". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Louisa Catherine Adams, Austen's Young Ladies and the Marriage Business

Is it useful at all to compare and contrast Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams with Jane Austen's characters beyond the cultural gender fact that a successful marriage was the only career for women in their time?  Their fate in life was literally the men they married.  What follows is an attempt to see if there's anything worth considering historically as to what Americans and the English women of a certain rank had in common, if anything, during this era of the marriage business.

Louisa C. Adams was born on the eve of the American Revolution, 1775, to a father who had immigrated from Annapolis to London, and an English mother. When she entered the  marriage market, in London and even on the continent, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Era had overthrown the Age of Reason. It was in the process of being replaced by the Romantic Era, at least in London and already previously in parts of Central Europe.

Sense and Sensibility is set in southwest England between 1792 and 1797
Like Austen's Sense and Sensibility Marianne, LCA was adamantly on the side of sensibility, as her personal papers reveal.

John Quincy Adams, her husband to be, born 1767 in Massachusetts to Founding Parents of the American Revolution and the United States of America, eight years his wife's senior, was as equally a pure product of the Enlightenment as he was of his puritan heritage. They had in common that they'd lived in other countries and learned other languages in their formative years.

LCA 1821 - 1826  by Gilbert Stuart
After a, for her, frustratingly lengthy engagement they married in 1797 when she was 22 and he was 30. Their marriage was successful, but it was also very difficult, from the beginning until JQ died in 1848. LCA's personal papers are the primary source for learning how tumultuous was the transition between the age that had passed and the age that was coming into being.   JQA was non-communicative, rational, scholarly, cool, withholding and introverted, devoted to duty, while passionately ambitious. She was extroverted, social, depressive, fashionable, dramatic and expressive, and also passionately ambitious, as illustrated by her brilliant efforts in the run-up to the 1824 presidential election.

In the eyes of  Louisa's family the young John Quincy Adams, constantly at their London home, was a most eligible bachelor, or in the more appropriate French which Louisa spoke at least as flawlessly as he, un bon parti. Externally everything was right, even the difference in their age was marriage-appropriate. At that time JQA was even physically attractive though not of the robust variety of manly appeal. He was a successful statesman, with experience already at the courts of Russia and at the Hague. He'd traveled across Europe, lived in several of the capitals including Paris. He was highly educated, with connections of the best. His prospects in American terms were equal to those of Mr. Darcy's station: President Washington himself had named JQ to the Holland post; his father was Washington's Vice President; and before they became engaged, JQ's father became President of the U.S.

What she didn't realize was JQ's temperament was even more difficult than Mr. Darcy's at his worst.  JQ even seems to balked at the final stage of actually marrying.  It took a bit of travel and encouragement from Louisa and her father -- following him to the Hague after a year's engagement -- to get him up to the altar.  As well, Mr. Johnson offered a financial settlement for Louisa. They married, and within days, Mr. Johnson's business collapsed, he went bankrupt and fled with the rest of his family back to America.  JQA was left holding the bag, sans marriage settlement, and with his father-in-law's creditors demanding payment from him. Then, his assignment to the Portuguese ministry in Lisbon got changed to Berlin -- after they'd shipped their household goods at considerable expense, leaving them waiting for the next installment of JQA's salary before they could even leave London. This was a terrible way for a young woman to begin her marriage, already at disadvantage.

At least Darcy knew Elizabeth Bennet had no financial prospects and a financially feckless father before they married.

However, though JQA seemed not to know it at the time, and seems never to have acknowledged it to her at least overtly, he married the perfect woman for the ambitions that burned in him his life through.  It may well have been a different thing for her.

Have only gotten through the historical background, maybe. But now the right hand, arm and elbow are ordering, "No more!"

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