Excerpt from Louisa by Louisa Thomas, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams

by Louisa Thomas

Louisa by Louisa Thomas X
Louisa by Louisa Thomas
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2016, 512 pages

    Apr 2017, 512 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

When Louisa was around fourteen, she was taken out of school, and the point of her schooling was made plain: she had been educated to be married, not to learn about Milton's poetry or the science of self-knowledge. To this end she was brought home to finish her education— her embroidery, her dancing, her painting—under the half-mindful eye of the younger children's governess. Before long, she was introduced into society—which is to say, she was brought into the marriage market. The search began, as it were, for a man in possession of a fortune and in want of a wife.

What Louisa called "work" was mostly embroidery, stitching that was elegantly useless. Her daily tasks were made easy by the assistance of a team of servants—servants to wake her in the morning, to cook her food, to carry her plates, to drive the carriage to the theater or the park. In her spare time (and all of her time was spare), she painted or drew, or visited acquaintances, or received verses from admirers, or played games and gossiped. Some evenings, at parties or in the parlor, she danced. Some afternoons, she read novels that taught her to waste away from love.

Louisa romanticized her childhood, but imperfectly. As she herself evocatively put it, her youth was "fraught with bliss." She was, she would later say—protesting a bit much, perhaps—happiest at home, among her siblings and parents, singing to calm her father at the end of a long day, or perhaps rolling up the carpets and dancing. At parties and balls, she was "timid as a hare."

She had to be careful, too, because at those parties—at the Johnsons' rich friends the Churches, say, or the Pinckneys or the Copleys— she was tasked with remembering that she was different: she was an American. Learning to be an American, of course, was not exactly on the curriculum at Mrs. Carter's school, and it was hardly an identity her mother could impart to her. She had missed the critical experience of the first generation of those growing up in the United States, the Revolution itself. Most of her sense of it was formed, it seems, by whatever story or testimony she happened to hear from Americans visiting for tea or dinner, and from her father's stories, which generally played up his daring and dangerous actions on behalf of the rebels during the Revolution. He would describe visiting Americans in prison, or General Washington, "of whom he spoke with a degree of enthusiasm which fired our young hearts with the purest love and admiration." He would tell them how, on learning that he held Benedict Arnold's pen in his hand, he had picked up the pen with a pair of tongs and thrown it in the fire. He had named Louisa's younger sister, born in 1776, Carolina Virginia Marylanda. All of this made its impact, and it didn't. The girls were British by their habits. As a child, Louisa's favorite game was "duchess"; she answered only to Your Grace. But their Americanness was forcefully impressed upon them after Lord Andover took a liking to Caroline: the girls were told they must marry Americans.

Joshua planned "to get them to America before they fix their affections on any object here," he wrote to his brother Thomas, the first Revolutionary governor of Maryland, but business kept him in London. It helped that if Joshua could not bring them to America, he could bring Americans to them.

Excerpted from Louisa by Louisa Thomas. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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