Friday, July 2, 2010

My Theodosia - Anya Seton

Although I have read some of Anya Seton's novels before it was only now that I had the opportunity to read My Theodosia, her first published work. Reading about Theodosia Burr Alston made me realise that I seldom read books about American history and that my knowledge is indeed lacking in that department. Something I started working on as soon as I finished the book because I had to look up every real people mentioned and that I intend to continue by looking for more books with that setting.
Theodosia is the beloved daughter of Aaron Burr, America's Vice President from 1801 to 1805 under President Jefferson. The story starts on her seventeenth birthday and ends with what Seton believed was the event that led to her death.

Theodosia had an uncommon love for her father. Her mother died when she was still a child and she was raised by her father alone who took great care in her education. Her relationship with him shaped her whole life, she is at first hostess to his house parties and used to charm his friends and then married to cement his power in the south. She never ceases to support and accompany him in his various projects. I thought it interesting that Seton doesn't show Burr in a very good light, he manipulates his daughter, and everyone else around him, to his own ends and in doing so gives a great contribution to her tragic life. Theodosia goes from a happy girl in the beginning of this biography to an unhappy married woman who sees her love for another man crushed under her father's will. His convoluted life and especially the duel with Alexander Hamilton and the project for the Kingdom of Mexico also take their toll on Theodosia's life and health as do her private losses.

I must confess that what I loved more about the story was the glimpse I had of all these extraordinary people and how they lived. Since Theodosia goes to live in the South after her wedding there are many references to slavery and live in the plantations. Theodosia, while starting out as an engaging character ends up being too blind for too long to what her father really was - a charming scoundrel - and so set herself for much heartache. There's only so much you can take before you start pitying her.

Seton does a good job of grabbing historical figures and known facts and weaving them into fictional novels. The objects of her biographies are usually less known characters of history and that leaves her more freedom to fictionalise and romanticise their lives. Besides Theodosia there's Katherine Swynford (Katherine) and Elizabeth Fones (The Winthrop Woman). Her concern with historical accuracy and research was known but My Theodosia seems to be a highly fictional account of Theodosia's life, instead of being the final work about her it whetted my appetite for more. I was only sorry not to see more pages devoted to Theodosia's unusual education and the use she made of it. In all the references I found about her that is one of the things mentioned that set her apart from the other women of her time.

An interesting novel that should appeal to everyone interested in American history in general and Aaron Burr and his daughter in particular!

Grade: 4/5

This is my M entry for the Alphabet in Historical Fiction Challenge and was originally written for the Anya Seton Season at HT.

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