I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in history, or love.
I had not intended to read “Abigail And John, Portrait Of A Marriage” by Edith Gelles. I have a long list of books on my ‘to read pile’, and this was not one of them. But I am so pleased that I stumbled onto this book, because once I started turning the pages I became immersed in the lives of Abigail and John in a way that no other book has allowed me before.
The book uses the personal letters between these two lovers, best friends, and critical players of the creation of America in such a way that the reader feels as if they sit in the Braintree home as Abigail pens a letter. The reader feels the stings and blows that John encounters when he is in Philadelphia as he writes to his wife back in Massachusetts. There is no way not to feel the loss when Abigail sits at their home knowing John is nearby in Boston about to board a ship to take him away to France for a very long time.
As the story of these two develop one is allowed into the hopes and dreams they have for the future. The unstated truth all through the book is of course they have no way of knowing how it all will play out. Ships sink in storms, women die in childbirth, revolutionaries can be hung. We have the ability of history to sit back and enjoy the journey. In this grand read Abigail and John are central characters to series of events that very well could have had a dreadful ending.
The intimacy and poignancy of the letters are still breathtaking after these couple of centuries since they were written. The skill of the pen and fluid nature of their conversations makes the reader aware of the powerful minds and intellects that allowed this nation to be created. There is no doubt that without a willful woman named Abigail there could not have been the self-assured and forward thinking John. The two were a team. As the book proceeds it is amazing to see the maturity of Abigail take hold. Her views on women’s rights, slavery, and her own sense of self is shaped by the lonely times while John is away. She is even able to convey her displeasure at the loss of his tender words to her while he is stretched to the limits in the Continental Congress. The ability to hone thoughts on paper to her beloved are a result of the solitude she feels without him at her side. She comes across in this book as one we would all love to have over for a long dinner, and spirited conversation.
I stumbled upon the book at the library, and after looking at it for a few minutes became intrigued with its premise. The entire scope of their lives set against the tumultuous tide of events that helped create a nation are made more personal by the many wonderful letters that they wrote to each other. The words that are penned allowed for them to take account of each other during their long and difficult periods away from each other. While I have read other books about John Adams, and long sections of their letters, no book has matched this one for a soulful look at the content of these writings. This is a story about two people in love with each other, and a new country where freedom might take root.
I must say that every now and then while reading this book I thought of my sister, Ginger. Had my sister been a child of Abigail and John the famed letters would never have surfaced. Our sense of history would be greatly diminished without these personal letters. While Abigail and John allow for a window of understanding through these letters my sister would surely see within this wonderful book only a fearful lack of privacy. How sad and limiting to have her perspective.
I am grateful that Abigail and John left us these letters. I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in history, or love.