Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In his late sixties, the American historian Henry Brooks Adams wrote The Education of Henry Adams as an exploration of the meaning of his own life. Adams was the great-grandson of one U.S. president (John Adams) and the grandson of another (John Quincy Adams). His father, Charles Francis Adams, was an important figure in antislavery politics and an early leader of the Republican Party in the years before the Civil War. As a child, Adams tells the reader, he simply assumed that one day he himself would be president of the United States. Yet the family attitudes that encouraged that belief also taught him that, as an Adams and a New England aristocrat, he had an obligation to meet the highest standards, both moral and intellectual, in private as well as public life. Almost from the beginning, Adams was troubled by a conflict between ambition and a strong sense of ethical responsibility.

Presented in chapters that are dated and arranged by strict chronology, the book divides into two main parts with a twenty-year gap between them. The first tells of Adams’ childhood, his formal education, and the period up to the age of thirty-three, during which he was searching for a career in public affairs. Having been graduated from Harvard University and having spent two years in Europe, Adams went to England as private secretary to his father, who held the critically important post of U.S. minister to Great Britain throughout the American Civil War....

(The entire section is 475 words.)