Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Edith B. Gelles

A large audience came to Kepler's to see author Edith B. Gelles discuss her book, Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage. Event host Marilyn Stoddard reports:

The author has spent 30 years studying Abigail Adams. When she got into the correspondence between Abigail and John, it was love at first letter. They were married for 54 years. They were apart for 8 years in the middle and were able to pick up again without missing a beat - aided by their voluminous correspondence (the letters contain a mixture of comments on major events, family matters, and wishes to be together). Gelles quoted a fellow scholar who defines love as generosity. It seems that the Adamses had a spirit of generosity toward each other. They also had parity, a religious compulsion to serve and strive to be good people, tolerance (they gave each other space and tolerated changes and growth in the other), playfulness and humor (they communicated serious topics in a light way.) Gelles found reading their letters to be a delight. She read them on microfilm. They are available online now. Abigail was proud to be a woman and thought women were equal in their sphere. She educated herself while John was gone, making use of his library. She had many difficult experiences and grew from them. She did not put on airs. She was consistent in her views: she felt firmly that women needed respect, she was liberal in her politics, and anti-slavery. One of the things that Gelles likes best about John is his transparency. He wore his heart on his sleeve. (He was not much discussed until McCullough's book, which Gelles feels got John pitch perfect.) John was brilliant; his mind was always working (he would conduct inner dialogues with himself, the other founders, or classical writers.) He was courageous: he defended the British in a contentious case; he crossed the ocean two times in winter. He had wit; he is funny to read. He loved and hated hugely. He was not popular in his time. He clashed with Jefferson who did not want a strong central government. They reconciled in their old age. One scholar said that Adams loved Jefferson, while Jefferson merely liked Adams. An audience member suggested that President Obama read the book. Gelles sees a playfulness and pragmatism in the Obamas that is like the Adamses.


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