Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.
Intelligent, cultured, capable, fluent in several languages, and the only First Lady born outside the United States, Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams is less well known but, based on this biography, every bit as interesting as her mother-in-law Abigail. Louisa and her husband John Quincy Adams were devoted to each other, but not always happy together. Born to an American father and a British mother, Louisa married John Quincy when she was still very young and for years had to yield most decisions about their lives to her husband, a state of affairs that contributed to her bouts of ill health, but when called upon to act or make decisions she rose to the challenge showing initiative, insight, and determination, and when allowed more autonomy than conventions dictated her health always seemed to improve.
In the early years of their marriage John Quincy held diplomatic posts in Berlin, St. Petersburg, and London, posts that didn’t pay well since the United States was still in its infancy. With limited resources Louisa was forced to be resourceful and inventive in order to put together fashionable outfits suitable for court events, but no matter. With her wit, skill at dancing, and fluency in French she charmed everyone, including royals (except for George IV who ignored her, but the Regency Prince wasn’t necessarily someone a lady wanted to be chummy with.) Louisa’s life circumstances give this book a unique angle on history, and the detailed, colorful picture of pre-Victorian nineteenth century life in some of Europe’s most exciting capitals is one of this book’s many pleasures. Just as fascinating are the book’s chapters set in the early, still rough and tumble Washington, DC, where ruts in the city streets were sometimes deep enough to overturn carriages. In Washington Louisa became John Quincy’s unofficial political strategist, throwing highly sought out parties that helped position him for his presidential run.
But the very most exciting part of the book for me is Louisa’s rushed and treacherous winter journey from St Petersburg to Paris, where she and her six-year-old son were to join John Quincy. Without her husband there to take charge, Louisa proved just how capable she could be on a trip that became more dangerous as it went along. First there was the early darkness and icy weather, then the battle scarred devastation and political chaos caused by Napoleon's army, and finally before she made it to Paris Napoleon himself escaped from Elba and crazed partisans overran Louisa's route, repeatedly halting her coach with threatening demands for proof of her loyalties.
Louisa Catherine: The Other Mrs. Adams captivated me and my only complaint is that at 356 pages it’s too short, ending just as John Quincy Adams became president after the very controversial election of 1825. Author Margery M. Heffron had planned a longer book but passed away before it could be finished. A joy to read anyway, Heffron’s book has whet my appetite for more about Louisa, and I’d also dearly love to read a book about Louisa’s lively and equally intriguing sisters who are introduced in this volume. There is already at least one other book about Louisa in print, Michael O’Brien’s Mrs. Adams in Winter, and since it covers the forty days Louisa was traveling from St. Petersburg to Paris it’s become a must-read for me.