1876: America the scandalous

In his bestseller Burr, Gore Vidal swaddled the story of America’s babyhood into a tale about a law clerk for Aaron Burr’s who uses his insider knowledge to launch a journalistic career.

In his novel 1876, after living 40 years in Europe, Charlie returns to America accompanied by his widowed daughter, Emma, the Princess d’Agrigente.

Both father and daughter are broke.

Charlie hopes to get himself appointed minister to France by the next American president and find Emma a rich second husband. He’ll use his journalism skills to gain access to the right people.

In 1876 America celebrated her first Centennial, but the country’s mood was not happy.

The Civil War is over, but the country is still divided.

Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency is rocked by scandals.

Armies of disabled and unemployed soldiers beg on the streets.

Bribery is rampant.

A small coterie of ultra-rich, Astors and Vanderbilts, run the economy to their advantage but thousands, including Charlie, lost their life savings in the Panic of 1873.

Irish, Italians, and Chinese lured to the U.S. are “taking jobs away from our own people.”

“Half the people don’t even speak English.”

Native Americans rise in violent rebellion at Little Big Horn.

One presidential candidate refuses to disclose his tax returns.

And the man who wins the 1876 popular vote fails to get the presidency.

Vidal lays bare the character of the nation at the end of its first century in this entertaining tale enlivened with Charlie’s wry comments.

1876 by Gore Vidal
Random House, ©1976, 362 p.
1976 bestseller #6. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mary Anne’s Scandal Is Today’s Snore

Statue of Frederick Duke of York
Statue of Frederick Duke of York, London

Mary Anne is a novel about Mary Anne Clarke and the scandal that she precipitated in nineteenth century England. It was penned by her great-granddaughter, author Daphne du Maurier, who may be suspected of a bit of bias.

A precocious child, to keep the family fed Mary Anne passes her proofreading work off as that of her ailing stepfather.

She marries an scapegrace who prefers the bottle to work. To support their four children, Mary Anne writes gossip columns until she discovers more lucrative employment for her brains and body. Before long, she is mistress of Frederick Duke of York, second son of King George III.

Mary Anne revels in her powerful role but piles up debts furnishing the amenities the Duke is used to. To supplement the Duke’s allowance, she begins pedaling Army promotions — and preparing her own downfall.

Although the characters are historical figures, not one of them seems real. Du Maurier fails to provide plausible explanation for the critical pivots on which the story turns: Mary Anne’s family relationships.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the duMaurier’s account is that although the Duke’s enemies accept his adultery, they are scandalized that he pushed through promotions knowing his mistress was bribed to use her influence with him. He was forced to resign as Commander-in-Chief.

Your life will be none the worse if you leave Mary Anne on attic shelf.

 Mary Anne
By Daphne du Maurier
Doubleday, 1953
351 pages
1954 bestseller #2
My grade: C-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni