After reading several books about John Adams, I thought, "You know, John Quincy Adams had a really interesting life-he'd be a great subject for a biography." I never pursued that thought, though--the closest I've gotten is Mrs. Adams in Winter by Michael O'Brien, a book about Adams's wife Louisa, and the journey she made one perilous winter during the Napoleonic wars from Russia, where John Quincy Adams had been a diplomat, to Paris, where he had been assigned to help negotiate the end of the War of 1812.
Even in the nineteenth century, it was recognized that joining the Adams family was a formidable task. Louisa grew up in London, the daughter of a British woman and a rakish American who had a large, cheerful family, quite different from the diffident, rational intellectual Adams's. John Quincy was not a man of much emotion, or looks or style, but still managed to propose to Louisa after a whirlwind courtship. Then he kept on putting off marrying her, mostly because of money concerns that he kept to himself--the start of an ongoing problem--which left Louisa and her family puzzled and embarrassed. Eventually they married, though it seems like Adams was almost forced into it. Nevertheless, they finally did the deed, and Louisa was welcomed into the Adams family. They were never less than helpful and warm to the young bride (especially the sympathetic Abigail), but it always seemed like an awkward fit, based on O'Brien's depiction.
Adams spent most of his life career zigzagging around Europe--Prussia, Russia, France, the Netherlands, Britain--with stops in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., sometimes with Louisa, sometimes without. Their letters to each other were affectionate, but their marriage was more of a partnership than a love match. Adams was brought up to believe his life should be all about service to his nation. He felt more comfortable studying, reading, and writing than socializing, which as a diplomat, he was called to do at a dizzying pace. Louisa was more willing to have some fun in her life, something Adams didn't really get--when she arrived at a party in St. Petersburg with some rouge on her face, as was the fashion, Adams actually pulled her onto his knee and wiped it off her face. Her main focus in life, however, was her children and she was shattered when one of them died. Adams was sad, but not nearly as devastated as Louisa; he was more willing to accept this as part of life and God's plan. His inability to understand her grief seemed to cause a divide between them that was never quite completely bridged. Of course they remained together but at that point, Louisa appears to have had some realization that they were never going to be as close as perhaps she may have hoped. Probably no one could ever be terribly close to Adams (again, I am basing all this off of my reading of [author's name] book).
O'Brien seems to have wanted to turn the focus of the book into a story of Mrs. Adams's friendship with some of the more memorable women of the day, including those she stopped to visit on her way to Paris. I felt like he wanted to make it a book "about women and women's lives in an age of men" or how upper class women had their own vibrant, close society during an era when they had little power in the world at large. This felt a little weird to me, like an attempt to say something larger and more important and definitive when in reality, Mrs. Adams's life and the specifics of her journey--about post houses, carriages, etc.--is interesting enough on their own for this very readable book. I may be wrong, but I felt a little bit of an earnestness and a desire to instruct in the tone of the book sometimes, and while that isn't necessarily bad, or a dealbreaker when it comes to reading, it made me feel more like sighing or rolling my eyes a bit than nodding and appreciative. It's still a fine book, though--the beginning is livelier than the end, but I'd still recommend it, especially for people curious about travel in the early 19th century (and I love 19th c. transportation history!).