Louisa Catherine’s long years of living in the shadow of her husband’s career choices and of the Adams dynasty diminished her own image. Thomas rescues her subject by giving Louisa Catherine her own voice, but also by making this a love story. John Quincy thrived best with the support of Louisa Catherine. Given the harsh gender conventions of her era, she carved out a space where she shone as a wife, as a mother, a diplomatic consort, but also as an author of letters, poetry, translations and memoir. The nobody was a hero.
At times it feels too interior. More historical context and outside perspectives — contemporary observations and comparisons with contemporaries — would help readers see Louisa as others saw her and place her in the broader world that helped define her ... for Louisa Adams, feelings, questions and doubt formed the core dynamic of her life, and Louisa admirably captures that murky mental landscape. In doing so, it fulfills one of her innermost goals: It shows her to be a woman who was.
Louisa’s development as a writer is one of the book’s quieter but most compelling story lines. Bolstered by a largely epistolary courtship with John Quincy, and then the necessity of letter writing as a way to maintain contact with a family from whom she was often separated, Louisa moves over time from a shy and intellectually uncertain writer to a confident and prolific wordsmith ... There are thrilling passages to read in Louisa, such as those describing her journey by carriage from St. Petersburg to Paris to reconnect with her husband, who’d moved on ahead of her.