ABIGAIL ADAMS: A Biography by Phyllis Lee Levin
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A major biography of the second First Lady: operatic in size and drama, and intensively researched (16 years, claims Levin). To weave her passionate account of the wife of one President and mother of another, Levin quotes extensively from her subject's famed letters and diaries. Thus. citing Abigail's youthful record as ""parsimonious,"" she sketches only briefly Abigail's life up to age 29, in 1773--the year she began her lifelong correspondence with Mercy Otis Warren. From that point on, Levin depicts Abigail's life in rich, colorful detail; and in the telling presents, through Abigail's perceptive eyes, vivid portraits of the Revolutionary War era (both in the States and in London and Paris, where John Adams served) and its incredible cast--especially of husband John, friend Tom Jefferson, and acquaintances the Marquis de Lafayette and Ben Franklin (on whom Abigail had a crush of sorts, writing of him, albeit tongue-in-cheek, as ""the God of Wisdom, in a Humane Form""). Levin's investigations appear near-exhaustive and are clearly a labor of love; as she re-creates Abigail's troubled personal and public life, she grants her subject an almost heroic demeanor, finding her a woman with ""a flair for independence, a gift for language, extraordinary intellect, the capacity to love."" Probably true; but Levin's indefatigable determination to drench Abigail's life in high melodrama at times makes her trials, and her heroism, seem the stuff of soap opera--nearly every page here is clogged with frenzied emotionalities: ""The squall was over as suddenly as it had begun--a lone, bitter signal of Abigail's inner turbulence. A sense of isolation prevailed; she mourned. . ."" ad nauseam. Overwrought, Wagnerian even: but a consistently fascinating life rendered in bold, splashy colors, and thus sure to appeal to many readers.

Pub Date: March 31st, 1987
Publisher: St. Martin's