novel is unfinished and Wharton would have done a lot of revision, there is still a lot of her wonderful prose and it is very interesting to see her looking back at the 1870s from the 1930s, which in places allow her to be sexually franker than she could in her earlier works. The novel centres on a group of young American women who marry British men and struggle to fit into British high society, and there are some powerfully-drawn characters, including the heroine, Annabel ("Nan"), and her governess, Laura, who is related to the pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and has a rebellious nature beneath her quiet surface.When I picked up this copy of Edith Wharton's final unfinished novel, I didn't realise it had been completed by another writer, Marion Mainwaring. (Maybe I should have guessed this from the mention of it being a "complete edition" on the cover, but it might have been helpful if the publishers had added the second author's name!) I'll admit I didn't read very much of her continuation - there is no indication of where the break comes, but it is pretty obvious as her writing style is very different, and I didn't feel reading her section would add much to Wharton's subtle characterisation. I found Wharton's original text online with details of the outline she left of her plans for the rest of the novel, and that was enough for me. I would really like to give five stars for Wharton - or for her best passages - and one for the continuation.

Elizabeth (Miss Eliza)

*Special Content only on my blog, Strange and Random Happenstance during Downton Denial (February 2014)Nan doesn't want a governess. Her sister Jinny didn't have to have one, neither did the Elmsworth girls, and the irrepressible Conchita surly never needed one, not that she would have accepted her fate as Nan does. But Nan's mother is convinced that Miss Testvalley will be able to not only help Nan, but get some good British refinement that is lacking in her little American savages and perhaps help as an entree into New York society. But New York society isn't ready for these girls. Conchita makes a match with a third son in a great British family and it gives Miss Testvalley an idea. If New York society is so shocked by these young bloods, why not take them over to England. Give them a season where anything they say or do is unique and alluring compared to the dull English roses the aristocracy is used to.In no time at all the girls are settled into the highest echelons of the British Isles. Jinny is married to Lord Seadown, the Brightlingsea heir and older brother to Conchita's husband. Both the Elmsworth girls, while not in the peerage, make very advantageous marriages monetarily and politically. While Nan surprises everyone and marries Ushant, the Duke of Tintagel, the wealthiest man in England. Yet Nan isn't happy. It becomes clear that her husband married her not for wealth or even for love, but because she was naive as to what a duke was and wasn't hunting for a title, that and her youth makes her malleable. Though the longer she is married to Ushant, the more she realizes that their marriage is a mistake. This realization has nothing to do with the fact that she is falling in love with the young Guy Thwarte. She would be fine if Guy never knew of her love as long as he was happy and she was free once more. Back in the days before DVRs and having anything you could possibly imagine to watch just at the flick of a switch, spending the midnight hours surfing the channels always yielded the most interesting results. On channels like A and E, before they became the home of reality programing, you could often find interesting miniseries airing at anytime of day or night. It was on this channel that I first saw Nathaniel Parker deflate a sheep in Far from the Madding Crowd. I'm not sure what channel it was on that I first stumbled across The Buccaneers, but it was definitely in one of these late night surfing sessions. Much like how I caught Louisa May Alcott's The Inheritance in bits a pieces, it wasn't until years later when it was released on DVD that I got to watch the series in all it's glory. The cast alone is a who's who of British and American actors, from the omnipresent James Frain (seriously, he was recently in Grimm, The White Queen and Sleepy Hollow AT THE SAME TIME), to Greg Wise and Michael Kitchen to Mira Sorvino and Connie Booth. This miniseries had it all, including Castle Howard!At the time I was unaware that the miniseries was based on an incomplete manuscript of Edith Wharton's. I mean, I knew it was Wharton, I just didn't know the she died before she could finish it, much like Elizabeth Gaskell and Wives and Daughters. I do remember stumbling across the "finished" book one day at a used bookstore and picking it up. I mean, seriously, how could I NOT buy it? Firstly, I liked the miniseries, and secondly, well, it had a John Singer Sargeant painting on the cover that happens to belong to the Devonshires. What I didn't know until I was researching the book before I read it was that the miniseries and this specific book have different endings and that both endings are kind of reviled by fans of Wharton. This made me wonder if perhaps I should have read the incomplete manuscript, but then, even knowing that there was no ending, I might get that unexpected sadness that I did when reading Wives and Daughters. Also, having seen the miniseries didn't spoil me for the book. Is the wrong ending maybe acceptable because at least it is an ending? The fact that it ends "happily ever after" is what gets most Wharton fans... it wasn't her style. Edith's MO was more, and everyone is sad, some are dead, there is no striding happily into the sunset. Yet maybe it was this change up that made the book appeal to a wider audience? But what would Wharton herself think? There's a part of me that really wants Martin Scorsese to get his hands on this and come up with a bleaker ending...The problem with a book with two authors writing the same book more then fifty years apart is the question where does Wharton end and Mainwaring begin? To me, there's a complete seismic shift at the beginning of the third section, wherein Nan hijacks the book as the heroine she was always meant to be. The book definitely falters here because until now the focus of the book had been more egalitarian. Nan taking over, while she is our heroine, is unable to shoulder the narrative much as she is unable to shoulder her duties as a duchess. How can we really connect with someone who doesn't know her own mind or even who she is? While humans are more realistic when faced with internal conflict, her conflict combined with her lack of personality made my growing love of the book falter. How can she love that Guy has this connection to his ancestral home yet not see the same connection in her husband? Is this a flaw of Ushants? Or is it a flaw in Nan? Looking to see where Wharton's writing ceased, it appears to be long after these problems start cropping up in the book. Wharton was just roughing it out and because she herself changed the feel and style of the book Mainwaring was never able to get The Buccaneers to rebound and seemed to be so desirous of tying things up quickly that the book ended abruptly and the reader is left with the sad realization that this could have been a true masterpiece if Wharton had lived. While the book does have it's problems because of the situation it was put in because of Wharton's death, the overarching theme of the power of art and literature is captivating to me. The character of Miss Testvalley with her connection to both art and literature through her cousin Dante Gabriel Rossetti, breathes life into the book. The characters that are most alive are those with an appreciation of the beauty of the world. In fact, this might be why Nan loves Guy over Ushant, despite them both having this underlying connection and obligation to their ancestral homes, Ushant views his stewardship as an obligation and a duty, not a privilege bound in love. He never appreciates the art for it's beauty and ability to transport you, he views it as part of the house. It is this ability of beyondness that Nan talks about, this transcendence that can be found in art and literature that made me sit up and say yes! You need to look beyond, you need to expand your horizons to make yourself all that you can be. This is not an insular little world we live in, no matter how hard you might try to make it. Go out and read a book, go to a museum, capture some beauty for yourself and you will maybe find a little happiness, because as Wharton shows us, art is life.

Shawn Thrasher

The Buccaneers is Edith Wharton's last novel, originally published as an unfinished work, but ultimately finished by Marion Mainwaring (a Wharton scholar who has a Whartonesque name). Mainwaring's end doesn't exactly feel tacked on, but it does feel different; apparently there is another ending out there (at least according to Wikipedia) and I'd like compare. The novel still feels a bit disjointed and unfinished. There is definitely a skeleton, with some bits of muscle and sinews, and even occasionally skin. But it's almost like there are five or six skeletons all thrown into a box, and Wharton was trying to rebuild them when she died, with some of the bits and pieces still mixed up together. The Gilded Age characters are spot on though and lovely to get to know; I kept wanting more of everything - this could have been a far bigger book (or even several books) there was so much to tell. Like most Edith Wharton that I've read, there is definitely a soapy feel to The Buccaneers; Downtown Abbey meets The Age of Innocence. Frothier than gloomy old Ethan Frome, that's for sure; perhaps if the Duke had been more of an obviously evil dastardly characters, the gothic side would have started to come out more. I still heartily recommend it though; for all of its flaws, this is still great fun.


Ce roman riche et foisonnant reprend le thème très prisé par Henry James de la rencontre entre la nouvelle Amérique et la vieille Europe. Cette opposition est encore renforcée par le choix de personnages féminins pour les Américains et de personnages presque exclusivement masculins pour les Anglais. Edith Wharton ne s’intéresse d’ailleurs que peu aux hommes dans ce récit, excepté les Thwarte, père et fils, confidents et amis respectifs de Miss Testvalley et d’Annabelle. Le roman se divise en quatre parties, chacune distante des autres de quelques années. On suit donc l’évolution de ces cinq jeunes filles pendant une période assez longue, qui permet à l’auteur de nous décrire la suite de ces mariages. La rigidité des règles de la vie sociale constituent cette fois encore le ciment de l’histoire. Qu’il s’agisse de faire son entrée dans le monde, d’être courtisée ou bien encore de son comportement avec son mari, les héroïnes sont sans cesse confrontées à ce qu’elles devraient faire ou à la façon dont elles devraient agir, en vertu de règles ancestrales établies par la bonne société. Leur nationalité leur confère un statut d’étrangères qui les rend très hermétiques à ce code de bonne conduite. Cette excuse permet à Edith Wharton de montrer combien ces règles peuvent s’avérer nocives pour l’épanouissement d’un caractère fragile et irréconciliables avec la violence des sentiments à laquelle nous pouvons tous être confrontés. Chez Edith Wharton, il semblerait bien que la complexité de la vie se reflète dans les destins souvent tragiques de ses héroïnes. Pourtant, le destin des Boucanières est bien moins dramatique que celui de Lily Bart dans Chez les heureux du monde. Toutes ne connaîtront pas la déception d’Annabelle et la fin du roman nous offre quelques beaux exemples d’entente conjugale.Ce roman a été plus qu’un coup de cœur : il entre sans conteste dans la short-list de mes romans préférés. Bruissement de robes, propos frivoles et éclats de rire en cascade ne parviennent pas à masquer la révolte d’Edith Wharton face à un monde corseté dans lequel elle ne s’est jamais retrouvée. La richesse de ce roman, l’exubérance de ses personnages et la palette des émotions qui s’y déploient, sous la plume claire et élégante de l’auteur, en font un moment de lecture incomparable.

Maia B.

I admit to being shocked. An Edith Wharton I LIKE? Impossible.After The House of Mirth, I was sure I'd never read any more E.W. at all. I LOATHED it. So I made sure this one had a happy ending before I bothered starting it. And, what do you know, I'm enjoying it.The people are so much more real. They're all different, not just cut-outs of the selfish, greedy, malicious, blah blah blah that Wharton wrote about in Mirth. I like Nan, too - I can't get used to her as Annabel.I hate that she marries the wrong man, but she's happy in the end (and not dead. Big difference). And I like Guy and Miss Testvalley.Lady Churt was a masterpiece of nastiness. I was actually clutching my hands in anxiety while she was snubbing Virginia and Lord Seadown; she's even worse - MUCH worse! - than Caroline Bingley.I can't even talk about Mirth. But this one was palatable, if not excellent.

Susan Andersen

One of my most favorite books ever, and I am on my third time re-reading it. This is Edith Wharton's unfinished masterpiece, chronicling the adventures of American heiresses conquering the impoverished social upper crust in the London of the Gilded Age. Completed masterfully by Wharton scholar Marion Mainwaring, using Wharton's notes, the book weaves history, period literature, and brilliant characters into a tale that delves deeply into the true meaning -- and cost -- of happiness. If you only read one book by Edith Wharton, this is the one.


Really enjoyed this one, completed by Marion Mainwaring who apparently studies Wharton's work for several decades, so I think she did it justice. This is the 3rd Wharton book I've read and enjoyed all. My daughter is reading House of Mirth for her AP Lit class as a high school junior. I think this book, House of Mirth and Age of Innocence are truly great American literature.


I found a copy of this book in a used bookstore, and hesitated before finally caving and buying it. I loved The Age of Innocence, but (as I learned from reading the book jacket while in the store) The Buccaneers is unfinished. Wharton wrote about 89,000 words of the story before dying in 1937, and Wharton scholar Marion Mainwaring picked up where the book left off and finished the novel. There's a note at the end about how Mainwaring made some changes to Wharton's draft to account for later changes in the story (and she also removed some hella racist language), but for the most part, the first two thirds of the book are primarily Wharton's. I don't like the idea of reading unfinished stories, and I can't decide what irks me more: an unfinished novel like Suite Francaise, which didn't have an ending because Irene Nemirovsky died before she could finish it; or The Buccaneers, where another author is brought in to complete the draft. Either way, it makes for a frustrating experience. That being said, Mainwaring does a pretty good job of continuing Wharton's novel, to the point where I couldn't tell where Wharton's writing ended and Mainwaring's began. Maybe if I was a more experienced Wharton reader I would have noticed discrepancies, but as far as I was concerned, it was a solid story. The story opens in 1876 New York, where "new money" sisters Virginia and Annebel St. George are preparing to find husbands. They find that they can't compete with the old money families of New York, and, after one of their friends marries an English lord who was visiting America, decide to follow her to England. Guided by their British governess, Laura Testvalley, the girls make their mark on the London social scene. Two more American sisters join the St. George girls, and their group becomes known as "the buccaneers," fortune-hunting Americans invading London to snatch up all the eligible lords and dukes. Each of the four American girls ends up marrying into the aristocracy, with varied success. The story wasn't as tightly constructed or engrossing as The Age of Innocence, but I still loved reading Wharton's perspective on the shallowness and complexity of high society in the 1800's. She also makes it clear, without needing to slam it in your face, how much it sucked to be a woman in this world. The two most engrossing characters were Miss Testvalley, a confirmed spinster who's given up all hope of finding a husband and throws herself into the job of finding good marriages for her charges; and Annabel St. George, who ends up making the best marriage and is completely miserable. Her efforts to make the best of her circumstances, knowing that she's completely trapped in this life that she chose, were heartbreaking and beautiful. "To begin with, what had caused Annabel St. George to turn into Annabel Tintagel? That was the central problem! Yet how could she solve it, when she could no longer question that elusive Annabel St. George, who was still so near to her, yet as remote and unapproachable as a plaintive ghost?Yes - a ghost. That was it. Annabel St. George was dead, and would therefore never be able to find out why and how that mysterious change had come about. ...'The greatest mistake,' she mused, her chin resting on her clasped hands, her eyes fixed unseeingly on the dim reaches of the park, 'the greatest mistake is to think that we ever know why we do things. ...I suppose the nearest we can ever come to it is by getting what old people call "experience." But by the time we've got that were no longer the person who did the things we no longer understand. The trouble is, I suppose, that we change every moment; and the things we did stay."


I found out about this because of the TV miniseries and since I love Edith Wharton I was excited to find out about another book--only to learn that she never finished it. But this particular editing is finished by another writer who appears to have done a good job at using Wharton's original outline (and patterns of departure) to complete the last third of the novel. I think I'll go back and read just Wharton's version (if I can find it. It was printed as "Fast and Loose and The Buccaneers" or something like that) to see what the other author did. The characters are classic Wharton, and there is a degree of social edginess about her work, but the book is not as edgy as the TV production (homosexuality, syphilis, etc.), which makes me wonder why the producers put those extra details in, since Wharton already included infidelity, fornication, and general dissipation. And the actress who played Nan St. George looked like she might have been pregnant through the whole production. But that has nothing to do with the book.

Linda Grant

American Royalty would not except the novo Reich St Gorges and Elmsworths. So they had to travel to England to see if they could find an alternative to the American royalty they sought acceptance to society through. England offered an new society for Virginia, Nan, Lizzie and Conchita to blossom and grow. It also offered them an expectable place to find husbands. All the girls enter into marriages that turn them into the societal socialites that they sought to be in American. However, these marriages make some of them fell trapped and suffocated. We also find out that some of the marriages where made with money in mind. Sometimes and English Lord can be as penniless as a pauper but hide the fact with the goodness of his name and title. This unfortunately happens to many of the gilrs and is not found out by them until they are irreparably married.Nan St Gorge finds that her marriage to the Duke of Tintigal is not what she really wanted and that she might not be cut out for English society. The intricacies of English society seem to be a constant unhappiness to her combined with her difficult marriage. All these factors result in her turning to her long ago love Guy Thwarte. This love grows and allows Nan a way to escape her difficult marriage. The other girls find similar matches but all seem to come up again the English social mores and standards that have suffocated Nan. However, most do find happiness in there own way through the tolerance of English high societal life. Lizzie Elmsworth seem to come out the best with her marriage to Hector Robinson. Her marriage seems to be the democratic romantic stage that the other girls sough when they first set out from America.


Based on what I know of Wharton's personal life this story is true to her personal life and experiences. And I can't help feeling sorry for her. She writes like this is the way life is and that it is the same way everywhere and cannot be helped or changed. I understand that times were different then and to some degree I can identify with some of the social moires (some of the rules of entering proper society have not changed all that much) However, I think she is was wrong to make us think that happy marriages were the exception rather than the rule back then. She completely leaves out religion and morality at a time when that was still an important part of society no matter what class you were in. I wouldn't say I liked the book but I didn't dislike it either. I see the book being written from the author's own personal experience and I wish she could've seen and experienced a happier life.


• Mlle Alice, pouvez-vous nous raconter votre rencontre avec Les Boucanières? "J'avais décidé de découvrir Edith Wharton dont j'entendais souvent parler et j'avais d'ailleurs d'ores et déjà intégré Chez les Heureux du Monde à ma PAL, mais lorsque j'ai vu celui-ci, je l'ai trouvé beau et je me suis dit que pour se faire un avis sur un auteur, mieux valait lire deux de ses oeuvres qu'une seule!" • Dites-nous en un peu plus sur son histoire... "Cinq jeunes américaines à la recherche de maris et boudées par la bonne société New-Yorkaise, débarquent à Londres, bien décidées à s'y faire une place..." • Mais que s'est-il exactement passé entre vous? "J'ai été heureuse de retrouver la magnifique plume d'Edith Wharton! J'ai finalement bien fait de lire deux de ses livres, parce qu'après le premier, d'une si grande tristesse, je n'aurais pas eu le courage de m'y remettre si je n'avais pas déjà eu cet ouvrage-ci en ma possession, et ça aurait été fort dommage! J'ai passé de très agréables moments en compagnie de ces américaines qui viennent un peu rafraîchir et choquer, à notre grand plaisir, la vieille aristrocratie anglaise! Les changements de tons sont assez fréquents et on a parfois l'impression de lire une chronique plus qu'un roman, ce qui change un peu finalement. J'avoue tout de même une préférence pour la première moitié du livre, bien plus gaie! Il semble que l'auteur est décidemment bien du mal à attibuer des destins heureux à ses héroïnes..." • Et comment cela s'est-il fini? "Cette deuxième tentative m'incite à vouloir en découvrir plus chez Edith Wharton. Cependant, ce ne sont décidemment pas les fins que je préfère chez elle, et ici, alors même que l'oeuvre inachevée de l'auteur a été terminé par une autre dame, j'ai l'impression alors que je referme les dernières pages, qu'il manque encore quelque chose!"http://booksaremywonderland.hautetfor...

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