By People Staff
Updated November 03, 2003 12:00 PM

by Edmund White

[STARS 3.5]

This witty and richly imagined “biography” of Frances (Fanny) Wright, a nearly forgotten feminist, is narrated by Frances (Fanny) Trollope, a British author famous in the 1830s for her scathing travelogue, Domestic Manners of the Americans. (Both Fannys were real people; White’s conceit is to write in Trollope’s voice.) Trollope quickly shoves her subject aside to take center stage in all her tart tongued and some times hilariously myopic glory. “Personality is all in America,” she observes. “An odd hemline or a becoming stutter will always upstage a worrying thought.” Looking back as a lonely old woman, Trollope extols and castigates Wright, who was everything Trollope wasn’t: rich, beautiful, brilliant and appallingly indifferent to the emotional wreck age she left in her wake. Fanny presents vivid pictures of early 19th-century life, from the steerage deck on the stormy Atlantic crossing to dinner with aging heroes Jefferson and Lafayette to the cockamamie notions of people whose fortunes had given them “the freedom to muse about first principles and ultimate values.”