Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Book review: A Perfect Union, Chatherine Allgor
A detailed biography of Dolley Madison, from the sketchy details of her childhood to the painstakingly scrutinized social whirlwind that was her life in Washington.
Dolley was the first "First Lady" to lead the social scene in Washington. She set fashion and played politics in the oblique way required of women in her culture. Her winning personality made her a favorite with foreign and domestic officials. Although Catherine Allgor is clearly an admirer of Dolley, she doesn't let her off the hook for her foibles - massive guilt-trips of her family over visiting, news and whatnot - or her failings - she kept enslaved people. Dolley's decision not to free her slaves at her death (her husband James' wish) has been a scar on her memory.
I thought the book was good. Well-researched and thoughtfully presented. The author goes to great pains to explain the culture in which Dolley lived, to help put her behavior in context, and to parallel it with today's society.