Tuesday, December 8, 2015
December 8, 2015: Circles of Friends: Five of Hearts
[December 12th will mark the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth, and since Sinatra was as well-known for his famous group of friends as for his individual achievements, I wanted to spend the week AmericanStudying such circles of friends. Leading up to a special weekend post on the Rat Pack!]
Three books that together help illuminate an intimate and influential late 19th century circle of friends.
1) The Five of Hearts: An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams & His Friends, 1880-1918: Patricia O’Toole’s group biography of Adams, his wife Marian (known as “Clover”), John and Clara Hay, and Clarence King—the extremely close-knit group who called themselves the Five of Hearts—is without question the place to start in seeking this understand the individual and collective identities, and historical and social influences, of this Gilded Age quintet. And since Henry and John first met during the Civil War, when both worked as private secretaries in the Lincoln administration, this is truly a story that spans much of American society and life in the half-century between that war and the early 20th century.
2) Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: I blogged at length in that hyperlinked post about my New England American Studies Association colleague and friend Natalie Dykstra’s wonderful investigative biography of Clover Adams. Since Henry Adams remained virtually silent about Clover after her 1885 suicide, an event that (as O’Toole’s subtitle indicates) took place relatively early in the history of this group of friends, Clover is without question the most mysterious of the five friends—making Dykstra’s work both a vital complement to O’Toole’s book and an important addition to our understanding of women’s lives and experiences in the Gilded Age.
3) Empire: The fourth book (in the series’ historical chronology; it was published fifth) of Gore Vidal’s American Chronicle is neither the most famous book in the series (that’d be Lincoln) nor the best (that’d be Burr). But among the many aspects of America at the turn of the 20th century that Vidal illuminates with his usual clarity, wit, and subtle emotion is the continuing role that Adams and Hay play in affairs of state in that moment—and thus the enduring importance of this group of friends in helping shape America’s identity and future throughout the Gilded Age. Indeed, as Secretary of State under both McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt, Hay became one of the most pivotal figures in the transition from the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era, from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. That pivotal role, and the friends who contributed to it, are nicely portrayed in Vidal’s book, adding one more layer to the picture of this intimate community painted by all three of these texts and authors.
Next friend circle tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?