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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
For anyone who enjoys the genre of biography-writing, this is an excellent read by an author who understands what he's doing. I love to read biographies, and I've always said that if the book is well-written, then the subject doesn't matter all that much. Of course if you know or care something about Henry Adams (b.1838) or his wife Clover Hooper Adams (b. 1843), then this book will have an added interest beyond the excellent writing. Many people know the Saint-Gaudens' hooded bronze sculpture that sits over the Adamses' graves in Washington's Rock Creek Cemetery. Henry Adams had the statue sculpted after his wife Clover committed suicide at the age of 43. Clover Hooper Adams was born in Boston and privately educated at a girls' school in Cambridge. Her mother died when Clover was only five years old, a fact which may have been responsible for the extremely close relationship she had with her father all her life. It may have been her father's death that was the catalyst for Clover's suicide several months after he died; since her husband destroyed all of her letters and journals after her death, most of what is known about Clover comes from the weekly letters she wrote to her father. Before her death, she and Henry Adams lived in Washington, D.C., making room in their home on Lafayette Square across from the White House for a lively and witty intellectual salon. Clover spent a good deal of her last years working as an amateur photographer; while she had the opportunity, she had no desire to publish her photos. The Clover Adams photography collection is housed in the Massachusetts Historical Society. The biographer, Otto Friedrich, paints a portrait of a woman who is abrasive, hypercitical, and very bright. Henry Adams wrote a novel titled Esther the year before Clover died which is clearly based on her (and on a lot of other people he knew). His descriptions of her looks and her "mind" are certainly not flattering, but I thought this sentence was interesting, quoted in the biography: "She is interesting. She has a style of her own . . . . She gives one the idea of a lightly sparred yacht in mid-ocean; unexpected; you ask yourself what the devil she is doing there. She sails gayly along, though there is no land in sight and plenty of rough weather coming." Friedrich includes an interesting and insightful chapter about Clover Adams's suicide, and also suicide in general. Some may find the topic morbid or depressing. I find it fascinating, and I wish we had more from Clover about her last months, much like the diaries and letters of Virginia Woolf. If you read Woolf's letters towards the last months of her life, particularly those to her sister, it's clear that Woolf knew she was descending into madness again--and she simply couldn't put her family through that one more time, particularly with the anxieties people had about the war. What Woolf also makes clear as a bell in the letters and diaries is how painful her situation was, something that people who have never exprerienced depression really don't understand--that life can be so painful with the disease that suicide actually seems like an upgrade. I suspect that Clover knew where she was headed as well. And much as he seems to have felt a sense of guilt about his wife's death, I think it's pretty clear that there was nothing that Hal could have done or not done that would have changed things. Clover's sister would eventually throw herself in front of a train; her brother threw himself out a third-story window. Henry Adams married Clover knowing she had this "thing" in her family history (or, as his brother Charles Francis said when Henry married Clover Hooper, the whole family is crazy as bats--I'm paraphrasing, but that's pretty close). I would rate this book as 4-star. There were draggy places where I wished that Friedrich hadn't gotten so bogged down in politics. Overall, however, it was a fascinating book, and it left me wishing that someone in 2010 would write a new biography of this fascinating woman.
Review: Clover: The Tragic Love Story of Clover and Henry Adams and Their Brilliant Life in America's Gilded AgeUser Review - Goodreads
Enjoyed this look at the Gilded Age of the 1880's. Clover was a caustic gal with big ideas and opinions on everything.
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