JEFFERSON: A Revealing Biography by Page Smith

JEFFERSON: A Revealing Biography

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As the subtitle suggests, Smith strains mightily to achieve a new interpretation of the sage of Monticello. In the event he leans heavily on inferential psychology, finding Jefferson by turns morbid, love-dependent, secretive, megalomaniacal, obsessive, devious. The great democrat and Deist, the believer in reason, science, and human perfectability was, we learn, the ""least rational, most tenderly intuitive of men."" Though Smith carefully traces Jefferson's public career from the Virginia legislature through the Declaration of Independence, his reluctant participation in the Continental Congress and his two-term Presidency, he, like Fawn Brodie (Thomas Jefferson, 1974), is chiefly concerned with the inner man. From boyhood on, Jefferson's life was stalked by death--his sisters and father died while he was still a child; he suffered from despondency verging on collapse at the death of his mother and of Martha, the wife he barely acknowledged in his writing. Smith accepts Brodie's version of the furtive, enduring liaison with Sally Hemmings, but goes Brodie one better by seeing ambiguity in all of Jefferson's relationships with women. What are we to make of all this? Smith resolves it neatly--too neatly. Jefferson is cast as an artist masquerading as a Virginia planter and politician. The most tangible evidence is Monticello, Jefferson's ""magic mountain,"" his sanctum sanctorum, the externalization of his ""enigma"" and ""precarious balance."" But even the illustrations belie Smith's attempt to efface Jefferson the Enlightenment figure.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1976
Publisher: American Heritage/McGraw-Hill