Kirkus Reviews QR Code
REFINEMENTS OF LOVE by Sarah Booth Conroy

REFINEMENTS OF LOVE

By Sarah Booth Conroy

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-42050-9
Publisher: Pantheon

 A persuasive if controversial interpretation from Washington Post columnist Conroy of the mysterious behavior of Henry Adams after the supposed suicide, in 1885, of his wife. Relying on extensive research, Conroy offers in a series of ``Letters to Posterity,'' presumably written by Clover Adams in the month before she died, an explanation for both Clover's death from poison and Henry's peculiar response to that event. After Clover died, Adams burned her diaries, as well as her letters from her father and friends; destroyed all photographs of her, except for two in which she was part of a group; and, in his famous autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, omitted any reference to the years between 1872 and 1892, when the brooding sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens was mounted on a slab covering Clover's grave. These ``Letters,'' while accurately displaying Clover's famed independence of spirit and thought, are at times spoiled by awkward inclusions of local lore and stiff conversations with President Grover Cleveland and other notables of the Adamses' wide acquaintance. Meanwhile, Clover frankly describes her sexually disappointing marriage; recalls how Henry refused to allow her to admit to being the author of the noted novels Democracy and Esther; and anguishes over Henry's dismissive treatment of her. In this last month of her life, she also discovers strange love letters written by Henry; dines at the White House; is disturbed by sexually suggestive dreams; and is devastated when her beloved photography darkroom and all its equipment are destroyed by alleged vandals. But it is an interrupted sexual encounter involving Henry, John Hay, and Clarence King that makes all things clear--and provokes not her suicide but, rather, her murder. In a story as gripping as any mystery, which in many ways it is, Conroy gives Clover her much-deserved, if imaginary, day in court. Serious historical fiction that really satisfies.