cover image Dolley


Rita Mae Brown. Bantam Books, $22.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-553-08890-8

If one can acquiesce to the rather leisurely pace of most of this fictional portrait of First Lady Dolley Madison, the payoff will be Brown's re-creation of Dolley's psychological, political and social insights into life in the nation's capital during the War of 1812. A combination of imagined first-person journal entries and third-person narrative, this work by the author of the considerably more racy Rubyfruit Jungle and Venus Envy took Brown eight years to research, though she admits she had to ``read between the lines''; an extensive bibliography is included. In Brown's portrayal, Dolley comes across as independent, perceptive, smart and emotionally strong. She is also depicted as witty--``the free press works in such a way that not one of us is free from it'': this from a woman about whom an eager-to-shock press spread false rumors concerning her friendships with men, particularly French political minister Louis Serurier. Those looking for romantic intrigue will not find it here, since Dolley is devoted to her husband. We do find political intrigue, however, as Madison's Republican administration meets with often nasty opposition by the New England Federalists, who do not support the war. This is a careful, endearing depiction of an admirable woman who, after her husband's death, spent much of her final 13 years tending to the restoration of Washington. (May)