Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Petticoat Affair - John F. Marszalek

You know how I mentioned in my review of The Queen Jade that I like stumbling on books through serendipitous library catalog searches? This book was one of those searches - it came up in the results when I searched for Manners & Mutiny since its subtitle is "Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson's White House" and I felt like that was a sign that I should read it. So I did!

I have to say I'm not sure about the "sex" part of the subtitle - I guess that was to grab potential readers' attention, since there doesn't seem to have been much sex in the White House at this time (Jackson was a widower, but then again, who knows, right?). Rather, this book focuses on the scandal centering around Margaret Eaton, a friend of Jackson's who was shunned by proper Washington society because she had the nerve to be herself and not conform to the behavioral expectations women were held to in this period in time. To be fair, she was apparently quite a beauty, and there were nasty rumors that circulated about her alleged promiscuity, but these sound like the work of jealous fabulists and unsuccessful suitors' sour grapes to modern ears. Jackson decided that Eaton's shunning was a conspiracy perpetrated by his political enemies, and he took action, which caused a ruckus. It's quite a tale!

This well researched book was an interesting trip into a part of history that I know little about. It confirmed for me that politics has always been a dirty game full of dirty tricks, nastiness, and lies. It also confirmed for me that women can be worse about enforcing their supposed societal roles than men are. Despite our bizarre current political environment in the U.S., I'm thankful to be living in this era rather than the early 1800s - at least I can vote now! And I don't have to have visiting cards.

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