Fortune, Misfortune, and the Story of My Father
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR
"[A] poignant addition to the literature of moneyed glamour and its inevitable tarnish and decay…like something out of Fitzgerald or Waugh."—The New Yorker
A parable for the new age of inequality: part family history, part detective story, part history of a vanishing class, and a vividly compelling exploration of the degree to which an inheritance—financial, cultural, genetic—conspired in one person's self-destruction.
Land, houses, and money tumbled from one generation to the next on the eight-hundred-acre estate built by Scott's investment banker great-grandfather on Philadelphia's Main Line. There was an obligation to protect it, a license to enjoy it, a duty to pass it on—but it was impossible to know in advance how all that extraordinary good fortune might influence the choices made over a lifetime.
In this warmly felt tale of an American family's fortunes, journalist Janny Scott excavates the rarefied world that shaped her charming, unknowable father, Robert Montgomery Scott, and provides an incisive look at the weight of inheritance, the tenacity of addiction, and the power of buried secrets.
Some beneficiaries flourished, like Scott's grandmother, Helen Hope Scott, a socialite and celebrated horsewoman said to have inspired Katherine Hepburn's character in the play and Academy Award-winning film The Philadelphia Story. For others, including the author's father, she concludes, the impact was more complex.
Bringing her journalistic talents, light touch, and crystalline prose to this powerful story of a child's search to understand a parent's puzzling end, Scott also raises questions about our new Gilded Age. New fortunes are being amassed, new estates are being born. Does anyone wonder how it will all play out, one hundred years hence?
Pulitzer Prize winner Scott (A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother) mines her own rich and privileged family history in this insightful memoir. The descendant of generations of blue-blooded Main Line Philadelphians Scott's grandmother is said to be the inspiration for the character of socialite Tracy Lord in Philip Barry's play The Philadelphia Story Scott recounts the fun times of her life growing up in the 1960s ("We haul a five- or six- seater wooden toboggan from the garage, and arranges to meet a few beaglers, " who release the dogs to playfully race the children downhill), as well as the tough moments and the lives of her family members. Scott pulls no punches when revealing the vulnerabilities of her family, particularly her father, a longtime president of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, who battled depression and whose excessive alcohol consumption led to his death in 2005 from complications of cirrhosis. She also provides a tantalizing glimpse into Main Line opulence via remembrances of life on her family's estate, Ardrossan, which once encompassed nearly 800 acres, had a working farm, and was visited by such notables as publishing magnate Walter Annenberg and Vogue photographer Horst P. Horst. Told without false modesty or overweening privilege, Scott's story is a well-paced narrative punctuated with lyrical prose. This is a fascinating glimpse into a rarefied world.