Mount Vernon Love Story

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Today was supposed to be Suggestion Sunday, and I was going to read a book that my mother had chosen, but I decided instead to read a book in honor of George Washington's Birthday. I'm going to read the book I would have read for Suggestion Sunday tomorrow. So tomorrow will be Mother Monday.

I was really excited about reading today's book, because I've actually been to Mount Vernon. I love museums, especially historic house museums, and I think Mount Vernon was one of my favorites.

Today's book: "Originally published in 1969 under the title Aspire to the Heavens, this slim, muted historical romance is the long-out-of-print debut by America's reigning queen of suspense. As the quasi-biographical novel opens, George Washington is preparing to attend the inauguration of his successor, John Adams; Clark, employing inelegant but efficient transitional techniques (Adams's "rather flat nasal voice seemed to become more clipped and sharp-toned.... It became his mother's voice"), quickly moves the narrative back to George's boyhood. The temporal seesaw continues as she juxtaposes George's trials (his mean mother, his unrequited love for a friend's wife) and triumphs (his land acquisitions, his bravery in battle) with his reflections on the state of the union in the novel's 1797 present. But her focus remains on the domestic (a French and Indian ambush at the Monongahela River in 1755 is rendered with far less care and credibility than scenes of George's skill on the dance floor) and the emotional (George's "mantle of leadership" concerns him much less than the naughtiness of his stepson). What passes for a driving narrative force is George's slow transfer of affection from the beautiful, charismatic Sally Carey to the small, "pretty widow" Martha (known as Patsy) Custis he married, and then the growing bond between "my old man" and "my dearest Patsy."

I opened the book to the introduction and here was the first thing I saw, "Dear Reader. . . " I love books that start that way - I feel like I'm instantly drawn into a conversation with an old friend.

Here are two fun articles about how Martha Washington was better looking than most people assume:

Random, useless facts I learned from this book:

George Washington's step-son Jacky was a brat - there's just no way to soften it. All throughout this book I found myself saying under my breath, "Someone needs to take away every toy that kid owns and send him to his room for about a year." There has been some disagreement among historians (and dorky people who like to sit around and argue about the lives of Presidents) as to whether George truly loved Martha, or if he just married her for her money. After reading about how unruly Martha's son was, I think he married her for love, because there's no amount of money in the world that would be worth putting up with a kid who behaves that badly (or maybe that's just me). What do you think dear readers - would you be willing to put up with a bratty kid for 15 or 20 years in exchange for large sums of money?

Before he met Martha (and perhaps even for awhile afterwards) George was in love with his friend's wife - and Martha was married to someone else when George first met, and began to fall in love with, her. How very Melrose Place. People who think history is boring are really missing the boat - some of the stories they would read about while exploring the past rival anything you might see on The Young and the Restless.

George and Martha never had any children together. - It's absolutely ridiculous that I just learned that considering I read a book just last week about First Families. So you see dear readers, when I told you I have a bad memory, I wasn't kidding. Perhaps it might be time to start supplementing my diet with some ginkgo (which is commonly misspelled as gingko).