The Great and the Good

Written by Julian Evans (trans.) Michel Déon
Review by Pamela Schoenewaldt

Michel Déon is a member of the Académie Française, and author of over 50 books of fiction and non-fiction, including highly regarded The Foundling Boy and The Foundling’s War. In The Great and the Good, Déon explores a classic literary theme: the naïve young person’s education in the ways of the world.

In the 1950s, Arthur Morgan, the academically gifted son of an ambitious French widow, is sent first class on the RMS Queen Mary to hobnob with the “great and the good” on his way to the Ivy League university where he’s expected to make his fortune. Arthur is instantly mesmerized by shipboard high society, including the beautiful, fragile, manipulative Elizabeth, her cagey sister Augusta, and their domineering brother. Add to this mix President Eisenhower’s financial advisor and young Arthur is soon far out of his emotional and social comfort zone.

As the novel progresses through the 1970s, Arthur gains significant wealth and professional notoriety, but retains his social and emotional innocence and often ineptness, sometimes with comical results.

Densely textured with particulars of the mid-century moneyed world in America and Europe and populated with an international cast of characters, there’s an ambling 19th-century novel’s pace to The Great and the Good as we move between decades and continents with long conversations over mixed drinks and cigarettes. Expertly translated from the French, the novel is a unique take on the coming-of-age genre.