In a new book, Eugene D. Genovese describes a devoted and intellectually stimulating partnership with his late wife, also a historian of note





Two historians married to each other seems an instant opportunity for caricature, an invitation to disciplinary and institutional clichés.

They didn't swear, "I do!," you imagine, but "I do — notwithstanding a variety of complicating factors that bear mentioning." Amorous instincts possibly play second fiddle to archival impulses. The union's stability may depend on adequate supportive evidence, rather than faith, loyalty, passion, or love.

Normally our ability to peer into the wedded bliss or agony of such a couple comes in snapshots at department receptions, or in the Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? bond we form with a particular kindred pair. Unlike literati and show-biz folk, historians, for all their aspirations to create a scholarly record, do not typically leave us memoirs of their marriages.

Yet think how appealing such an agenda would be. Instead of a publishing landscape littered with "crime by memoir" — everything from the thousand shattered pieces of James Frey's purported life story to the mystifications of Nasdijj, the non-Navajo Navajo — we'd have experts on the job who know the differences among true, false, suspected, established, substantiated, and so on. They'd start with unlimited access to primary sources — themselves — and a virtually exclusive angle on intimate knowledge. Their credentials on the subject would be so authoritative that not even ideological enemies could object.

Does Eugene D. Genovese's Miss Betsey: A Memoir of Marriage (ISI Books) set such a standard, or live up to such expectations? Short answer: Not really, despite its pleasures. Nor do we mind. Even a historian's autobiographical musings exhibit the form's inevitable characteristics: an exaltation, however wry, of self; the presumption that one's view of the world, as an individual or couple, accurately captures that world; and, most important, that how you feel about where you've been matters more than an unimpeachable scientific picture....

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