(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

In school, Vivian Grey was more popular with his fellow students than he was with his masters. After his expulsion from a private school conducted by Mr. Dallas, he continued his studies at home. Because he had decided on a career in politics, he flattered a nobleman who occasionally visited his father. This man was the Marquess of Carabas, an officeholder who had been turned out because of his blundering incompetence. Vivian, who hoped to obtain the patronage of a noble name and the backing of a privileged aristocracy, flattered the vain, stupid peer who still hoped to play an active part in the world of politics. As a result, Lord Carabas invited Vivian to visit his countryseat, Chateau Desir. There Vivian met the fashionable Mrs. Felix Lorraine, his lordship’s sister-in-law. During his visit, Vivian took advantage of his opportunities by making love to the wives while securing the confidence of the husbands.

At a brilliant dinner, Vivian made his entrance late, secured the best seat in the house, and began a discussion of Goethe’s SORROWS OF WERTHER before he had been among the company three minutes. As usual, Vivian continued his art of flattering everyone in order to curry favor.

At the first opportunity, Vivian planned to bring together a group of gentlemen out of office to form a new political party. As leader of the party, Vivian had selected Frederick Cleveland, a former minister of state who, disappointed in public life, had retired to Wales. Vivian sought him out there and won the support of the older, more experienced statesman. After completing his mission successfully, Vivian returned to his fashionable friends. He spent a harrowing night with Mrs. Lorraine, who vowed that she had seen a ghost and fainted in his arms.

Mrs. Lorraine was no less confusing to Cleveland when he met her; despite his discomfiture, she insisted on falling in love with him.

Because of Vivian’s unscrupulous conduct, his newfound friends soon deserted him, and his political ambitions were terminated by Lord Carabas, who had learned that Vivian had used the old nobleman as a pawn in the political game he was playing with names of rank and fortune.

At the same time, Vivian announced to Mrs. Lorraine that he had purposely kept Cleveland from liking her by interfering with her mail. In his arrogance, Vivian insulted Cleveland in his London club, and Cleveland challenged him to a duel. Vivian killed Cleveland.

When Vivian had recovered from a fever brought on by excitement, he left England and made his home in Germany. There he took a course of studies at Heidelberg, where he met Baron von Konigstein. Vivian and the clever, worldly Baron became close friends. At a fair in Frankfort, they were...

(The entire section is 1129 words.)