A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life
Houghton Mifflin, Hardcover, 9780618873852, 318pp.
Publication Date: February 8, 2012
The hidden story of one of the most fascinating women of the Gilded Age
Clover Adams, a fiercely intelligent Boston Brahmin, married at twenty-eight the soon-to-be-eminent American historian Henry Adams. She thrived in her role as an intimate of power brokers in Gilded Age Washington, where she was admired for her wit and taste by such luminaries as Henry James, H. H. Richardson, and General William Tecumseh Sherman. Clover so clearly possessed, as one friend wrote, all she wanted, all this world could give.
Yet at the center of her story is a haunting mystery. Why did Clover, having begun in the spring of 1883 to capture her world vividly through photography, end her life less than three years later by drinking a chemical developer she used in the darkroom? The key to the mystery lies, as Natalie Dykstra's searching account makes clear, in Clover's photographs themselves.
The aftermath of Clover's death is equally compelling. Dykstra probes Clover's enduring reputation as a woman betrayed. And, most movingly, she untangles the complex, poignant and universal truths of her shining and impossible marriage.
"Natalie Dykstra writes of Clover Adams' striking photographs that they 'defeat distances between people and make time stand still.' Dykstra's biography achieves the same remarkable feat, bringing us close to an inspiring if ultimately tragic life, a celebrated marriage gone awry, a vanished world of privilege where the universally costly emotions of love, loss, and envy nevertheless hold sway. 'I spare you the inside view of my heart,' Clover Adams once wrote to her beloved father; Natalie Dykstra spares nothing in this eloquent and powerfully sympathetic portrait of the artist as a lady, a haunting hymn to women's ways of seeing."
—Megan Marshall, author of The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism
"What happened to Clover Adams broke Henry Adams’ heart. And, in Natalie Dykstra’s splendid retelling, it will break yours. This is a moving book, deeply researched, fast-paced, and profoundly engaging. It is not easy to write a book the family for so long did not want written. Natalie Dykstra has succeeded in doing so, and she has returned Clover Adams to us as a living figure."
—Robert D. Richardson, author of Emerson: The Mind on Fire and William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism
"Dykstra’s contextually rich and psychologically discerning portrait of an underappreciated luminary is enlightening and affecting."
—Booklist "This compelling narrative reads as well as any page-turning novel. Highly recommended for anyone interested in women's studies, 19th-century American history, or well-written biographies."
—Library Journal "In a beautifully written and immensely satisfying new biography . . . what emerges is a clear and nuanced image of Clover that makes previous accounts seem as vague and shadowy as photographic negatives . . . Dykstra has done the legacy of Clover Hooper--and the modern reader--a great service."
"In this substantial biography, Dykstra sheds light on Clover's remarkable life and … manages to re-create a compelling story. With empathy and compassion, she gives voice to a woman nearly written out of existence."
—Publishers Weekly "Reveals a complex woman grappling with betrayal, loss and her era's discomfort with female ambition. A startling, original portrait of a woman in a shining cage discovering the terrible strength of its bars." -- People Magazine (3 1/2 out of 4 stars) "Dykstra is the first to give Clover's artistry its full due." -- Wall Street Journal "Dykstra admires Clover's photographs, which she gracefully describes ... in them she finds the living Clover [who] was able to transform her feelings of loss and isolation into art." -- New York Times Book Review
"Tautly conceived and concisely written . . . What Dykstra brings to a fuller understanding of Clover’s plight is a fresh and generous response to her work as a photographer. . . . Perhaps, like Virginia Woolf’s artist Lily Briscoe, Clover Adams had her vision after all." -- New York Review of Books