Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Beneficiary

My wife's book club read The Beneficiary, by Janny Scott, for their July meeting. This left the book available when I was in between books, so that I read most of it. I found it moderately interesting, but more depressing.

The Beneficiary traces the fortunes of the Montgomery and Scott families, who over about a century made a fair bit of money in railroads, investing, and banking in Pennsylvania, and hung on to a good deal of the money for some years more. The details of their work are not much fleshed out, but one learns a lot about some of their marriages and about their drinking. The marriages were not always happy or enduring, and the drinking had something to do with that.

The author is of a generation that left the Philadelphia Main Line. Her father necessarily takes up a great  deal of the book. He seems to have been a more than competent museum executive, but what a museum executive does, other than scramble for money, one does not learn. One learns a great deal about his drinking, which shortened his life and helped to alienate some of his family. Robert Scott routinely consumed three liters of wine a day, often with cocktails as well. Montaigne in his essay "On Drunkenness" mentions a nobleman who routinely consumed "scarcely less than ten quarts" at a meal, without losing his acuity: but was his acuity mentioned against that of the sober? Robert Scott apparently was not fit for business after lunch many days.

I ended the book not entirely sure why I should care about the fortunes of the Montgomerys and Scotts, including Robert Scott. That his daughter should is natural. The rest of us need a reason, which I didn't quite find. Yet the book is short enough, and well enough written  that I didn't resent reaching this conclusion.


  1. You are a more generous reader than me. From what I am led to believe about Jean Claude Juncker and his drinking habits, Robert Scott might have been a pick for President of the European Commission, although possibly he didn't consume quite enough each day to qualify - but certainly the no business after lunch element made him suitable

    1. Not much gossip from Brussels, or really anywhere outside our borders, makes into the American consciousness. Yeltsin was probably the last European figure of whose drinking one heard anything here. Anyway, at some point Juncker will cease to the UK's problem, won't he?