SCANDAL AT BIZARRE: Rumor and Reputation in Jefferson's America

Cynthia A. Kierner, Author
Cynthia A. Kierner, Author . Palgrave $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4039-6115-0
Reviewed on: 01/10/2005
Release date: 12/01/2004
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Here's a scholarly book that artfully relates a riveting tale with lasting historical repercussions and significance. Readers will be drawn by the story of a strong woman who may have been wronged; the great Randolph family of Virginia torn asunder; the implication of members of Thomas Jefferson's circle; slaves' whispers fanning the flames of scandal; and eventual reconciliation of sorts. Although "bizarre" characterizes the story itself, it was in fact the name of the Virginia plantation of Richard and Judith Randolph. Upon their visit to a neighboring plantation in 1792, something went seriously wrong, something that remains a mystery to this day—was it a miscarriage resulting from premarital or extramarital sex? Or was it infanticide? Kierner, who teaches early American and women's history at UNC-Charlotte, reports with a colorist's deft touch and a fiction writer's delight while remaining faithful to scholarly conventions and trends. In trying to draw the last drop of meaning from her tale, Kierner sometimes strains, but she never lets her wide learning and skilled professionalism intrude on her tale's momentum. This account analyzes part of the reality of Jefferson's Virginia in the nation's early years. Kierner makes us look at the world of the founders in all its messy complexity and humanity. B&w illus., maps. (Jan.)

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