Themes

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 368

The subtitle of this book, "A Novel of Dolley Madison in Love and War" indicates several of the major themes treated in Brown in this work. The theme of history and the importance of writing history are strong concerns throughout, and dictate not only the factual framework of the novel,...

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The subtitle of this book, "A Novel of Dolley Madison in Love and War" indicates several of the major themes treated in Brown in this work. The theme of history and the importance of writing history are strong concerns throughout, and dictate not only the factual framework of the novel, but also its form. The historian in this text is a woman — much of the historical background comes from the entries in Dolley's imagined journal — and a woman unique in her time who has almost unlimited access to the public and private sphere. The theme of marriage is once again explored here, but this time the portrait is a touching one. On the surface the Madisons' marriage is a partnership of a woman devoted to her husband and the causes for which he is fighting, and a hardworking politician fighting to keep the integrity of his country, with little time for family matters. Yet underneath this facade (of which Dolley prudently recognizes the value), there is a relationship of deep love, mutual respect, tolerance and understanding. The only romantic intrigue seen in this novel stems from the rather dubious liaisons of political figures with the Madisons' maid, which gives rise to public tattle that Dolley is having affairs with various prominent ministers and cabinet members, as there are various nocturnal comings and goings in the president's mansion.

A familiar theme in Brown's contemporary fiction is that of being a woman in a man's world, a theme that is perhaps played out the most effectively in Dolley. Behind Dolley's social facade of a devoted wife and mother, brilliant hostess and meticulously dressed ornament, lurks a razor-sharp mind full of political savvy. What is interesting, though, is that unlike Brown's other female heroines, Dolley keeps this side of herself firmly under wraps, and we are constantly reminded that Dolley's great attribute is knowing the value of keeping silent. In private she is Madison's most trusted confidante and advisor, both on the personal and political levels, and had actually replaced the president's secretary when he fell ill. It is perhaps to Brown's credit that she restrains herself from offering any kind of commentary, feminist or otherwise, on this state of affairs.

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