Seeing Jefferson Anew: A Review of Jefferson’s Body: A Corporeal Biography, by Maurizio Valsania


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”

BOOK REVIEW – Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson


ERW Book Reviews (1)Poor John Adams.

I think it would be fair to say that John Adams spent the last 25 years of his life feeling sorry for himself.  He was a grumpy and vain old man searching for the respect he thought he deserved.34347432._UY400_SS400_

If Adams were to read the highly anticipated new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gordon Wood, the old curmudgeon would be no happier.  In fact, the final lines of the book, handed down like a final judgement, would only confirm what Adams believed would be the view of historians forever.  “To be an American,” Wood wrote, “is not to be someone, but to believe in something.  And that something is what Jefferson declared.  That’s why we honor Jefferson and not Adams.”[i]

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW – Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson”

Jefferson’s Retreat

Jefferson’s Poplar Forest

Although Jefferson was famous for his Virginia hospitality, sometimes the unending stream of visitors – especially after he retired from the presidency – just overwhelmed him and he needed to escape and have some peace.  At such times, Jefferson retreated to his Poplar Forest home.

Long a destination on my bucket list, Poplar Forest struck me as a miniature Monticello at first glance.  But on closer inspection, they are more dissimilar than I thought – despite initial appearances.

Although Jefferson and his wife Martha inherited the property in 1773, it was not until 1806 that construction on the home began.  Much like Monticello, Jefferson designed the octagonal house from a number of architectural influences – Renaissance Palladian, 18th century French and some English.  Even the privies are special octagonal structures.

Privy at Poplar Forest

The interior of Jefferson’s retreat is now undergoing renovation and restoration with completion just a few years away.  It has been a long haul researching how Poplar Forest would have looked in Jefferson’s time.  Until 1983, the property was in private hands.  In fact, it was only two years after the great Virginian’s death that the plantation passed into private hands.  Jefferson had given the property to his grandson Francis Eppes, but the young man quickly realized that the house was not practical to live in full time – so he sold it and moved to Florida.

Poplar Forest has some interesting history associated with it.  It was where Jefferson and his family took refuge during the Revolution when the British were out to capture him.  It is also where the Sage of Monticello wrote his only book – Notes on the State of Virginia. 


Jefferson’s hide-away is open daily from mid-March through the end of December.  During the winter, visitors can visit on weekends for self-guided tours.



“Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson: A Secret Correspondence”


Arguably the most fascinating friendship in early America was between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  Partners in declaring independence, the pair would become like brothers while on assignment in Europe.  But the strain of political discord and partisan strife would first stretch and finally break the bonds first forged in Philadelphia.  Only after both men were retired to their beloved homes, Adams at Peacefield in Quincy, MA, and Jefferson at Monticello in Charlottesville, VA, would the friendship be renewed.  But a decade would pass in which the men did not meet nor correspond with each other.  There was, however, a brief correspondence that passed between those locations in those silent years involving Thomas Jefferson and an Adams – Abigail, wife of the second president. Continue reading ““Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson: A Secret Correspondence””