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Mr. Jefferson's Women by [Kukla, Jon]
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Mr. Jefferson's Women Kindle Edition

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This highly insightful study by Kukla (A Wilderness So Immense), director of the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation, investigates Thomas Jefferson's relationships with women, from Elizabeth Moore Walker, the married neighbor with whom Jefferson may have had an affair, to Sally Hemings, the slave whose children he purportedly fathered. One of the most fascinating chapters examines the young Jefferson's failed attempts to woo a classmate's sister, Rebecca Burwell, whose rejection of his marriage proposal may have incited the misogyny found throughout his writings. Perhaps the least satisfying section studies Jefferson's relationship with his wife, Martha: since Jefferson destroyed their private correspondence after she died, Kukla's re-creation of their relationship is necessarily sketchy. The conclusion moves to a larger argument concerning Jefferson's thinking about women as citizens. Kukla shows that Jefferson was much less open to women's political participation and education than were contemporary Enlightenment thinkers, and his definition of America as a white male polity was rooted in his personal discomfort with women. This is one of the most discerning and provocative studies of Jefferson in years. B&w illus., map. (Oct. 12)
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From Booklist

The enigmatic aspects of Thomas Jefferson's character have frustrated both his contemporaries and historians. John Adams, his on-again-off-again friend, referred to him as a "shadow man." Kukla probes Jefferson's relations with and attitudes toward women. Although the broad outlines of Jefferson's relations with specific women are well known, Kukla has used some obscure sources to provide interesting and even titillating information. He does not present a flattering portrait of Jefferson. In his youthful and futile courtship of a teenage Virginia girl, Jefferson appears understandably clumsy and disturbingly bitter after she rejects him. When he makes "improper advances" toward the wife of a friend, he seems downright obnoxious. Kukla also casts a critical eye on Jefferson's marriage, his apparently intense attachment to Maria Cosway in Paris, and, of course, his supposed affair with his slave Sally Hemings. Kukla concludes that Jefferson's sentiments regarding women were a mixture of suspicion, contempt, and possessiveness. Still, this is a useful, if flawed, contribution to our knowledge of, perhaps, our most fascinating Founding Father. Freeman, Jay

Product Details

  • File Size: 1802 KB
  • Print Length: 279 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (May 29, 2009)
  • Publication Date: June 3, 2009
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002BH5HZS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #848,640 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James Schuyler on November 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Just when you thought you had read everything...Jon Kukla presents a very readable portrait of Jefferson's "relationships" with women--which leads to new insights about this great man--and, more interestingly, his attitudes towards women in general. The final chapters about his broader view of women as a threat to republican government place Jefferson in the context of his time. There is a remarkable discussion of Jefferson and Abigail Adams' letters. The book is eminently fair about Sally Hemings and gives a new meaning to the notion that "all men are created equal". Thank you, Jon Kukla, for beginning a lively conversation that is well worth your engagement.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jon Kukla's treatment of Jefferson's "Women" includes Rebecca Burwell, Betsey Walker, Mrs. Martha Jefferson, Maria Cosway and Sally Hemings, among others the author named "Amazons and Angels," as well as a fairly in-depth look at his relationship with Abigail Adams. That Jefferson was a misogynist is clear -- he feared and distrusted women, yet loved several. The chapter on Maria Cosway is the most complete description of this woman of the several I have read.

Maybe it's the romantic in me, but I prefer Annette Gordon-Reed's treatise of Sally Hemings in her splendid "The Hemingses of Monticello." Kukla allows as how he guesses there MAY have been affection between Jefferson and Hemings, but his wording implies to me that he leans toward just sexual gratification. I lean more toward Gordon-Reed's angle -- 38 years and six pregnancies simply have to account for more than just sexual gratification. I like to think there was genuine affection, perhaps even some feeling of love between them.

Kukla dismisses the claim that Sally Hemings got pregnant in Paris and wrote that Hemings got pregnant at Monticello some years later. Yet her son Madison in later writings, as part of the Hemings' family oral tradition, states that when she, her brother James and Jefferson came back to Monticello from Paris, she was pregnant. Madison wrote that during the time his mother was in Paris, she "became Mr. Jefferson's concubine, and when he was called back home, she was "enciente" by him." ("The Hemingses of Monticello," page 326.) For reasons unknown to me as the reader, Kukla did acknowledge Madison's writings about events other than that – in other words he did not summarily dismiss Madison Hemings’ writings!
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Format: Paperback
This is the earlier (first published in 2007) of two recent studies on Jefferson and Women, the more recent volume being Virginia Scharff's "The Women Jefferson Loved" (also reviewed on Amazon). The author is a distinguished historian who, among other posts, between 1973 and 1990, directed historical research and publishing at the Library of Virginia. He really knows how to conduct documentary research and is very conversant with the Jefferson literature. He also spent a period working with Virginius Dabney in subjecting Fawn Brodie's explosive bio of TJ to critical (but professional) analysis and scrutiny. This does not mean that the author never, on occasion, engages in some historical speculation that far outruns the established evidence. Nonetheless, this is a superior effort, even though I do not necessarily accept his thesis.

The book focuses on a number of women who interacted with Jefferson, including several not covered in the Scharff book. First up is Rebecca Burwell, who rejected TJ's youthful proposal of marriage. The author believes that this extremely painful rejection negatively affected TJ's interactions with women for the rest of his life, rendering him a permanent misogynist. The author next turns to Elizabeth Moore Walker, the wife of a close TJ friend. Three years after assuming the presidency (1803), it was alleged by his political enemies that TJ had tried to force his affections onto this married lady back in the late 1760's. While this blew over, Kukla's masterful research skills have unearthed some pretty convincing evidence supporting this allegation. For once, we have a fully-developed professional analysis of this issue based on solid command of pertinent documents.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thomas Jefferson is one of the most troubling characters among America's founding fathers. He penned the immortal ideals of freedom and equality in the Declaration of Independence. We, from our modern perspective, also like the fact that he was an intellectual and that he brought refreshing informality to the White House. In recent years, his reputation has been tarnished by re-examination of his disturbing political tendencies. (See for example, John Adams and Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power). This book provides additional insights into Jefferson's character by examining his relation to the women in his life, and the insights add more tarnish to Jefferson's reputation that go beyond the understandably archaic attitudes that might belong to a man of his time. As clearly documented here, "all men created equal" applied no more to women than to blacks in Jefferson's mind. Each woman discussed here provides additional perspective. As to the Sally Hemings controversy, Kukla carefully lays out enough circumstantial details to undermine the most strident doubter.

A fine book, worthy of a wider audience.
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