Clover Adams


257 pages
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A biography of one of the Gilded Age’s most fascinating and mysterious society women that “reads as well as any page-turning novel” (Library Journal).
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 to 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 Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. Clover was 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. For more information, visit



Publié par
Ajouté le 08 février 2012
Nombre de lectures 3
EAN13 9780547607900
Langue English
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Title Page Contents Copyright Dedication Epigraph Prologue
A N e w W o r I d “She Was Home to Me” The Hup of the Universe Clover’s War Six Years Henry Adams Down the Nile
P h o t o s 1
“ V e r y M u c h T o g e t h e r ” A Place in the World City of Conversation Wandering Americans Intimates Gone “Recesses of Her Own Heart” The Sixth Heart
C I o v e r ’ s C a m e r a Something New At Sea Esther Iron Bars A New Home Portraits
P h o t o s 2
M y s t e r i e s o f t h e H e a r t Turning Away “Lost in the Woods” A Dark Room “That Bright, Intreid Sirit” “Let Fate Have Its Way” Epilogue The Sturgis-Hooper Family The Adams Family Acknowledgments Sources Notes
Index About the Author
Copyright © 2012 Natalie Dykstra
All rights reserved For information about permission to reproduce selec tions from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.comor to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016. The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edi tion as follows: Dykstra, Natalie. Clover Adams : a gilded and heartbreaking life/Nata lie Dykstra p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-618-87385-2 1. Adams, Marian, 1843–1885. 2. Historians’ spouses —United States—Biography. 3. Adams, Henry, 1838–1918. 4. Women photographers—Uni ted States—Biography. I. Title. CT275.A34D95 2012 770.92—dc23 [B] 2011028562 Cover design by Patrick Barry Cover painting: © Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY eISBN 978-0-547-60790-0 v3.0116
In memory of Harriett M. Dykstra, 1930–2005
The moral is to make all one can out of life and li ve up to one’s fingers’ ends. —CLOVER ADAMS, JANUARY 1, 1882
All forms of decay knock at our gate and summon us to go out into their wilderness, and yet every ideal w e dream of is realized in the same life of which thes e things are part. —WILLIAM JAMES TO ELLEN HOOPER, OLDEST NIECE OF CLOVER ADAMS, MAY 10, 1901
Tts of Washington,HE ADTDMN OF 1883 was notably beautiful. Trees lining the stree d.C., seeme to hol on to their leaves, an as the season eepene, roses an morning glories efie cooler temperatures, refusin g to give up their last blooms. That fall Clover Aams celebrate her fortieth birthay. Her husban, Henry Aams, the historian an a granson an great-granson of American presients, ha just finishe writing his secon novel,Asther, an was again busy at his esk, poring over page proofs for the first section of what woul become h is nine-volumeHistory of the United States During the Ādministrations of Thomas Jeffers on and James Madison.Most mornings, Clover roe her favorite horse, daisy, th rough the streets of the capital to enjoy what she calle the “smiling lanscape,” retu rning home to 1607 H Street with flowers for bouquets. Their home face south to Lafayette Square, with a view of the White House in the backgroun. The Square, also cal le the Presient’s Park, offere a shay retreat from southern heat, a place to stroll through elliptical garens on crisscrossing pathways lit by the yellowish glow of gaslight. At the park’s center a towering bronze of Anrew Jackson reare up on hors eback. Senators, vice presients, cabinet secretaries, an military leaers occupie the stately feeral-style homes that ringe the park. Three years before, Clover an Henry ha signe a lease for two hunre ollars a month for what they nickname the “little white hou se,” asking its owner, William Corcoran, the banker, art collector, an philanthro pist, to pay for renovations, incluing a bran-new stable an a large etache kitchen in back. Clover consiere it a “soli ol pile.” With six berooms an a spacious library , the townhouse, built in 1845, was “little” only in comparison to the capital’s grane r homes, but it suite Clover’s preference for what she calle “coziness in the New Englan sense.” Han-carve mantels crowne fireplaces ecorate with ceramic tiles. Carpets purchase on the Aamses’ honeymoon to Egypt in 1872 covere the flo ors. An eclectic mix of Asian bronzes an porcelains were set on tables an shelv es, an art, incluing Japanese hanging scrolls, sepia rawings by Rubens an Rembrant, an watercolor lanscapes by the English Romantics, aorne the walls. Elizab eth Bliss Bancroft, a near neighbor on H Street, once sai to Clover, “My ear, I islike auctions very much, but I mean to go to yours after you ie.” Clover an Henry ha marrie eleven years before, w hen she was twenty-eight an he was thirty-three, joining Hooper wealth to Aams political renown. In the close quarters of Boston Brahmin society, where they ha both grown up, they were a likely— if not inevitable—match. If Clover coul be an “un emonstrative New Englaner,” as she herself amitte, her practicality an quick wi t tempere Henry’s sometimes anxious nature. Together they enjoye ays of simul taneous fullness an leisure: a horseback rie in the morning, afternoons set asie for Henry’s writing, tea promptly at five o’clock for visitors, then inner an an eveni ng’s rie or a long stretch of reaing by the fireplace. They collecte art, travele, gossip e about politics, supporte various causes, an attene inners an galas, which urin g the high time of the social season, from mi-October until Lent, took up many e venings. Of these years, Henry wrote, “This part of life—from forty to fifty—woul be all I want.” A wie array of writers an artists, politicians an  ignitaries, octors an acaemics mae their way to the Aamses’ salon for foo an talk. Presients an their families mae appearances. Elizabeth Aams knew it was her A unt Clover “who brought people to their house an gave it its character an warmth .” Henry James, who like to stay
with the Aamses for weeks at a time, at one point calle Clover, with her satiric humor, “a perfect Voltaire in petticoats” an thought her an ieal specimen of a particular type of American woman—practical, honest, quick-thinking , with a streak of inepenence an rebellion. She rea wiely—George San, William dean Howells, Henry James— an she took up Greek, tackling Plato an the Greek playwrights in the original language, a passion that never fae. Though Clover sometimes battle ark moos, she was no neurasthenic who took to her be. She us e her acerbic wit to maintain perspective an ha the will to manage things to su it her. Athletic but petite, at five feet two inches in height, an her husban just an inch or so taller, Clover ha the legs of all chairs an sofas shortene to better fit their pers onal proportions. When offere a seat, much taller guests, incluing the six-foot-two Oliv er Wenell Holmes Jr., later a Supreme Court justice, woul precipitously rop onto the low seating. Clover reserve Sunay mornings not for church but for writing a letter—what she calle her “hebomaal rivel”—to her wiowe fathe r. Sometimes she espaire at how her writing faile to express all she wante to say: “Life is such a jumble of impressions just now that I cannot unravel the skei n in practical, quiet fashion. Oh, for the pen of Abigail Aams!” But Clover nee not have been intimiate by her husban’s great-granmother. In fact, her father fo un it har to comply with her request that he not rea her letters alou to family an friens—she tol such interesting stories. In early November of 1883, Clover reporte that “ou r ays go by quietly an pleasantly.” The lively social season ha not yet b egun, though it woul commence in the next month, when Congress returne to session. With no chilren of her own to take care of, with Henry busy at his esk, an with time on her hans, she turne once more to what ha absorbe much of her attention uring the summer. The previous May, she ha starte something new: she ha begun taking an printing her own photographs. She elighte in every step of the pro cess, from selecting a subject, through exposure of the negative, to the final prin t. She ha shown interest in photography before, by collecting Civil War stereog raphs an small commercial photographs of the sights she wante to remember from her Gran Tour through Europe in 1866. She’ spent hours looking at fine a rt in museums aroun the worl, amassing with Henry a large collection of watercolo rs an charcoals, Japanese prints an ceramics. But taking a photograph was ifferent from looking or collecting. With her portable five-by-eight-inch mahogany camera, Clover starte making art, an the process was changing her life. On a warm, winy November afternoon, just after lun ch, she ecie to photograph her belove Skye terriers in the garen behin the townhouse. She rape a be sheet over the back fence an positione three chairs aro un a small ark table, complete with tea set—teapot, three cups an saucers, an a silver spoon. She place each og on a chair, somehow perching their front paws on th e table an getting them to stay in position while she scramble back to her camera. Sh e took only one exposure with her new “instantaneous” lens, which in’t require the extene exposure of the usual rop lens. She mae a careful entry in her small line n otebook where she liste her photographic experiments, giving the etails: “Nov 5—1 P.M.—Boojum, Marquis & Possum at tea in garen of 1607 H. St. instantaneou s,not dropshutter—stop no. 3.” Later, with a ifferent pen an in larger script, s he commente on what she thought of the result: “extremely goo.” That same afternoon, Clover loae her black carria ge with her camera, tripo, several lenses, a notebook, an a carefully packe set of glass negatives calle ry-
plate negatives because they’ been commercially prepare with light-sensitive chemicals. She roe out three miles to Arlington Na tional Cemetery an stoppe at a spot within view of General Robert E. Lee’s former home. The new German minister’s twenty-year-ol wife, Maame von Eisenecker, whom Clover escribe as a young “Pomeranian blone,” tagge along. She ha just com e to America an wante Clover, who was gaining a reputation aroun town for her po rtraits, to take her photograph. The two women arrive at the cemetery in miafternoon, an after setting up her equipment, Clover took two exposures of General Lee’s house on the hill. But by “some crass iiocy,” as she later explaine, Clover ruine the pictures. After the first exposure, she’ forgotten to replace the glass negative at the back of the camera with another unuse negative, something she ha one several times befo re. Such mistakes irritate her. She crosse out the entry in her notebook with a la rge X. But she in’t give up. Late in the afternoon, she took a picture of a haunting lan scape of soliers’ graves set against a backgroun of trees. The tombs of those w ho ie in the Civil War, the cataclysm that ha profounly shape her generation an her own sense of America, rise up like unruly memories among the fallen leave s. The next Sunay Clover wrote to her father that she ’ spent “two goo morning hours to evelop photographs toay,” promising to sen hi m a print or two. The complicate process of making a photograph—exposing the image, eveloping the negative, sensitizing the printing-out paper, making an eve loping the print—require patience an concentration. Koak’s promise (“You take the p icture an we o the rest”) was still five years away. When it came time to put prints in her album, Clover paire the image of her ogs at tea with the one of the Arlington graves, putting each in the exact mile of the page, so when the album was fully opene, th e two images woul be seen at the same time. On the left page, she wrote the ogs’ na mes in the lower right-han corner, beneath the photograph. She typically ientifie he r photographs this way, with a quick escription of who or what was picture, the location, an sometimes the precise ate or just the year. Beneath her image of the soliers ’ graves on the right sie, she wrote a Latin sentence meaning “You sleep in our memory.” In the upper-right corner of the image itself, the only time she woul write irectl y on a photograph, she inclue the last lines from the first act of Goethe’sFaust, the book she ha been reaing alou with Henry in the evening: “Ich gehe urch en Toesschl af / Zu Gott ein als Solat un brav” (I go to Go through the sleep of eath, / A solier—brave to his last breath). If Clover coul be playful an mocking with her pic tures, as with her “ogs at tea” photograph, a sen-up of a social convention she oc casionally foun teious, she coul also evoke saness or an intense feeling of l oss. With her camera, she recore her worl for herself an for others to see, an in less than three years, her collection woul grow to 113 photographs arrange in three re -leather albums. But just when Clover iscovere a powerful way to e xpress herself, her life starte to unravel. What ha been a recurrent unertow of ark moos gathere force until she was engulfe by espair, “pulle own,” in the wor s of a frien, as if by some unseen tie. On a gloomy Sunay morning in early december of 1885, two an a half years after she ha first picke up her camera, Clover co mmitte suicie by rinking from a vial of potassium cyanie, which she ha use to e velop her photographs. The means of her art ha become the means of her eath, a wea pon she use against herself. The most ramatic moment of her life also became its mo st efining, cocooning her memory in the hush-hush of familial shame an confu sion; when she was remembere at all, it was most often as the wife of a famous m an or as a suicie.
Henry commissione the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gau ens to create a bronze statue that woul memorialize Clover. It was not intene to be a realistic image of her; instea Saint-Gauens create a compelling an mysterious figure, rape an seate, which Henry informally calle “The Peace of Go.” It is the only marker for her grave in Washington’s Rock Creek Cemetery an Henry’s only p ublic tribute. He almost never spoke of her an i not even mention her in his Pu litzer Prize–winning autobiography, The Aducation of Henry Ādams.Eleanor Shattuck Whitesie, a frien from school  ays, trie to fin wors to express her confusion at her frien’s suen eath, writing to her own mother that “Clover’s eath has been a great sh ock an surprise to me. I can’t get it out of my hea . . . How often we have spoken of Clover as having all she wante, all this worl coul give . . . It seems to me a kin o f lesson on what a little way intellect an cultivation an the best things of this life go when you come to the heart of life an eath. An yet they are all goo things an the es ire. An that’s the puzzle.” Clover’s life has remaine half-illumine, a reflec tion of how others viewe her but not how she saw herself. But she left behin clues to what her frien calle the “puzzle” of her life an of her eath, clues in her many letters an, most eloquently, in her revelatory photographs, which invite the viewer to stan not on this sie of her suicie, but on the other, the one she live on. Her photographs range from portraits of her family an friens to mooy lanscapes, but in thei r composition an their arrangement in her albums, they always show her istinctive sen sibility, allowing her vision of her worl. Her story begins in Transcenentalist Boston , with a privilege chilhoo shaowe by early losses. It moves on to the story of her iconic American marriage to a complicate, brilliant man who invente the stuy of American history, of their initial happiness, an of their inability, finally, to reac h each other. Connection an isconnection, vitality an loss—these were eep cu rrents in Clover’s life, which she attempte to transform, as artists o, into somethi ng beautiful an something to be share. To know the arc of her whole life, an to look closely at her photographs, is to give her back some measure of her full humanity.