Of Adams and Aquarius: Henry Adams and Norman Mailer
Lodged at the Hay-Adams in Washington on the eve of the 1967 March on the Pentagon, Norman Mailer muses in the third person in The Armies of the Night on his hostelry’s namesakes and the relation between their world and his own: ‘One may wonder if the Adams in the name of his hotel bore any relation to Henry; we need not be concerned with Hay who was a memorable and accomplished gentleman from the nineteenth century ….’1 The Adams was indeed Henry (as Mailer surely knew), but more interesting is Mailer’s separation of Adams from his appropriation of John Hay as representative of ‘a time when men and events were solid, comprehensible, often obedient to a code of values, and resolutely nonelectronic,’ a time Mailer thus sets in opposition to his own. Adams fades from the passage, yet one may continue to wonder about him; whereas the passage proceeds to deal with Hay, with whom we need not be concerned precisely because he is dismissable (by Mailer) as a nineteenth-century gentleman.
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