Sunday, January 2, 2011

G.J. Barker-Benfield's "Abigail and John Adams"

G.J. Barker-Benfield is professor of history at the State University of New York, Albany. He is the author of The Horrors of the Half-Known Life: Male Attitudes toward Women in Nineteenth-Century America and The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Abigail and John Adams: The Americanization of Sensibility, and reported the following:
Page 99 does represent ways in which my Abigail and John Adams differs from other books on the Adamses, most recently by Joseph Ellis. In fact, it is not a biographical study at all, rather a trip with these two articulate people along with their children and friends, into eighteenth-century American culture.

This page quotes a letter from John to Abigail in which he describes how different kinds of men spoke to each other about sex, and what he thought about that. In this letter John also expresses his view about what women thought about men and sex, before engaging his young wife in sexual wordplay. Finally, it links all this to the culture of sensibility, and shows how sensibility, while associated with modesty, was charged with sexual potentials.
Learn more about Abigail and John Adams at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue