Cover image for Jefferson's demons : portrait of a restless mind
Jefferson's demons : portrait of a restless mind
Beran, Michael Knox.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xxi, 265 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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E332.2 .B427 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E332.2 .B427 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E332.2 .B427 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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"I have often wondered for what good end the sensations of Grief could be intended." -- Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson suffered during his life from periodic bouts of dejection and despair, shadowed intervals during which he was full of "gloomy forebodings" about what lay ahead. Not long before he composed the Declaration of Independence, the young Jefferson lay for six weeks in idleness and ill health at Monticello, paralyzed by a mysterious "malady." Similar lapses were to recur during anxious periods in his life, often accompanied by violent headaches. In Jefferson's Demons, Michael Knox Beran illuminates an optimistic man's darker side -- Jefferson as we have rarely seen him before. The worst of these moments came after his wife died in 1782. But two years later, after being dispatched to Europe, Jefferson recovered nerve and spirit in the salons of Paris, where he fell in love with a beautiful young artist, Maria Cosway. When their affair ended, Jefferson's health again broke down. He set out for the palms and temples of southern Europe, and though he did not know where the therapeutic journey would take him or where it would end, his encounter with the old civilizations of the Mediterranean was transformative. The Greeks and Romans taught him that a man could make productive use of his demons. Jefferson's immersion in the mystic truths of the Old World gave him insights into mysteries of life and art that Enlightenment philosophy had failed to supply. Beran skillfully shows how Jefferson drew on the esoteric lore he encountered to transform anxiety into action. On his return to America, Jefferson entered the most productive period of his life: He created a new political party, was elected president, and doubled the size of the country. His private labors were no less momentous...among them, the artistry of Monticello and the University of Virginia. Jefferson's Demons is an elegantly composed account of the strangeness and originality of one Founder's genius. Michael Knox Beran uncovers the maps Jefferson used to find his way out of dejection and to forge a new democratic culture for America. Here is a Jefferson who, with all his failings, remains one of his country's greatest teachers and prophets.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Beran here explores Jefferson's attitudes and emotions toward life. The author's inherently elusive target, Jefferson's interior monologue, so to speak, begets an occasionally ethereal discourse deriving from a profound influence on Jefferson's outlook, neoclassicism. Its fixation on decay lodged deeply within Jefferson, changing over his stages of life but never absent from them. Beran examines most closely what Jefferson probably regarded as one of his most ecstatic experiences, a 1787 Grand Tour of Roman ruins in France and Italy, which he broke off before reaching Rome itself. Why? Perhaps he heeded the inner voices of a competing philosophy on living that Beran draws from his reading of Jefferson's letters, sentimentalism. Contemporaneously to the trip, it had poured out in his giddy letters to Maria Cosway, who was Jefferson's opposite (Catholic rather than skeptic; artistic rather than rational), which, Beran ventures, made her unwinnable. It's no surprise that Beran discovers a complicated Jefferson; the sophistication of his presentation will intrigue readers of ruminative bent. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

While it's hard to imagine that the market needs yet another work on Thomas Jefferson, this thoughtful reflection on our third president's disposition and cast of mind merits company with the best recent works about the man. Beran gives us a Jefferson less rationalistic and intellectual than full of sentiment and tender emotions, a classic 18th-century example of "the man of feeling." Beran's Jefferson finds inspiration not in the philosophy of Locke or Newton but in poetry, beauty and scenery. Beran (The Last Patrician) is most at home with the inward-looking Jefferson, and the book slows when the author has to deal with Jefferson the public figure and politician. But its center of gravity (a quarter of the entire work) is Beran's splendid treatment of Jefferson's nine-month grand tour of Europe, 1786-1787. The author follows his subject through France and Italy, evokes the natural and historic landscape, and reports to great effect Jefferson's views of what he saw and how he felt. For all this, Beran strains credulity by making Jefferson out to be someone who invented himself. (Surely Ben Franklin is the model for that!) Yet the work's great value is to remind us that Jefferson was as much affected by mysteries of the unknown and fears for himself and mankind as he was the optimist who steered his bark "with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern"-the Jefferson we're acquainted with. While this is not new knowledge, it's good to be reminded of it, and Beran has done that with style and success. (Oct. 7) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

A Note on Terms Prologue
Part 1 Spring
Part 2 Summer
Part 3 Fall
Part 4 Winter
Epilogue A Note on Designs
Notes and Sources