Ariabella, the First

Ariabella, the First

by N.A. Straight (1981)

Ariabella, the First book cover

A satirical novel set in Newport. From the dust jacket:

Susannah Machem Mortimer Glendenning, still in her early twenties, is taking a tram ride into her past, going back in time to try to discover what happened to the life of her only childhood friend, Ariabella, and at the same time, what has happened to her own life. Her trip leads inevitably to Inchiquin Farm, the vast estate on Narragansett Bay referred to in nineteenth-century society pages as a "summer cottage." Founded in the 1880s by the New York Schermerhorns, the maiden name of Susannah's mother, Inchiquin Farm is now a museum, a relic of a vanished aristocracy. But in Susannah's childhood, when she spent every summer there, it was the home of her two maternal aunts, Miriam Polk Schermerhorn French Goelet and Ethel Bolton Schermerhorn d'Ambroise Headley, and their children—Warrick French, a writer of Hollywood film scripts and more serious work; Courtlandt d'Ambroise, a success as both writer and Wall Street businessman; and the Younger Goelets—Savannah, Melanie, Giles, and Julien.

A contemporary New York Times book review noted that many believed the novel to be autobiographical, as it seemed to closely mirror author Nina Gore Auchincloss Steers Straight's relationships with her half-brother, Gore Vidal; her step-sister and step-mother, Jacqueline Onassis and Janet Norton Lee Bouvier Auchincloss Morris; and her close college friend Renata Adler (upon whom the title character was suspected to be based). Straight, however, denied any correlation between real life and her novel's characters.

Inchiquin is the name of a real Newport estate, located at the southern end of Cliff Walk, and now broken up into condos. But Inchiquin as described in the novel more closely resembles Hammersmith Farm, where Straight and Onassis spent a good deal of their childhoods.

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