THE WOODROW WILSONS, by Eleanor Wilson McAdee, New York. The Macmilian Company, pp. 301. Price $3.50.
FEW families within the space of one generation could provide such a fertile subject for a chronicle as did the home circle of Woodrow Wilson, which is portrayed in this work by daughter. Living in a period when American home life could still be called a national institution, before the movies, the automobile and other phenomena of modern life had began to exert their disrupting influence, the Wilsons had remarkable qualities even for their age, which should make this book as fascinating for the general reading public as it is valuable for future historians.
Woodrow Wilson's tremendous success is the most outstanding of these factors contributing to the interest of the narrative. His rise from a college professorship to the presidency of Princeton, thence to the governorship of New Jersey, and finally to the White House, enables his daughter to make this otherwise simple family story a vivid portrayal of the disturbing effects of fame and a public career on their quiet home life. This theme, although rarely dealt with in the past, is a dramatic one, and the writer treats it capably with a touch of humor and a strange note of tragedy that appears even in the moments of Wilson's greatest triumphs, reaching a climax with Mrs. Wilson's death in 1914.
The personalities of the chief members of the family were another valuable source of material. Mrs. Wilson was of that rare type of woman, rarer today than in her time, who believed that her place was in the home, but made it a position for distinction and achievement far greater than any career in the outside world gained by modern feminists. In this book she is given credit for the first time for her remarkable qualities as a mother and for her influence on Wilson's career.
It need not be added that the personality of Woodrow Wilson himself was another factor raising this work above the general level of family chronicles. This intimate glimpse of his character should be highly valuable to later historians and biographers as an explanation of his enigmatical character, so capable of winning either passionate loyalty or violent hatred. Of especial value should be the passage describing his determination after his election to sacrifice the personal contacts usually demanded of a president in order to devote himself to the great task of leading the government. Dictated by his stern Presbyterian conscience this decision is made perfectly understandable and compatible with his friendly nature, but we soon see him losing the support of the press and getting a reputation for coldness.
An informal, magazine-serial style and lack of much serious attempt at character analysis keep this work from the ranks of lasting literary worth, but it should endure as source material, as new light thrown upon the character of Wilson, who, when the occasional hero worship and sentimentality of the book is brushed aside, still looms through it as a great figure.