For better or worse, Dolly Madison created the role of First Lady and set the pattern for the visible politician's wife still de rigueur today. Gerson doesn't go along with those romantics who have tried to paint Dolly as an-intellectual power behind the throne; he's quite content to appreciate her as the ""compleat wife"" and a paragon of feminine reasoning (irrationality). There are some wry glimpses of Washington in its more plebeian days--when the ""rule of pele-mele"" (sic) governed dinner party protocol and the outrage of the British envoy's wife at being seated next to her haberdasher nearly sparked an international incident. But the indulgent recounting of Dolly's fashion and culinary triumphs and the catty tone reserved for any contemporary who failed to join the ranks of her admirers will be best tolerated by those who are seeking a patriotic model of Total Womanhood. Awfully stuffy and sedate.