Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Queen of America: Mary Cutts's Life of Dolley Madison

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Queen of America: Mary Cutts's Life of Dolley Madison

Article excerpt

The Queen of America: Mary Cutts's Life of Dolley Madison. Edited by Catherine Allgor. Foreword by Cokie Roberts. Jeffersonian America. (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2012. Pp. [xx], 218. $29.50, ISBN 978-0-8139-3298-9.)

Framed as a project of "historical detection," Catherine Allgor's edition of Mary Cutts's Life of Dolley Madison, the first and yet unpublished (until now) biography of the illustrious woman, does not disappoint (p. 2). Along with her co-contributors Holly Cowan Shulman and Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, Allgor, who wrote a well-received biography of Madison, proves an astute and sympathetic guide to Cutts's memoir. At its best, the volume serves as a meditation on historiography, particularly of women's/gender history, with musings on evidence, perspective, voice, and truth. Read both as a carefully produced and selective cultural narrative and, in conjunction with other research, as social history, the work of Madison's beloved niece conceals as much as it reveals and is revealing in what it cloaks. Allgor helps readers pay attention not only to what Cutts said and how she said it, but also to what she did not say.

Divided into two sections, the book contains an introduction and three scholarly essays that create "Contexts," and two manuscripts and a few letters that make up the "Texts" portion. Allgor's opening essay, "The Lady Vanishes: Mary Estelle Elizabeth Cutts's Memoir of Dolley Payne Todd Madison," neatly dissects Cutts's memoir, which wrestles throughout with the problem of how to render Dolley Madison historically significant--in mid-nineteenth-century terms, a so-called player in masculine realms--without compromising her genteel womanhood. Such balance was no small feat in the 1850s, perhaps more challenging than in Madison's own time. Allgor shows how Cutts spun and even misstated certain elements of her aunt's biography in order to preserve class and gender propriety, glossing over the reason for her birth in North Carolina, her departure from Quakerism, and even her renowned charm and notably high taste in dress. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.