Clover

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by Otto Friedrich Simon and Schuster Photographic section 416 pages, $12.95

Historians generally have assumed that Clover Hooper Adams, Henry Adams’ wife for thirteen apparently idyllic years, killed herself out of grief over her father’s death. But the puzzling fact that her husband never mentions her name in his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams , published years later, led Otto Friedrich to suspect that the reason for Clover’s suicide could not be that simple.

His sensitive, urbane biography is convincing. On that bleak day in 1885 when Clover went up to her room and drank potassium cyanide, she left no note of explanation, but the author has carefully drawn together enough revealing threads of Hooper and Adams’ backgrounds, tastes, and reticences to suggest half a dozen reasons for Clover’s lethal depression.

Clover and Henry seemed designed for each other. As he once wrote her, “How did I ever manage to hit on the only woman in the world who fits my cravings and never sounds hollow anywhere?” One was as acerbic and clever as the other; both were equally snobbish about the Gilded Age society they ridiculed and adorned. But there were strains that threatened Clover’s rarified world: the Adamses were childless; Henry wrote a cruel pseudonymous novel about a character suspiciously like his wife; and late in their marriage, he fell in love with a younger woman. Written with delicacy and wit, this is wonderful reading.