The Education of Henry Adams Essay - Critical Essays

Henry Brooks Adams

Analysis

The Education of Henry Adams is both less and more than a conventional autobiography. The author tells little either of his professional work as one of the United States’ greatest historians or of his personal life and private affairs, omissions that are as significant as anything that the book includes for understanding Adams’ intensely private character. He omits any mention of the twenty years between 1871 and 1891, the period when he taught at Harvard and wrote two successful novels in addition to his most ambitious work, the nine-volume History of the United States of America (18891891), which covered the administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. More important, this was also the time of his twelve-year marriage. The marriage was outwardly, at least, happy and successful. Yet the Adamses were childless, Marian Adams was given to severe periods of depression, and in 1885, shortly after the death of her father, she committed suicide. Devastated by his wife’s death, Adams was barely able to speak of it, even to close friends, for the rest of his life.

The omissions are compensated for, however, by Adams’ intimate account of his own intellectual development and by his lively discussions of the main political and intellectual trends of the middle and late nineteenth century. Although he is not very interested in portraying personalities, Adams does provide vivid impressions of some of his important contemporaries—artists, writers, and scientists as well as politicians.

Although he had careers as a teacher, novelist, and historian that most...

(The entire section is 658 words.)