Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon

Written by Michael O’Brien
Review by Susan Zabolotny

Louisa Catherine Adams, best known in history as the wife of President John Quincy Adams, is the main character in this book, which takes place in 1815 when John is the first American minister to Russia. He has been ordered to Paris to oversee the Treaty of Ghent and has been gone for nearly a year when she receives word that she is to join him there. It has been six years since Mrs. Adams left her home in Boston, and she has mixed feelings about leaving St. Petersburg, where she has gained the respect of the higher echelon of society, ran interference for her somewhat misanthropic husband, and endured a harsh climate and the heartbreaking loss of a baby girl. In a fine display of independence she sells her furniture, alerts her creditors, secures all the paperwork, and is ready to travel in three weeks’ time. Except for her young son, Charles, and French nurse Madame Babet, she would make the 40-day journey among strangers, yet her bravery and determination are to be admired.

Louisa is well prepared for this trip with passport, letters of introduction, and money, but it is still a harrowing, exhausting time for her, as she witnesses firsthand the devastation the Napoleonic Wars have caused. This book gives wonderful insight into the people and history of Russia and the major stopping points on her journey west, but the story of Louisa’s early life and her challenging marriage were most appealing to me. This book is a biography/travelogue based on her memoir written many years after the fact, and much is supposition by Michael O’Brien, but it’s interesting, and I enjoyed learning about Louisa Adams and travel in early 19th-century Europe.