CANNIBALS OF THE HEART: A Personal Biography of Louisa Catherine and John Quincy Adams by Jack Shepherd

CANNIBALS OF THE HEART: A Personal Biography of Louisa Catherine and John Quincy Adams

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It was Louisa Adams, dour John Quincy's wife, who observed that the Adams men were hard on their women. Add the current awareness (thanks to feminist scholarship) that women of her post-Revolutionary generation were more fettered than their colonial predecessors, and the stage is set for this new, crude rendering of Louisa Adams as society's and her husband's victim. To the extent that impulsive, fretful (and often ill) Louisa and methodical, constrained, stoical John Q. were temperamentally incompatible, that they often disagreed, and that he customarily prevailed, there is of course something to it--independent of Shepherd's stale, repetitive, unremitting feminist harangue. (From one page: ""Louisa and other women her age were educated not to become individuals, or arbiters of their own destinies, but to be absorbed into a family unit as homemaker, guardian of Virtue, Morality, and Piety. . . . Men diminished them to fragile, delicate creatures; they repressed feminine sexuality. . . . The passive woman was much admired; the active male her master. . . ."" And there's more of same on the next page, and the next.) The bemoaning and decrying apart, Shepherd colors every episode in the couple's life to Louise's advantage--or John Q.'s disadvantage--from their protracted, long-distance engagement (when she fusses and he is ""severe""), to his ambassadorial stint in Berlin (when she is a social success, no thanks to him, and suffers repeated miscarriages), to their return to the US (when mother-in-law Abigail is disapproving), his service in the Senate (when he ""made finally clear her subordinate place in his life""), his appointment as ambassador to Russia (when she has to leave her two older sons behind), his tenure as Secretary of State--when she faithfully sets about courting the Congressmen whose support he will need (under the old caucus system) for the presidential nomination. John Quincy's presidency then brings us her loneliness in the White House; the suicide of oldest, overpressured (by Papa) son George; and their subsequent search, together, ""for new meaning and direction."" Which they may indeed have found--as overdone as it is here--in a common commitment to abolitionism and feminism. Half melodrama, half tract--and trifling alongside Marie Hecht's big, rich 1972 biography of John Quincy.

Pub Date: March 8th, 1981
Publisher: McGraw-Hill