The Rise and Fall of WASPs

Thomas Blaikie at Literary Review:

Michael Knox Beran begins his exploration brutally by telling us that the WASPs are finished, quite dead. Edie Sedgwick, one of Andy Warhol’s muses, was the last desperate gasp of the WASPs, reduced to being brought to prominence (of a kind) by someone from Pittsburgh and then cruelly abandoned. She died of a drug overdose in 1971. Her father, Fuzzy, was bad enough, removing himself to California, where he turned his vast private estate into a version of the Playboy Mansion. The book goes backwards from there but things don’t get any better. Early on comes this extraordinary sentence: ‘There is … great difficulty in writing about people whose time has passed, who were bathed in the lukewarm bath of snobbery, who, with flashes of insight, were largely mediocre.’

Mediocre, but racked and strange. In the 1880s, John Jay Chapman, descendant of John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, struck a friend in an argument about a woman. He went home and thrust his hand into the fire. He kept it there until it was burned away.

more here.