Edith Wharton died before completing The Buccaneers; her unfinished manuscript was published in 1938. Author Marion Mainwaring worked from Wharton’s notes to publish a finished novel in 1993. The Buccaneers is a satirical look at society’s “marriage market” in the 1870s, seen through the eyes of five debutantes who, having been unsuccessful in American society, travel to London to spend a social season in pursuit of eligible, wealthy Englishmen.
In true Wharton fashion, the girls are initially successful, but their long-term prospects and happiness are far from certain. The story eventually centers on Annabel St. George, the youngest and the one who makes the most promising match by marrying a duke. Annabel is stifled by her dull husband and controlling mother-in-law, and is unable even to enjoy the benefits of wealth, since she is given very little spending money. After finding mutual attraction with another man, Annabel must make difficult decisions about her future.
Yawn. This is the stuff of dime-a-dozen romance novels. The Buccaneers is less sophisticated than Wharton’s better-known works, like The House of Mirth and The Custom of the Country. The characters lack depth, the plot is too simple, and there are too many little sub-plots that drain energy from the novel. I’m a huge Wharton fan, but I can’t recommend this one.