My Theodosia

Written by Anya Seton
Review by Bethany Latham

This novel is one in a series of reprints Chicago Review Press is publishing of the work of the great Anya Seton. In Seton’s canon, My Theodosia is a lesser star; though it was her first published novel, it has always languished in the shadow of works such as the phenomenally received Katherine and The Winthrop Woman. But My Theodosia, like these other offerings, is an exquisite work of historical fiction. Many historical fiction authors manage either strong period ambience or strong characterization, but not both. Seton is one of the few that has mastered it all—My Theodosia submerges the reader in the historical period and also provides meticulous characterization that leaves the reader feeling as if she now knows the characters personally.

These characters are Theodosia Burr and her somewhat infamous father, Aaron (as well as a parade of famous Americans, from Meriwether Lewis to Dolley Madison). This fictional biography begins with Theodosia’s seventeenth birthday, and follows her life through her marriage to Joseph Alston and eventually her fateful sail out of Georgetown harbor. Though the novel is the story of Theodosia’s life (and Seton’s version of her historically unknown doom), the main feature here is Theodosia’s intense relationship with her father. The novel begins with a letter from the real Theo, as she was known, where she actually states that she’s tempted to worship her father as a god. Using historical documentation and her very vivid imagination, Seton provides a fascinating window into the relationship between Theo and Aaron during pivotal moments in history, from his tenure as vice-president to the murder of Alexander Hamilton in a duel to his planning to set himself up as a sort of king in Mexico. My Theodosia is an immersive, historically detailed read that provides the reader a convincing glimpse into the life of this fascinating woman and her relationship with the flawed father she adored.