I just finished Edith Wharton’s last (and uncompleted) novel, The Buccaneers. My first impression was that it’s not nearly as depressing as is most of Wharton’s oeuvre. This edition was completed by Marion Mainwaring, who used Wharton’s own outline for how the story should end. It was pretty obvious where Wharton ended and Mainwaring began. The last chapter that Wharton wrote was 29, and it goes downhill from there. Until that point, I found the story to be very entertaining. I was interested in all of the characters, even the ones I didn’t like. But from chapter 30 on, the book read like a cheesy romance novel. So much angst. So much drama. So many people who needed smacks upside the head. Yes, Mainwaring’s story has a similar ending to Wharton’s intended one, but it’s the way Mainwaring wrote it that bothered me.
The Buccaneers is the story of 5 American girls who, on the advice of the British governess hired by one of the families (Miss Testvalley), go to London to catch aristocratic husbands. Why London? Because their money is too new for New York society, but there are a lot of aristocrats in London who need the infusion of cash that these girls can bring with them. So off they go. Conchita marries Lord Richard Marable. Virginia marries Lord Seadown (heir to the Brightlingsea title), Lizzy marries Hector Robinson and Nan (the youngest) lands the biggest catch of all, the Duke of Tintagel. The 5th Buccaneer, Mable, ends up going back to the States and marries a rich American and is promptly widowed. So far, so good.
None of the four is terribly happy, but Nan is downright miserable. She falls in love with a handsome engineer who is widowed and also the heir to a baronetcy, Guy Thwarte. The Duke is clueless. His mother is a domineering old battle-axe.
According to this article, Wharton’s original ending was a relatively happy one, but I found Mainwaring’s take on it to be less interesting than the rest of the story had been. Nan leaves the Duke but refuses to run to Guy. Guy moves heaven and earth to find where she is, and they agree to elope. Miss Testvalley, who had become the object of Sir Helmsley Thwarte’s attentions, helps them and is dumped by Sir Helmsley when he finds out. This is the short version of the ending. But Nan’s agonizing goes on for pages and pages and chapters and chapters. I understood it the first several dozen times; I didn’t need any more. I savored the first 29 chapters. I sped through the rest of them.
The 1995 adaptation was written by Maggie Wadey, who gave us NA86, MP07, 2 episodes of The Duchess of Duke Street, and a slew of adaptations that I’ve never seen. NA86 was bizarre and MP07 was mediocre, so 2 of the three Wadey productions I’ve seen did not impress me. I’ve heard that she made a lot of changes to the story for her screenplay,and some of them don’t make sense to me. It’s got 5 episodes, so I won’t be able to watch in one sitting. I’ll keep you posted.