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To The Top: Edith Wharton’s “The Buccaneers”


Title: The Buccaneers

Author: Edith Wharton

Publisher: Penguin Books, Reprint Edition

Copyright: October 1, 1994

ISBN-10: 0140232028

ISBN-13: 978-0140232028

Format: E-Book, 406 Pages, $13.88 [Amazon Paperback], $13.99 [Kindle], $17.47 [Audible], $13.88 [Barnes & Noble Paperback], $12.99 [Nook], $12.99 [Google Play], $12.99 [iBooks]


Set in the 1870s, the same period as Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, The Buccaneers is about five wealthy American girls denied entry into New York Society because their parents’ money is too new. At the suggestion of their clever governess, the girls sail to London, where they marry lords, earls, and dukes who find their beauty charming—and their wealth extremely useful.

After Wharton’s death in 1937, The Christian Science Monitor said, “If it could have been completed,The Buccaneers would doubtless stand among the richest and most sophisticated of Wharton’s novels.” Now, with wit and imagination, Marion Mainwaring has finished the story, taking her cue from Wharton’s own synopsis. It is a novel any Wharton fan will celebrate and any romantic reader will love. This is the richly engaging story of Nan St. George and Guy Thwarte, an American heiress and an English aristocrat, whose love breaks the rules of both their societies.


Edith Wharton’s last literary work was left incomplete when she passed away in 1936. In the 1990s, author Marion Mainwaring undertook the daunting task of completely Wharton’s final work, The Buccaneers.

It is the 1870’s and the St. Georges are a nouveau riche family who are entirely looked down upon by the rest of New York’s upper-crust. The St. George girls are the statuesque and perfect eldest daughter, Virginia and the precocious and childish younger daughter, Nan. Included in this nouveau riche cadre are the Brazilian beauty Conchita Closson and the lovely Lizzy Elmsworth whose family is rather wealthy.

Mary Curzon, Baroness Curzon of Kedleston (née Leiter), an American heiress who was known to adore her husband.
Mary Curzon, Baroness Curzon of Kedleston (née Leiter), an American heiress who was known to adore her husband.

In this time period, there is only one profession prescribed for wealthy young women: marriage. Mrs. St. George and Mrs. Elmsworth have a sort of “frenemy” (friend + enemy) relationship, engaging in conversation over whose daughter is better. It is apparent from the beginning that these women are playing a game of “your daughter has a lovely eyes” or “your daughter has such a tiny waist” but what is truly meant is “your daughter is nothing to mine.” In this marriage game, it is a competitive business and the mothers of these young women will stop at nothing to have them married.

When it comes to Mrs. Closson, Mrs. St. George and Mrs. Elmsworth immediately dislike and snub her in anyway possible. Mrs. Closson is found to be rather crass and of such lowly character. She has this strange habit of smoking cigars like its no one’s business and playing the piano in such a loud manner. In the case of Mrs. Closson, it’s a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” when it comes to Mrs. Elmsworth and Mrs. St. George. Moreover, both ladies are not at all fond of Conchita Closson whom they find to be wild-looking and almost entirely barbaric.

While the mothers may be petty and nit-picky, the young ladies are affable and kind towards each other. They band together and have fun like any young teenagers would do. When the St. Georges engage an English governess by the name of Laura Testvalley for the young Nan, little do they realize that a world of opportunity is opening up for them. In time, Lord Richard Marabel comes to visit and, right under everyone’s noses, he falls madly in love with the unconventional Conchita Closson. And in time, the couple marries, shocking their small group of acquaintances.

This marriage of Conchita Closson to Lord Richard Marabel sets the stage for the ladies. Assisted by Laura Testvalley and her American friend Jacqueline March, Nan, Virginia, and Lizzy set off for England in search of the best sort of plunder: marriages. Miss Jacqueline March, who was jilted at the altar decades before by Lord Brightlingsea (Lord Richard’s father), affectionately refers to the young ladies as “the Buccaneers” and instructs them in the ways of London society. Virginia, Lizzy, and Nan meet a whole host of suitors from the eccentric Duke of Tintagel, the brooding Lord Seadown (brother to Lord Richard), the charming Hector Robinson, and the splendidly romantic Guy Thwarte.

First of all, I found this book to be rather exciting and it unfolded beautifully from the beginning. The original author, Ms. Wharton did a fantastic job of fleshing out her characters and breathing such life into them that it made them vastly interesting. The names were creative and altogether interesting. The character that I loved best was that of adoring governess Laura Testvalley. She was halfway between a wise older sister and a cultured best friend, imparting her knowledge to Nan. No matter what, Laura seemed to understand the struggles that Nan faced throughout the novel. It seemed like once you had begun to know Laura as a character, she always had a secret to share.

My only critique of this story as that the ending fell rather flat. I do not in anyway attribute it to Ms. Mainwaring who attempted to complete Ms. Wharton’s final work. There seemed to be a lack of climax and the ending lacked any excitement whatsoever.

Rating: 4

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