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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow
As a general rule, I am almost ashamed to confess, I am not really drawn to historical fiction. I find most novels either too cheesy, too boring, or both. 1876, however, is neither. Rather, it is a terrific, timeless, timely novel. The novel is narrated by Charlie Schuyler (who apparently narrated Vidal's earlier novel Burr, one which I have not yet read), as he...
Published on September 1, 2004 by Elizabeth Hendry

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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For US history buffs only
I started in on this book after finishing "Burr" and reading the reviews on this site (choosing to skip "Lincoln", for the time being.)After enjoying "Burr" so much, I had high expectations for this, expecting the same humor, insight on US notables of the time and their era and solid character development.

My review however is not so enthusiastic. Granted, I...
Published on April 19, 2005 by S. Tschinkel


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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow, September 1, 2004
This review is from: 1876: A Novel (Paperback)
As a general rule, I am almost ashamed to confess, I am not really drawn to historical fiction. I find most novels either too cheesy, too boring, or both. 1876, however, is neither. Rather, it is a terrific, timeless, timely novel. The novel is narrated by Charlie Schuyler (who apparently narrated Vidal's earlier novel Burr, one which I have not yet read), as he returns to the United States, after spending many years in Europe, in late 1875 with his 30-something, widowed daughter Emma. Charlie is in his sixties and is returning to the United States to write, earn some money, settle his daughter and hopefully, earn a diplomatic post in France. He attaches himself to Samuel Tilden, the New York governor who will surely, Charlie thinks, win the next election. As we all know, there is winning elections and then there is getting inaugurated, but more on that later. The first portion of the novel takes place in New York City and reads very much like an Edith Wharton novel: it is all balls and social events, etc., but told with Charlie's relentless cynicism and wonderful sense of humor. Charlie then travels to Washington D.C. and again regales the reader with more of that cynicism. That later portions of the novel are largely political, with the recounting of the shocking, to read them now, events surrounding the presidential election of 1876. If Vidal had published this novel say last year, I would say that much of what he has Charlie say is motivated by the politics of the present day. Perhaps it was motivated by the politics of the mid-1970s. The fact that the commentary relating to the 1870s written in the 1970s is still relevant in 2004 is a testament to just what a fine novel 1876 is. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite my historical fiction misgivings. If only all authors of historical fiction were as talented as Vidal. Enjoy.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vidal does care!, September 2, 2003
By 
Robert J. Crawford (Balmette Talloires, France) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: 1876: A Novel (Paperback)
It is a great pleasure to read something by this disillusioned man that can surprise me: I have read most of the novels in his American Cycle and (with the exception of his "Lincoln") was growing tired of his cynicism. Well, I picked up this one - its theme is the corruption of the Gilded Age and its plot revolves around the stolen election of 1876 - and was delighted to learn that Gore Vidal genuinely cares about how the US democracy works/worked. Moreover, this is a wonderful accomplishment by a novelist at the height of his powers, one of the best of the series.
The protagonists in the story are Charlie Schuyler, from "Burr", and his incomparable daughter as they wend their way into the New York and Washington "City" of the Gilded Age. While blatant corruption is corroding the foundations of the Republic, Charlie is wined and dined by the politically indifferent rich as a celebrated political writer (on Europe) while he seeks to find a suitable mate for his recently widowed and now penniless daughter. As a courtiers at the court of Napoleon III, they fit in brilliantly as Charlie attempts to find any writing work he can; the subtleties of the behavior of the ruling classes come across as both comic and sinister, but also realistic. It is a brutal indictment of decadence at the Centennial of America that gets worse and worse as the machinations of stealing a presidential election are revealed. Though it is from an observers eyes, which is consistent with the style of most of Vidal's series, political events take much more of the center stage and as such, there is a great deal of history to learn (of which I for one was largely ignorent).
As a novel, this is also great fun. It is written in the form of a candid diary by Charlie, who is making notes for future books he is imagining as he observes unfolding events in real time. The characters he comes in contact with are fabulously well drawn. First, there is Samuel Tilden, one of the few truly decent men to appear in any of Vidal's work (and a loser, I note). Then there is the apparently corrupt President Grant and his cronies who are indisputably corrupt along with all of the top politicians in DC. And of course, there are the journalists (including a brilliant, hilarious, and yet sad cameo portrait of Mark Twain), some of whom are idealists and most of whom are simple opportunists. Finally, there is the birth of the fictional Sanford clan that re-appears in Vidal's later novels. An unexpected twist in the plot also reveals the weaknesses of Charlie as an observer, which adds a whole new dimension to the novel that shocks the reader into reassessing everything (s)he has read. It is a brilliant device.
Warmly recommended. THis is a true masterpiece of historical fiction.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Corruption and Decadence in US politics, July 9, 2001
By 
frumiousb "frumiousb" (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: 1876: A Novel (Paperback)
1876 is a stylish and thought-provoking book that functions well as both political commentary and character-driven novel.

An aging expatriate writer returns to the US with his widowed French daughter to find his country changed nearly beyond recognition. He throws his strength and support behind the Democratic candidate and uses his position as journalist to explore and exploit the corruption in the Grant administration.

Vidal gives us no clear heroes or villains in this book-- either in the political or private stage. The time depicted is particularly relevant given recent electoral disputes. Vidal is a skilled and smooth writer. I enjoyed the quality of the prose, but never found the styling getting in the way of the subject.

1876 is my first Vidal, but I will be picking up others. Recommended for fans of history/historical fiction.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How The GOP Stole The Election of 2000...I Mean 1876, September 29, 2006
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This review is from: 1876: A Novel (Paperback)
1876 is yet another installment in author Gore Vidal's blatantly left-slanting, non-reverent, warts and all re-telling of the parts of United States history we're never taught about in school, and far too few of us know. Bringing back the old New Yorker Charles Schlemmerhorn Schuyler, a central character from his earlier novel Burr, Vidal takes us on a journey to an America still teeming with internal turmoil as a result of the Civil War. Reconstruction is winding down but still suffocates the proud southern states, who at last, after nearly a generation, stand to play a significant role in the outcome of a national election. The corruption of the Grant administration is about to end, the depression that has hit the country in the wake of bank failures is somewhat alleviated, and the overall mood is hopeful. And then comes the photo finish 1876 Presidential election between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, and New York's Democratic governor, the southern-supported Samuel Tilden. What transpired in the wake of the vote-casting is not dissimilar to that which occurred in our own era six years back, and after much back room wrangling and governmental interference, Tilden, winner at the very least of the popular vote, was declared loser, and the morally-decent but politically-controlled Mr. Hayes was given the Presidency. Forgotten today, this close election nearly set off what could almost be called a second American Civil War, as rioters throughout the south and in the big cities took to the streets and Americans by the hundred-thousand became cynically disenchanted with the political process. Vidal, it must be admitted, writes his novels---by definition works of fiction--with a definite message behind them. He has been accused of a certain nihilism or at the very least a disrespect for American institutions of government, and in 1876 as nowhere else, that is made very clear. This is a good overview of a troubling, much-concealed moment in American history, and its authenticity as far as recreating the national mood and the goings-on at the time, and in showing how there truly were and are powers behind the scenes in our government mark it as a worthy book for an intelligent readership.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For US history buffs only, April 19, 2005
This review is from: 1876: A Novel (Paperback)
I started in on this book after finishing "Burr" and reading the reviews on this site (choosing to skip "Lincoln", for the time being.)After enjoying "Burr" so much, I had high expectations for this, expecting the same humor, insight on US notables of the time and their era and solid character development.

My review however is not so enthusiastic. Granted, I knew next to nothing about the election of 1876 and the characters who played the major roles in the election, and now I know a great deal. But if it is sheer enlighenment on an important,but not vital to know, part of US history, consult the history or encyclopedia.

I found the characters to be fairly one dimensional and, in the end, not that interesting (unlike the characters in Burr.)

Plus, Gore's sly humor, so evident in "Burr", seems scarce in this book.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read Not Must Read, August 16, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: 1876: A Novel (Paperback)
Having read the preceding novels in this series I really looked forward to the subject matter that this installment promised. After reading it through I was slightly disappointed by the way Vidal approached one of the worst moments in the American Republic. I was expecting an in depth look into the politics of the late Grant Administration and the lengths those in power were willing to go to insure a Republican victory. Instead Vidal, for most of the book, examines the society in and around Washington and New York at the time. While this made for an interesting sociological study I kept feeling like I was looking for the real book to start with every new chapter.
When Vidal does finally come around to the politics and presidential election of 1876 the book becomes as gripping as all the preceding books in this series. In fact the final 100 pages of 1876 kept me more enthralled than did any one portion of Lincoln or Burr.
Also if you are interested in reading all the books in the line Empire does take much from the characters in 1876 so just skipping this book will leave you slightly lost as you read the novels that come next.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scandal on the centennial, March 7, 2004
By 
This review is from: 1876: A Novel (Paperback)
In the afterword of "1876," a novel about the centennial written in the bicentennial, Gore Vidal calls the portentous year "probably the low point in our republic's history" and warns us that history repeats itself in the most interesting ways. This was the year of the presidential election in which Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden received the majority of the popular vote *and* the electoral vote -- but Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes was "elected" and inaugurated. This scandal was somewhat of a turning point in American history, for it set a deleterious precedent for the influence of partisan politics in directly altering the outcome of an election.
The details of the election are narrated by Charlie Schuyler, an American journalist who has been living in France as a diplomat for over three decades and has just returned to the United States with his widowed daughter Emma, a French princess. Facing unemployment, he accepts jobs covering timely events like the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia for various periodicals including the New York Times, edited by his friend William Cullen Bryant, the country's most celebrated poet, and the New York Herald, a newspaper of lesser distinction, published by an impulsive young man named Jamie Bennett. Meanwhile, Emma's status as part of the stock of European aristocracy permits her (and her father) entry into the upper echelons of New York society as she considers options for a new husband.
The country has changed considerably during Schuyler's absence; what was once a nation of farmers is now a nation of factories and railroads with money as the prime mover, driving and corrupting the current federal government under Grant's administration. Schuyler passionately supports as candidate for president his friend Tilden -- the governor of New York, a wealthy, popular lawyer, and a sickly, dyspeptic man -- because of Tilden's ideas of reform and resistance of the will of rich men who would pass laws to protect their own fortunes while allowing them to steal from others.
There is plenty of calm before the storm with regard to the election. James G. Blaine, Speaker of the House of Representatives, appears to be the front runner for the Republican nominee up until the last minute at the Republican Convention when Hayes, the little-known governor of Ohio and Civil War general, comes out of nowhere to sweep the ballots. As November and December pass into 1877, the assessment of the results of the presidential election is prolonged as several states are disputed even though Tilden's victory is evident. The country is brought to the brink of a new civil war (in Schuyler's estimation), or at least a military coup d'etat, when Grant dispatches federal troops to various locations in the South to prevent riots and rebellion by protesting Democrats.
"1876" is as much a polemic as a novel; Vidal is never ambiguous about his opinions on what he believes to be debacles in the American political arena, and his tone, delivered here through the voice of Schuyler, is clear as a bell and sharp as a tack. Schuyler is an ideal narrator for a historical novel -- cynical, smug, a little vain and conceited, but disdainful of greed and very serious about the nation's political ethos. In this sense, it is odd that he does not like the work of Mark Twain, whom he happens to meet in one memorable exchange; but when your literary taste is more for Flaubert, Twain can be a tough nut to crack.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vidal's "Tale of Two Cities", March 28, 2006
By 
R. McOuat (Winston-Salem, NC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: 1876: A Novel (Paperback)
The year is 1876, and social ills plague both New York and Washington, DC. Charles Schuyler returns to the U.S. with his daughter Emma with the duel intentions of marrying her off to an eligible bachelor and finding himself means to regenerate his meager funds. He finds the democratic utopia corrupted by a greedy and detached aristocracy. The corrupt Ulysses Grant presidency marks the transition of America from its puritan roots to an ostentatious imperial empire. Charles finds the gentry of New York City to be fatuous and fastidious, oblivious to current events and thriving off ill-begotten fortunes. In Washington, unheard of Ohio Governor Rutherford Hayes steals the presidential election despite losing the popular vote.

Vidal presents the basic formula that war begets large sums of money changing hands, which in turn incites greed, hence corruption. In the New York City of the post civil war era, a stratification of the classes has begun. The men with the officer titles (Commodore, Colonel, Major, General) divide the spoils of wars, hoarding fortunes, while the common grunts are beggars on the streets, doomed to petty theft for survival.

In Washington DC, Vidal paints a picture of America where democracy has not been a success. The presidential election of 1876 puts America at the verge of another civil war. States are sending conflicting poll returns to the Congress and the Electoral College. Votes are for sale. The Republican Party and troops under the republican President U.S. Grant have openly been trying to reverse the popular vote won by Democrat Tilden. Tilden, portrayed by Vidal as honest with the ill-conceived notion of winning an election by scholarly arbitration and argument of political ideals, is given the dilemma. He ran for president on the platform of reform, but to win the election, he must outspend the incumbent Republican Party.

Vidal's strength is his immense vivid characterizations and poignant observations. Only with fictional characters can he provide a first hand perspective of so many historical events and persons. Although the setting of the book is 1876, and the main narrator is Charles Schuyler, Vidal is clearly providing his critique of modern America. Vidal is obviously opinionated and is not writing as an objective historian. The federal government is portrayed the most corrupt in the western world while the press is preoccupied with idiotic irrelevancies such as the wardrobes of the aristocratic rich. Vidal is at his best when describing the ceremonies of court and the accouchements of power battles. Whether writing about roman emperors or centennial presidents, his views of the current social and political milieu are clearly reflected.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining History, June 26, 2001
By 
Harold A Frank (Jean, Nevada United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: 1876: A Novel (Paperback)
A great novel by even a greater author. Vidal writes with a lyrical tone that imparts a dual lesson in history and a women's struggle (desire) to advance. Perhaps Vidal's greatest triumph is that he draws you in with unsurpassed structure, content, facts, and tone that leaves the grocery store authors gasping for air. I bet you can't read just one of his books. 1876 will just be the beginning...Empire, Hollywood, and Lincoln will soon be added to your library. Of course, if you think Stephen King is some kind of genius...then you probably won't enjoy true literature..
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but flawed, August 4, 2009
This review is from: 1876: A Novel (Paperback)
This novel is Gore Vidal's fascinating look at the politics and society of the gilded age through his protagonist Charles Schuyler. After reading the first seventy-odd pages, I was thoroughly captivated (had I discovered a new favorite author?) by the observations of the expatriot Schuyler returning to New York City. The various political storylines and characters were slowly introduced, leading me to anticipate a monumental telling of that incredible election (one that I had to this point only read about in dry histories). The portrayals of politicians like Samuel Tilden, James Blaine, Ulysses Grant were magnificent. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Mr. Schuyler's society commentary, which would have subtracted little from my enjoyment if it did not take up the majority of the book. As it is, many chapters are full of Mr. Schuyler dining and conversing with New York society, telling us over and over again of the shortcomings of these people. His daughter seems to have little purpose in the novel other than to serve as a fellow European with whom he can share a laugh about the ignorant Americans. This was amusing the first time, but must Vidal introduce so many society characters just to mock them? These entirely superfluous characters quickly grew tiresome, and I found myself waiting impatiently for Governor Tilden to make an appearance.

Nearly half the novel is complete before Mr. Schuyler finally departs New York society for his job as a political reporter. When Mr. Schuyler does leave New York, important events are rushed through with little commentary. Vidal sends Mr. Schuyler to cover the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, but we are told very little of it. And while Vidal introduces Senators Conkling and Blaine in some detail, the Republican Convention where they are both defeated by Rutherford Hayes is rushed through in just three and a half pages. Hayes, the eventual president, is almost entirely ignored.

I can't help but think this book is in need of some serious editing, and it's a shame since there is great book buried somewhere in here. This was my first Vidal, and I will definitely be reading more of his 'Narratives of Empire' series - even if they are all as frustrating as this one. It was definitely still worth the read.
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1876: A Novel
1876: A Novel by Gore Vidal (Paperback - February 15, 2000)
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