Clover Adams, by Natalie Dykstra, is a fascinating bio and, for anyone interested in the mid 19th C, a real page turner. Rarely are we afforded an authentic glimpse into the life and psyche of a woman from this era. Even more amazing – we are able to observe day to day dysfunction within one of America’s most prominent families in history. Born Marian Hooper in 1843, her Boston Brahmin family was greatly influenced by the Transcendentalists. You’ll find plenty to ponder about issues of gender, role and transformation of society. If you’re more interested in gossip from the days when Boston outweighed New York on the social registry, this is one compelling story. Overlaid by the drama of deep seated depression since childhood, Clover Adams becomes one complicated heroine, deserving of all our respect and contemporary understandings.
If Clover Adams’ life story was to be made into a bio-pic we would be yelling “Don’t do it, Clover!” at the screen as she falls in love with and marries historian Henry Adams (yes, of the John Adams line). We already glean from letters and journals that such a powerful intellect and creative force in a woman might be a challenge for any man in 1866. What he first describes as her “intellectual grace” grows to become a puzzling threat to their early love. As Clover’s talent and passion for serious photography emerge, we readers know full well what happens to women who are ahead of their time, yet we are unable to prevent the tragedy from unfolding.
If you’d like a summer read which will take you through European aristocracy, New York literary culture and DC political drama from the inside (diary entries like “The Bonapartes for dinner. We expect an interesting winter…”) then this is your book. And this was Clover’s life, overshadowed always by her constant companion, the diagnosis of neurasthenia in a time when any inkling of mental or emotional instability fed the rumor mill. By the end of Natalie Dykstra’s book I felt I had been given a tremendous gift. I felt I knew Clover Adams as a friend.
Since Houghten Mifflin published Clover Adams, A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life as a hardback you’ll want to borrow it from our Library. Be prepared to find yourself deep in historical research after signing it out. Ms. Dykstra’s foray into Clover Adams’ life began, among other places, at the Sturgis Library in Barnstable!
This book review was contributed by Patricia Charyk, patron of the Elizabeth Taber Library. >Reserve your copy of Clover Adams through the SAILS Network.
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