April 8, 2013
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This is the second time I have read Mary, Mrs. A. Lincoln (B+) by Janis Cooke Newman. I usually don’t enjoy re-reading any book but there is so much information in Mary that a second read was necessary so that I would be prepared for our book club discussion.
The story begins with Mary ‘s admittance to Bellevue Place a mental institution. Her son Robert Todd Lincoln has had her declared insane. While Mary has suffered enough to make her a patient at Bellevue, she is hardly insane. She was heavily medicated after President Lincoln’s death to ease her grief. She became delusional and suffered with hallucinations making it appear she was loosing her mind.
While a patient at Bellevue, she began to write her memoir. She had hoped that once people read about her life they would come to understand her and be less judgmental. She especially hoped that Robert would read it.
Throughout her life Mary sought to be loved. The death of her mother greatly affected her. When her father remarried, she tried unsuccessfully to get love and attention from her stepmother. Her marriage to Abe, though loving, was devoid of passion. It was Mr. Lincoln’s belief that succumbing to passion would lead to insanity. Mrs. Lincoln was a very passionate woman and struggled to contain herself. She longed for a child so that she could love freely and receive love in return. Her first son Robert was a most unaffectionate child and denied Mary the relationship she prayed for. She had three other sons, all who died in childhood, leaving her devastated. Of course, she was grief stricken after the assassination of her husband.
To relieve her stress, she shopped compulsively bringing debt and embarrassment to herself and her position. Her actions so embarrassed her son Robert that he committed her to Bellevue with no intention of her ever being released.
Mary Lincoln is one of the most interesting women in history. She was complex and determined. She lost so much in her life and yet found strength to keep on going. It appears to me she was greatly misunderstood and definitely was made to suffer the most by the actions of her son Robert.
I hope that you all take the time to learn about Mary Lincoln through this amazing book. Though 700 pages long, it is a compelling read that moves along quickly. Newman is thorough in her research and talented in her writing making Mary, Mrs. A. Lincoln one you will not soon forget.
February 11, 2013
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I guess I have a bit of a fascination regarding Mary Todd Lincoln. That is why I was drawn to Jennifer Chiaverini’s newest book, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker (B). Having read books about her before I knew her life was extremely difficult and sad. I know Jennifer to be an author that does her homework thoroughly researching before she writes and so I expected to learn a lot about Mary Todd Lincoln. I was not disappointed.
Elizabeth Keckley was Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker. She began her life as a slave and worked to buy freedom for herself and her son. Her sewing skills were impeccable and so after becoming free, she went to live in Washington becoming a much sought after seamstress by women such as Varina Davis, Mary Anna Custis Lee and others. Eventually she began to sew for Mrs. Lincoln and quickly became more than her seamstress. She became her friend and confidante.
The book spans the beginning of President Lincoln’s term in office to just after his assassination. Through Elizabeth’s narrative we get a glimpse of the Lincoln’s private lives. Mrs. Lincoln suffered terribly from anxiety and after the death of two of her children she became even more nervous and high strung. Often out spoken and speaking without a filter, she alienated herself from society. She compensated for her losses by spending recklessly leaving herself in $70,000 debt at the time of the President’s death.
The timing of this book is excellent coming out just after the Lincoln movie. The interest in President Lincoln never wanes but it certainly has been rejuvenated since the movie. Mrs. Lincoln is definitely a big part of the movie and therefore interest in her is renewed as well. Though the intention of the book was to meet Elizabeth Keckley who really was Mrs. Lincoln’s seamstress and staunch supporter of the abolition of slavery; I found my real interest to be in Mary. Therefore, I highly recommend Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker as the next opportunity for those seeking to know more about Mrs. Lincoln.
I have read many of Jenifer’s novels about quilting but far and away I found this to be the best of her books and I think you will all agree.