Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Leader by Destiny: George Washington, Man and Patriot, by Jeanette Eaton

Jeanette Eaton, I knew that name seemed familiar.  I did find, however, that I had more affection for this book about George Washington than about her previous biography of Madame Roland.  I have to admit that I don't know very much about Washington.  I'm sure he was covered somewhere over the course of my public school education, but in my mind he is a sort of eternal adult who was just dropped, fully formed, where he was needed in the American Revolution.

Because this book, like Daughter of the Seine, is nonfiction somewhat novelized, much of the historical circumstance is explained in (fictionalized) dialogue.  This also serves the purpose of introducing notable figures of the day and making known their perspective on the situation at hand.

As a modern reader, I suppose I'm somewhat accustomed to sensational headlines and stories, because I wanted to know a bit more about what the Washingtons were experiencing on a personal level.  For example, when Martha's daughter dies, the book scarcely addresses it and then it's over.  I quote:

One June morning, the sweet air floating through the stately house was stabbed by a terrible cry from Martha.  Reaching her side in an instant, George lifted in his strong arms the limp body of Patty, which had fallen to the floor.  Her mother, trying to chafe the small, dangling, hand, was sobbing, 'She is dead!  My Patty is dead!  Oh, my sweet innocent!' The moment he laid his hand on the girl's heart, George knew the end had come.

The book had previously mentioned that Patty suffered from epileptic seizures, but I had to look this event up on Wikipedia to even realize that that was the case here.  I wanted to know more about who Patty was once the book had dispatched with her!

It must be difficult to fill in the blanks where no written records exist, I understand, but that didn't stop the author from imagining all sorts of interesting subtext in the relationship between George Washington and (Mrs.) Sally Fairfax.  Although some of his letters suggest that he was in love with her, this book is loaded with meaningful glances and romantic tension between the two of them.  After a while it made me a little uncomfortable.  As did the dialect used by the slaves in the rare instances that they had any dialogue.  I always feel a bit icky reading it- I never know whether it's simply stereotyped, or if they really spoke that way.  Anyone else wonder this?

In any case, I'm being really really picky about just a few things here, but on the whole this is a very, very thorough volume (at nearly 400 pages it should be!) that impressed me a lot.  And, as Peter Sieruta points out, it doesn't even mention the fabled cherry tree!

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