From Publishers Weekly
Beginning her nearly solitary winter trek from St. Petersburg to Paris in 1815, Louisa Adams experienced 40 days of independence from the constrictions she suffered as wife to future American president John Quincy Adams. Recounting her journey in minute detail, O'Brien, Cambridge professor of American intellectual history, juxtaposes her encounters with a dazzling array of fashionable nobles with ruined towns and impoverished survivors struggling in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. O'Brien (Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810–1860) effectively highlights Louisa's unease as a European-bred, naturalized American descended from a mother's illegitimate birth, who marries into the intimidating Puritan family of John and Abigail Adams. Using a range of sources, O'Brien reconstructs memories omitted in Louisa's memoir and delves into a 50-page diversion on her marriage, slowing the travelogue's pace. Readers of American and European history will exult in the informative contrast of postrevolutionary American values and the glittering European and Russian courts, which steadfastly ignored the horrific effects of continental warfare. 40 b&w illus., 1 map. (Mar.)
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Though much has been written about Abigail Adams, the feisty First Lady and Revolutionary War heroine who captured the collective imaginations of generations of Americans, little interest has been paid to her daughter-in-law, Louisa Catherine Adams. Married to John Quincy Adams and the only First Lady to be born and raised outside of the U.S., she spent her formative years in England and France, never setting foot upon American soil until she was twenty-six years old. Her full-length biography is a fascinating one, but historian O’Brien has extrapolated an incredible adventure to serve as a metaphor for her life and times. During the winter of 1815, Mrs. Adams and her young son set forth from St. Petersburg, Russia, traveling overland through battle-torn Europe for 40 days, to meet her husband in Paris. Years later, Louisa penned a memoir of that arduous journey, and O’Brien has adeptly filled in her gaps with historical and sociological texturing. This compelling combination of biography, travelogue, and adventure does an admirable job resurrecting one of the many forgotten females in the annals of American history. --Margaret Flanagan
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