The Fall of the House of Walworth: A Tale of Madness and Murder in Gilded Age America
The Fall of the House of Walworth:
A Tale of Madness and Murder in Gilded Age America
by Geoffrey O'Brien
Henry Holt and Co.
$30.00 List Price
Geoffrey O'Brien is the sort of author who arouses a wholesome envy in the hearts of other writers. During more than three decades at the keyboard, he has published seven volumes of poetry and eight of essays, memoir, fiction, and cultural history, and he is the editor in chief of the Library of America. Although he has written for a host of highbrow publications, his work often focuses on the decidedly lowbrow, including pop music, show business, and pulp fiction. As a stylist, O'Brien can be boldly idiosyncratic, often using what used to be called experimental forms to give body to his arguments. In The Times Square Story (1998), he weaves verse, tabloid photos, and movie stills with the ranting voice of a fictional narrator to convey the jangle of mid-twentieth-century Times Square. In Sonata for Jukebox (2004), he uses the shifting associations of memory to explore the personal and historical effects of popular music during the same era.
O'Brien's latest book, The Fall of the House of Walworth, is a sharp departure. This is an old-fashioned history of three generations of the Walworth clan of Saratoga Springs, New York, as they rise from obscurity in the early 1800s to national prominence by the eve of the Civil War, only to be brought down in the Gilded Age by a tragic legacy of insanity and violence. The lynchpin of the story is the handsome, hotheaded Mansfield Walworth, the spoiled second son of the family patriarch. Mansfield's meager claim to fame was a series of overwrought novels in the style of Sir Walter Scott and Edgar Allan Poe. Abusive and mentally unstable,