Reviewed byÂ Erica Wetter
Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life
By NatalieÂ Dykstra
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Youâ€™ve probably never heard of Clover Adams, but as English Professor Natalie Dykstra illuminates in this detailed biography of the 19th-century Washington socialite, she rubbed elbows with many of the nationâ€™s elite. â€śA perfect Voltaire in petticoats,â€ť friend Henry James commented. â€śCertainly not handsomeâ€ť her husband-to-be bluntly lamented to a friend. At 28, Cloverâ€™s marital prospects were dim until she unexpectedly snagged writer and political royalty Henry Adams as husband. The next 12 years were a whirlwind of social activities and photographyâ€”an art many women of the day took up and which Clover embraced wholeheartedly, snapping portraits of her famous friends. And then in December 1885, Clover, mourning her fatherâ€™s death, succumbed to hereditary depression and committed suicide by drinking photo development chemicals. â€śThe means of her art had become the means of her death,â€ť Dykstra melodramatically pronounces. Adams, apparently grief-stricken, held on to the bottle of poison, and avoided speaking of Cloverâ€”even leaving her out of his autobiographyâ€”and so Cloverâ€™s life has been little examined until now. Dykstra approaches the task like a true academic. She reads much into details, like the way Clover twice placed a photo of Henry next to a photo of a tree in her photo album. Mostly a tedious recital of people, places, and photographs taken, Dykstraâ€™s biography sparkles most when given over to Cloverâ€™s own voice.
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