The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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September 6, 2016

Louisa: the extraordinary life of Mrs. Adams

Before this book appeared, I had read another very good book about Louisa Catherine Adams, who was married to John Quiincy Adams.  This earlier book, Mrs. Adams in Winter, by Michael O'Brien, tells the story of Louisa's brave, perilous, forty-day journey {by herself, with a few servants and her young son} from St. Petersburg to Paris, just as Napoleon was escaping from Elba and re-amassing an army.  So I was prepared to be reading about 'an extraordinary life,' and as a review in the New York Times described it, a life of 'splendor and sadness.'

Louisa was born in England, a few months before Jane Austen, into the family of a Maryland merchant who insisted that she should remember that she was an American, an identity she had no experience in.  Before he became president, John Quincy Adams was a diplomat first in Berlin, then in Russia, and then Secretary of State, and Louisa was pulled, often against her will or without a choice from country to country, often separated from her husband and her children.  She endured twelve pregnancies, with only four living children, three of whom died before her, and played an important role in advancing her husband's career,in the very odd political and social climate of the early 1800s.  She was a complicated woman, often coping with disappointments and heartbreak by taking to her bed, and this is also very interesting portrait of a very long marriage between two people who loved each other but perhaps were not well suited.

Another example of how a very well-written biography of someone a little outside my usual range of interest is often, for me, the perfect kind of reading. :)

{There's a good author talk here, if you're interested.}

Louisa:  the extraordinary life of Mrs. Adams, by Louisa Thomas
Penguin Press, 2016
Borrowed, Boston Public Library


JoAnn said...

I need to branch out a little more in my biography reading! My habit, too, is to stick with people I already know a little about... I'm glad to have friends like you to point out books I would otherwise miss entirely.

Audrey said...

So am I! )

Nicola said...

Interesting that she was a contemporary of Jane Austen. I'm fascinated by that period. Thanks for posting this.

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