Wharton's the Buccaneers and Pre-Raphaelitism

By Going, William T. | Papers on Language & Literature, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Wharton's the Buccaneers and Pre-Raphaelitism


Going, William T., Papers on Language & Literature


Whenever a well-known writer leaves a novel unfinished, it often takes on a life of its own-witness Dickens's The Mystery of Edwin Drood or Stevenson's St. Ives and The Weir of Hermiston. Before she died Edith Wharton had written 89,000 words of The Buccaneers, and her friend and literary executor, Gaillard Lapsley, published it in 1938, the year after her death, just as she had left it (with "certain verbal emendations required by sense or consistency") (v). He also provided Mrs. Wharton's own synopsis, "drawn up at a very early stage of its composition," as well as a twelve-page "Note" of critical opinion (355, 360-71).

Now Marion Mainwaring has "completed" the novel published in England by Fourth Estate Limited in 1993 and reprinted in America by Viking.1 In a brief paragraph "Afterward" Ms. Mainwaring admits to "passages" interpolated in the narrative "to reconcile discrepancies . . . or prepare for later developments." These later developments constitute approximately the last one-fourth of the novel with no indication where the other passages appear in Wharton's text. The curious reader must compare the two texts side by side to be sure who wrote what. And like Ethan Frome, The Age of Innocence, and The Custom of the Country, The Buccaneers has been made into a film with still further emendations and changes.

Since the most recent extended criticism of The Buccaneers by John Updike does not discuss both authors' use of Pre-Raphaelitism, that subject becomes the purpose of this paper.

One of the effects of Gaillard Lapsley's publishing of Wharton's manuscript is that it serves as a laboratory study in the way she wrote. Lapsley suggests that three detailed chapters are so good that the public deserves to read them. Obviously Wharton carefully wrote these long sections (and possibly rewrote them) because each comes at a crucial point in the narrative. Intervening chapters appear to be first drafts or frames for revision.

The first of these high points is the coming of Laura Testvalley to Saratoga as governess for the St. George girls, Annabel and Virginia, and accidentally for the two Elmsworth girls and Conchita Closson, who are also summering at Saratoga. As Miss Testvalley steps from the train to a jeering group of young ladies not pleased to see a governess during their summer vacation, she immediately charms the entire group. And from that moment she begins to take over the novel of which Annabel, familiarly known as Nan, was meant to be the heroine. She also immediately begins to charm the reader (and perhaps the author as well). Miss Testvalley, a cousin to the Rossettis, belongs to a family of governesses-"the Risorgimento and the Pre-Raphaelites were her chief credentials. . . . 'If I'd been a man,' she sometimes thought, 'Dante Gabriel might not have been the only cross in the family'" (W33).

Having started along this line of building an ancestry for Laura Testvalley (she simplified the spelling of her name), Wharton seems unable to resist hinting a colorful background for her dea ex machina. Her father, she explains, was a hero of the Risorgimento and the author of the novels Arnoldo da Bresca and La Donna della Fortezza. Gennaro Testavaglia, she further states, is a cousin of old Gabriele Rossetti (whose life he seems to echo). The women in her family, she says, "were evangelicals and governesses in the highest families" (like the Polidori ladies of Mrs. Rossetti's family) (W32). The Testavaglias lived in "a shabby house at Denmark Hill" (W42)-thus hinting at a neighborly connection with the great John Ruskin. And later Miss Testvalley fascinates the young Nan by reciting lines from her cousin's "The Blessed Damozel" (W70-71).

Thus by brief references to things Pre-Raphaelite Wharton succeeds in Book I by adding glamour and reality to the character of the governess just as she defined a certain sensitiveness in Newland Archer at the beginning of The Age of Innocence:

That evening he unpacked his books from London. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Wharton's the Buccaneers and Pre-Raphaelitism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.