Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in potus_geeks,
Kenneth
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potus_geeks

Potus Geeks Book Review: Becoming Lady Washington by Bette Bolté

While her famous husband was off leading a revolution and becoming the father of his country, the former Martha Dandridge led a pretty interesting life herself, providing a different form of leadership from that of her famous spouse. In Becoming Lady Washington: A Novel, author Betty Bolté inhabits the body and mind of her subject, giving strong voice to the first First Lady, more than two centuries after her passing. Bolté writes exceptionally well in this well-researched narrative of Martha Washington, telling the reader, in the first person, of her subject's amazing but challenging life. The author uses poetic license sparingly, imagining what might have happened to lead to certain pivotal events in the life of her subject, but doing so in a manner that remains well within the realm of the plausible.

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The book opens in 1802 as an aging Martha Washington is burning some of her correspondence with her famous husband for fear of misuse of their contents by those wanting to distort or sensationalize, as she looks back on her eventful life, beginning with meeting her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis in 1746 at a ball celebrating the King's birthday. The author recounts her subject's life, as if the reader was sitting down with Mrs. Washington, and listening to her first hand reminiscences. Bolté is especially gifted and talented in capturing the proper sense of empathy for her subject, enabling the reader to feel what it must have been like living in an age of high infant mortality, prevalence of infectious disease, lack of knowledge in medical care, tedious and sometimes dangerous travel, and of living in a time of fear of war against a superior foe. She also excels in capturing her subject's contemporary paternalistic views on slavery, the belief on the part of slaveholders that they acted with benevolence, views which clash with our modern moral understanding of just how outrageously wrong the "peculiar institution" was.

Bolté also captures the Washington's stiff sense of propriety and of keeping up appearances, along with the genuine affection between the couple that existed, as well as how the Washington's home of Mount Vernon was a social epicenter of their lives, even though duty called George Washington away from it for so much of his life.

Though a work of fiction, this book should not be dismissed as merely that by those with an interest in the history of the times. It is well-researched, and its speculation of some events and reconstruction of conversations are consistent with available historical records, even to the point where the author has been diligent in her study of contemporary vocabulary. Attention to detail, good writing and brilliant emotional intelligence about her characters, coupled with the ability to convey those emotions to the reader so well, combine to make for an enjoyable reading experience.
Tags: book review, first ladies, george washington
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