Review

Mrs. Lincoln: A Life

by Catherine Clinton

Just in time for the bicentennial celebration of the birth of
Abraham Lincoln comes MRS. LINCOLN, Catherine Clinton’s
examination of the life and times of the troubled wife of
America’s venerated president.

The book’s introduction begins on that fateful day in
April 1865, when Mary Todd Lincoln witnesses the shooting of her
husband at Ford’s Theater. During the chaos that follows, her
prolonged shrieking and hysterical reaction cause those trying to
maintain calm to banish her from President Lincoln’s
deathbed. They also deny Mary the honor of being present for her
husband’s last breath. This unkind treatment by men with
power is a harbinger of what she can expect in her life as a
widow.

Clinton’s biography tells about Mary’s upbringing as
a refined, educated and ambitious lady of the South who marries an
Illinois lawyer with Northern sympathies. During their marriage,
the Lincolns endure hardship and sorrow, including several
political setbacks and the loss of their young son, Edward.

Years later, while Abraham Lincoln is president and the country
is embroiled in the Civil War, the loss of beloved son Willie
plunges both husband and wife into severe states of depression.
While the President busies himself with the work of the nation to
be distracted from his profound grief, Mary dwells on her sorrow,
and her mental condition deteriorates. 

During her years in the political spotlight, Mary is the object
of vicious gossip and criticized mercilessly by the press, although
some of the criticism is brought on by her own behavior.

In MRS. LINCOLN, Mary Todd Lincoln is portrayed as a
strong-willed and forceful lady with extravagant tastes, as well as
being one who doesn’t shun the limelight. She is articulate
and better educated than her husband and won’t take a back
seat to anyone, including the President himself. She comes
across as unsympathetic and unpopular --- a tragic and complicated
individual; a jealous wife; a paranoid, self-absorbed woman
who is morbidly obsessed with grief; and a scheming and greedy
widow.

Clinton lifts the widow’s veil for a personal look at the
woman behind one of the most revered figures in the history of the
United States. Like its subject, MRS. LINCOLN is both fascinating
and frustrating. The text, while appealing and easy to follow,
repeats the same facts in slightly different words in different
parts of the book. Despite that minor annoyance, I found this
biography both interesting and informative.

Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt (dvolkenannt@charter.net) on January 7, 2011

Mrs. Lincoln: A Life
by Catherine Clinton

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2009
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0060760400
  • ISBN-13: 9780060760403