Mr. Jefferson's Women
Author: Jon Kukla
From the acclaimed author of A Wilderness So Immense comes a pioneering study of Thomas Jefferson's relationships with women, both personal and political.
The author of the Declaration of Independence, who wrote the words “all men are created equal,” was surprisingly uncomfortable with woman. In eight chapters, Kukla examines the evidence for the founding father's youthful misogyny, beginning with his awkward courtship of Rebecca Burwell, who declined Jefferson's marriage proposal, and his unwelcome advances toward the wife of a boyhood friend. Subsequent chapters describe his decade-long marriage to Martha Wayles Skelton, his flirtation with Maria Cosway, and the still controversial relationship with Sally Hemings. A riveting study of a complex man, Mr. Jefferson's Women is sure to spark debate.
This highly insightful study by Kukla (A Wilderness So Immense), director of the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation, investigates Thomas Jefferson's relationships with women, from Elizabeth Moore Walker, the married neighbor with whom Jefferson may have had an affair, to Sally Hemings, the slave whose children he purportedly fathered. One of the most fascinating chapters examines the young Jefferson's failed attempts to woo a classmate's sister, Rebecca Burwell, whose rejection of his marriage proposal may have incited the misogyny found throughout his writings. Perhaps the least satisfying section studies Jefferson's relationship with his wife, Martha: since Jefferson destroyed their private correspondence after she died, Kukla's re-creation of their relationship is necessarily sketchy. The conclusion moves to a larger argument concerning Jefferson's thinking about women as citizens. Kukla shows that Jefferson was much less open to women's political participation and education than were contemporary Enlightenment thinkers, and his "definition of America as a white male polity" was "rooted in his personal discomfort with women." This is one of the most discerning and provocative studies of Jefferson in years. B&w illus., map. (Oct. 12)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Thomas J. Schaeper - Library Journal
It is hard to dislike a book that, like this one, starts off with a discussion of how J. Peterman Company shirts are related to Thomas Jefferson. Kukla (director, Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation; A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America) not only knows his subject well but writes in a fluid and sparkling style. His basic thesis is that Thomas Jefferson grew increasingly uncomfortable with women as he aged, becoming misogynistic and predatory. Three of the four women to whom he made early romantic advances turned him down, and the fourth (his wife) hurt him by dying. Thereafter Jefferson was on his guard, not wanting to be wounded again. When he formed a relationship with his slave Sally Hemings he was in a position of power, as he owned her and could not be rejected. Kukla's research is impeccable, and his voluminous notes are a treasure trove. Nonetheless, this reviewer fails to be persuaded by his overly negative interpretation. He reaches too many conclusions based on supposition rather than solid evidence. Sure to spark heated debate, this book is recommended for academic and public libraries.
Enticing, relentlessly driving expose of a Founding Father's private and public misogyny. After a stormy scholarly conference about Thomas Jefferson's long affair with his slave Sally Hemings, Virginia historian Kukla (A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America, 2003, etc) looked for a book about Jefferson's relations with women in general, assuming that it already existed. Instead, he ended up writing it, and his conclusions are dismaying. Kukla asserts that after belle Rebecca Burwell rejected his proposal when he was 20, Jefferson demonstrated throughout his adult life predatory urges toward women, a fear of disruptive female influences (exacerbated by the alarming conduct of women during the French Revolution) and a distasteful endorsement of the master-slave model for male-female relations. Despite his friendship with Abigail ("Remember the Ladies") Adams, Jefferson remained adamant about excluding women from the liberties of the new American republic. He needed to control the women in his life, Kukla argues. Before his happy 11-year marriage to the widow Martha Wayles Skelton in 1772, the young lawyer repeatedly attempted to seduce Elizabeth Walker, the wife of his best friend. Marriage to Martha, the perfect domestic partner, solidified Jefferson's patriarchal ideal of gender roles. Marooned at her death, he later futilely flirted with a married Englishwoman in Paris and back home in Monticello took up for the rest of his life with the much younger, attractive and light-skinned Hemings, who was actually the half-sister of his dead wife. Their six children were emancipated in his will, although he never mentions Hemings by name. Closing with a grimlitany of his subject's consistent opposition to "any departure from an exclusively domestic role as republican wives and mothers," Kukla concludes that "Jefferson's personal aversion to and fear of women in public life shaped American laws and traditions in ways that echo into the twenty-first century."Necessary reading-but an awful revelation of a great man's failings. First printing of 40,000
Author: Czeslaw Milosz
The best known prose work by the winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature examines the moral and intellectual conflicts faced by men and women living under totalitarianism of the left or right.
What People Are Saying
A faultlessly perceptive analysis of the moral and historical dilemma we all face...as timely today as when it was first written.