Maurizio Valsania, Jefferson’s Body: A Corporeal Biography
University of Virginia Press, 2017.
265 pages, endnotes, bibliography, index.
After reading about Thomas Jefferson for over thirty years, I was beginning to wonder if anything new could be said about the man from Monticello. That query has been answered in the affirmative by University of Torino, Italy, Professor Maurizio Valsania, who gives us an earthy and unique biography of Jefferson focused on his body.
Valsania’s fascinating work is an interdisciplinary study which borrows from physical and cultural anthropology, anatomy and psychology, which measures Jefferson’s corporality as a way of understanding his life. Broken into two main parts: the self and the other, the author examines how Jefferson was constructed, biologically, and how he constructed himself before moving on to consider how the sage of Monticello used these to make sense of the other – most notably Native Americans, African Americans and women.
In Valsania’s book we find a “mild, harmonious, flexible, engaging, maybe also “feminine” [man;]…Jefferson had an unconventional corporeality.”[i] Described as refined, retiring, soft and mild mannered, Jefferson exhibited a natural simplicity. But, as Valsania explained, “Jefferson, like many others who sought to perform “simplicity,” relied heavily on the worship of naturalness. Impossible to hide is the fact that “natural” in the period could simultaneously mean something good and something bad; nature had to be emulated and defeated as the same time.”[ii] Continue reading “Seeing Jefferson Anew: A Review of Jefferson’s Body: A Corporeal Biography, by Maurizio Valsania”