Nan and Virginia St. George have the great good luck to be born beautiful and wealthy - the two qualities prized above all others in 1870s New York - but the insurmountably bad luck to come from "new money." Shunned by the snobbish guardians of Manhattan society, the lively girls still attract many admirers, but no offers of marriage from eligible men - the grail pursued discreetly but with single-minded intensity by all young women of polite birth (and their mothers). Their spirited governess, Laura Testvalley, determines to launch these buccaneers in London society, whose impoverished aristocracy, groaning under the burdens of massive country estates, are only too willing to trade a title for a fortune. But the earls and lords have failed to reckon with the strong wills of the buccaneers - especially exquisite Nan's. She dares to hope for more than position and wealth: a genuine, enduring love is what she craves, and she's willing to sacrifice everything she's attained for something true and real. Edith Wharton's novel pits tradition against vitality and change in a lushly romantic tale, observed with all her characteristic elegance and wit.
Wharton's final novel (completed by Marion Mainwaring after the author's death in 1937) revolves around American and British society in the 1870s. Told in large part through the eyes of American debutantes, the story portrays innocent, wide-eyed, almost ethereal girls who turn into socially conscious women with financial worries--unrecognizable even to themselves. The beginning sections quickly catch the listener's attention, with lush descriptions of rooms, clothes, and the heights of feminine beauty. We enter a world of intrigue: secrets, characters with past relationships that could prove fatal, and competition taken to its limits. Its literary value notwithstanding, this book might appeal to soap opera and romance fans. For more attentive listeners, it quickly becomes disconcerting as more and more characters with awkward British-sounding names are added. It's increasingly difficult to recall who's who without backing up the tape. Most libraries can pass on this one.-- Rochelle Ratner, formerly Poetry Editor, ``Soho Weekly News,'' New York