|The lissome lasses of BBC's The Buccaneers.|
Suspicious Britons could see that the mini-series ended more happily than readers would expect of a Wharton story, and the dramatization contained racy, modern elements of homosexuality and marital rape that weren’t in the book. The ending was true to Wharton, however. Though the author died before finishing the book, she had sketched out a similar conclusion in her synopsis of the plot.
Wharton’s saga centers on five vital and ambitious American girls (reduced to four in the series). Ostracized as “nouveau riche” by unforgivingly snobbish New York society, they try their luck across the Atlantic. The girls are armed with beauty, freshness, wit and (most importantly) wealth, however, and they ultimately take their places in the equally rigid English society. The story follows the buccaneers’ rocky lives through marriage, pregnancy, affairs and divorce, focusing particularly on the fate of the youngest, most idealistic girl, Nan St. George, and her governess and mentor, Laura Testvalley. As Wharton characters do, the young women struggle with modernity and tradition, conformity and rebellion.
“Anyone hoping to whip themselves into a lather of moral indignation will be disappointed. For The Buccaneers is a delight.”
|A young—and very corseted—Edith Wharton|
“The BBC stands accused of sensationalism . . .” wrote Matthew Bond in the Times, summarizing the hullaballoo. “It stands accused of taking the grossest of liberties with Wharton’s work by introducing ‘modern’ story lines such as marital rape and homosexuality. But anyone hoping to whip themselves into a lather of moral indignation will be disappointed. For The Buccaneers is a delight.”
[Scriptwriter] Wadey said that the English audience was offended by the film’s mocking portrayal of the English aristocracy — a portrayal that she believes echoes up to modern times. “They still want to do things in a gentlemanly way; they are still contemptuous of Americans, of business, but still want the money.”
Wharton biographer Cynthia Griffin Wolff offers her own argument that The Buccaneers was a “fictional retrospective” of Wharton’s own life. Wolff wrote in her book A Feast of Words: The Triumph of Edith Wharton:
“Long ago, three-quarters of a century in the past, she began as a frightened child, desolate and lonely; and the lonely child had grown to timid womanhood, filled with confused longings, her character virtually obliterated with fear. And still, by some feat of intellect and passion and will, that nearly extinquished woman had confronted life and become, if not its master, at least its partner. The buoyant optimism of The Buccaneers suggests the jubilation with which the old woman’s intrepid spirit had succeeded in redressing the miseries of her youth.”