"A Widow Seven Weeks" : The Diary of Louisa Adams Park

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Holmes, Fiona
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In December of 1800, Louisa Adams Park addressed her diary, beginning by writing, "Louisa Adams-- (how odd that looks) was a heedless girl-- Louisa Park is not." Louisa continued, adding, "See what it is to have a good husband that one loves. Oh that I could-- that it were possible for me, in some way, to show him the unbounded depth of my affection. But fate has placed me in a situation where I can do or say no more than others." Louisa wrote in her diary during her husband's voyage on the USS Warren in the West Indies, often speaking directly to him in its pages. Her diary served many purposes: it aided her household management; it was where she mapped the social circles she and John ran in; and where, increasingly, she vented her hopes and frustrations to her husband in an epistolary style during his long absence. Louisa's diary was no secret, either, such as that of Elizabeth Pepys's, which met its fate in a fire upon her husband's discovery of its existence. It had been John's idea that Louisa keep a diary in the first place. He clarified as much to the future readers of his wife's diary, having transcribed it in the 1840s, stating that there she could "keep a little journal of occurrences &, when disposed, of her thoughts, during my absence, as it might be an amusement in some of her solitary hours, and would certainly be an interesting manuscript for my perusal." Louisa's diary had the potential to take many forms; it could be a simple helpmate, where she kept terse, barebones, dated entries of weather, correspondence, and household matters with very little introspection or, if she had the time and inclination, could be a space for self-expression. Neither one nor the other, Louisa's diary takes on a variety of forms throughout its eight-month existence; beginning and ending with her husband's departure and arrival, it is shaped by and for him. Louisa herself expressed as much by clarifying to her diary that she was no longer Louisa Adams, a girl, but Louisa Park, a married woman. By doing so, she reinforced her changed status and the social and cultural mores that simultaneously shaped and were expected of her and influenced how and what she wrote in her diary. Yet, Louisa's diary also acted as a space in which she confided her frustrations and worries, moments in which her anxiety for her husband, herself, and her child erupted into moments of conflict. As scholar Felicity Nussbaum writes, "Women's autobiographical writing, especially the private writing of diary and journal, is one location of these contradictions that both produce and reflect historicized concepts of self and gender while sometimes threatening to disrupt or transform them. " Louisa's diary is both structured by the cultural dictates of womanhood and motherhood in the post-revolutionary era and also an action against them; it is this dynamic that has the potential to complicate the diary as a historical document and diary writing itself, thereby enriching the study of woman's lives and experiences.
71 p.
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