Sunday, March 2, 2014

Dear Abigail by Diane Jacobs *****

A biography for Jane Austen fans. Dear Abigail by Diane Jacobs reminds me of Jane Austen with its concern for courting and marriage during a period of primogeniture and limited opportunities for women outside of marriage. Even more is the mufti-generational feminine point of view, and the women with self-awareness, intelligence, and wit. Abigail and her two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, could easily assume their roles in any Jane Austen novel. They are the women, all Jane Austen readers imagined to live during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Jacobs follows the sisters' lives through their correspondence from when Abigail Adam is 22 (1766) to when she is 57 (1801). As the sisters were well-educated, their correspondence covered much more than the women's issues mentioned above. The breadth of interests of these three women, give the is biography multiple layers.

Abigail Adams was a partner with her husband during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, the diplomacy with France and England during and after the Revolutionary War, the writing of the U.S. Constitution, and finally  John tenure as George Washington's Vice President and ultimately as The United States' second president.

Throughout her life, Abigail and her sisters pushed for women's rights and an end to slavery. Youngest sister had her own assets and protected them for all her children, "a rare agreement in the eighteenth century," where primogeniture and supremacy of the husband were expected.

Another layer of history I found of extreme interest was 18th century medicine. The Adams family experienced the risk of small pox vaccinations, malaria, TB (aka consumption), depression, childbirth, and alcoholism.

In summary, this books is true to Abigail's admonition to her husband: "remember the ladies." The book is a wonderful history of the founding of the United States and the strong, intelligent women who we all always suspected must have taken a part in this history.

I very much enjoyed this book until the end. I had two problems with the end. First, as life went on the sisters' extended family grew with children and grandchildren, until at the end I found the cast of charters to be unwieldy and difficult to follow. Second, I was disappointed that Abigail's story end when her husband left Washington D.C. at the end of his presidency. I wanted to scream, "Abigail's story goes on for another 17 years and definitely does not end because her husband's political career ends!"

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on January 20, 2014. I received the book on February 3, 2014.

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