Portrait of a hustler

Noemie Emery is the first political analyst I have seen to invoke the Henry James component of John Kerry’s marital pursuits. She does so in an article that explores the Croesus-like dimension of Kerry’s married wealth: “John Kerry is different from you and me.” Emery writes of Kerry:

He secured access to a fortune of over $1 billion by saying two words: “I do.” Unless one thinks ill of the woman he married, one can hardly regard this as “earned.” Of course, his wife did not earn it either; she inherited it from her first husband, making it in effect a hand-along on two different levels. Kerry has made a practice, if not a career, of romancing very rich women and living well on their money–his first wife, Julia Thorne, had a family fortune of $300 million when he married her. Between heiresses, there was a hiatus, in which he was forced to live on his salary, which seems to have been an unpleasant experience. Mrs. Heinz took him away from all this, moving him in an instant from vagabond senator to the lap of luxury, into which he has happily settled. Add up the two marriages, and Kerry has been a consort for much of his life, a man whose wives signed the checks for the big-ticket items, a concept with a faintly old-world connotation, and one that calls to mind The Golden Bowl. Marrying money is hardly improper; but neither does it inspire confidence, especially for those of the masculine gender. Cinderella is a fairy-tale heroine, but a consort always appears just a little ridiculous–at best a freeloader, at worst someone suspected of possibly planning an accident. (See “Hitchcock, Alfred,” and just about any film noir.)

Emery drops the Jamesian invocation after the fleeting reference to The Golden Bowl, but I wish she had pursued it. In the characteristic Jamesian plot, an evil European fortune hunter has his sights set on an innocent American heiress. He sets out to marry her and take advantage of her fortune with a malignity that is unimaginable to the American.
Kerry seems to me to have stepped out of the pages of a James novel, but Teresa Heinz herself seems to me an (at least) equally complicated European character. Perhaps that’s why Emery lets the reference drop. On the question of Kerry’s character, her excellent article provides much food for thought.

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