Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reflections: Mrs. Lincoln: A Life

Adam C. Zern sounds off on Catherine Clinton's Mrs. Lincoln: A Life:

"After watching Steven Spielberg's Lincoln I felt that all too common feeling of ignorance regarding historical events and historical personalities.  I wanted to learn more about Civil War years and the influential people who lived through it.  Looking over my in-laws bookshelf I came across Mrs. Lincoln: A Life by Catherine Clinton.  It seemed to fit what I was looking for at the time so I thought I would give it a try.

Mrs. Lincoln left me wanting more, but in the best way possible.  With the focus on Abraham Lincoln's wife, a great deal of historical information is mentioned barely in passing; however, the focus of the book, Mary Lincoln, is a personality which deserves a book because her story is so fascinating and heartbreaking.

Mary Lincoln, most scholars and historians would agree, suffered from some kind of mental illness.  Her behavior throughout her life, but especially her time in the White House and the years subsequent to her husband's assassination, was erratic, irrational, and in some ways self-destructive.  She was plagued by terrible financial situations, anxiety, an obsession with her own misfortune, and all of this attracted the often brutal attention of America's media.  The author, Catherine Clinton, valiantly attempts to explain Mary Lincoln's many foibles in ways other than 'she was crazy,' which the author suggests other authors have done.  Yet, by the end of the book, the overwhelming feeling I had toward Mary Lincoln, even after having her story told from a sympathetic author, was 'she was crazy.'  Mrs. Lincoln no doubt loved her husband and was devoted to his cause, but her personal weaknesses are signifcant enough to overshadow many of her virtues.

I very much enjoyed Mrs. Lincoln.  The book was extremely well-written and seemed to be a notable effort to be even-handed toward an historical personality who is tough to understand.  I would highly recommend Catherine Clinton's book.  The Civil War years were a fascinating time during our nation's history with incredible and interesting people involved in important events, Mary Lincoln being just one of them."

Other topics of interest: 
Reflections: Gods and Generals
Reflections: Killing Lincoln

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