Sunday, October 7, 2012

1876: A Novel

1976, 1981 Ballantine edition
Gore Vidal
1876: A Novel
Original price $3.50, purchase price $1.75
Very worn paperback
B

This is as good as its predecessor, Burr.  We rejoin Charlie Schuyler about 40 years after he left America, as he returns shortly before the Centennial.  (Despite the title, one-third of the book takes place in 1875, with some significant chapters at the end set in the first few months of '77.)  The most interesting threads are the "stolen" presidential election and Charlie's widowed daughter Emma's matrimonial schemes.  Obviously, this was a post-Watergate book, but it was also ironic to read in late 2000, especially the part about the contested vote in Florida.  It's interesting that Vidal focuses on the "loser," Tilden, rather than the "winner," Hayes.  Even future-to-1877 Presidents Garfield and Arthur are more prominent.  There are also a lot of lesser-known politicians, like Conkling and Blaine, that I found hard to keep track of.  I wish that Vidal had spent more time on the pivotal months of November to March, but I suppose he was building up to it.

And meanwhile Emma neglects her fianc√© to "befriend" Mrs. Sanford, pretending she's uncomfortable with Mr. Sanford's interest.  She talks Mrs. Sanford into a risky pregnancy, pretending to have advice from a notorious midwife/abortionist.  After Mrs. Sanford dies bearing son Blaise (of Washington, D.C.), Emma marries Mr. Sanford.  They'll go on to have daughter Caroline, who's in Empire (coming up in 1987, but first there'll be Lincoln).

The Emma plot plays off of the election plot in that Schuyler thinks he's wise and cynical, but he in fact trusts where he shouldn't.  It's a novel of secrets and the twists, both historical and fictional, add layers to a reread.

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