In his bestseller Burr, Gore Vidal swaddled the story of America’s babyhood into a tale about a law clerk for Aaron Burr’s who uses his insider knowledge to launch a journalistic career.
In his novel 1876, after living 40 years in Europe, Charlie returns to America accompanied by his widowed daughter, Emma, the Princess d’Agrigente.
Both father and daughter are broke.
Charlie hopes to get himself appointed minister to France by the next American president and find Emma a rich second husband. He’ll use his journalism skills to gain access to the right people.
In 1876 America celebrated her first Centennial, but the country’s mood was not happy.
The Civil War is over, but the country is still divided.
Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency is rocked by scandals.
Armies of disabled and unemployed soldiers beg on the streets.
Bribery is rampant.
A small coterie of ultra-rich, Astors and Vanderbilts, run the economy to their advantage but thousands, including Charlie, lost their life savings in the Panic of 1873.
Irish, Italians, and Chinese lured to the U.S. are “taking jobs away from our own people.”
“Half the people don’t even speak English.”
Native Americans rise in violent rebellion at Little Big Horn.
One presidential candidate refuses to disclose his tax returns.
And the man who wins the 1876 popular vote fails to get the presidency.
Vidal lays bare the character of the nation at the end of its first century in this entertaining tale enlivened with Charlie’s wry comments.
1876 by Gore Vidal
Random House, ©1976, 362 p.
1976 bestseller #6. My grade: A
© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni