The Patriarch

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE PATRIARCH chronicles one of the most influential communication dynasties in the twentieth century. The Binghams, fallen gentry after the Civil War, rose to prominence when Robert Worth Bingham became the proprietor of the Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL and TIMES after a second marriage to a wealthy widow. He and his son Barry championed numerous liberal causes, often in opposition to regional public opinion. The newspapers developed a national reputation and the Binghams became advisers to politicians and traveled in the highest social circles, here and abroad.

But public success was achieved at the price of the family’s private happiness and well-being. Barry, personally aloof, and his wife Mary, wrapped up in her husband, indulged their five children but were unable to give them sufficient emotional support and guidance. The children sought approval but doubted that their parents ever fully gave it. Two of the sons died tragically young, and the surviving son, Barry, Jr., accepted corporate responsibility as a heavy burden rather than as a welcomed opportunity after his father retired. The two daughters, Sallie and Eleanor, challenged Barry, Jr., over his leadership, partially in order to revenge themselves on their parents and satisfy their unfulfilled emotional needs. Familial divisiveness and bitterness finally forced the sale of the Bingham interests for almost half a billion dollars.

Most members of the family, if hardly on speaking terms with each other, were eager to confide in the authors. Nothing remained private or unsaid. Although long and detailed, Tifft and Jones’s cautionary story makes apparent the damage which money and power can do to those who possess them.