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Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln Paperback – Bargain Price, October 1, 2007

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Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln + Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography + The Insanity File: The Case of Mary Todd Lincoln
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 636 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (October 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015603347X
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (129 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,331,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Mary is a novel written in the first person, comprised of notes composed by Mary Todd Lincoln when she was an inmate of a lunatic asylum. She takes up her pen to block out the screams and moans of the other inmates and to save her own sanity. According to these notes, although she held séances in the White House and drove her family deeply into debt because of compulsive shopping, she was perfectly sane. She makes a good case for herself, despite occasional manic behavior and often uncontrollable grief.

Mary was born to southern slaveholders in Kentucky, moved to Illinois when she was 20 to live with her sister and met Abe at a cotillion. His opening line was "Miss Todd, I want to dance with you the worst way." Their relationship was odd, to say the least. Lincoln, as portrayed by Janis Cooke Newman, was sexually repressed and feared Mary's passion. She was in an almost constant state of trying to seduce him, usually without success. Despite his gawky, angular, unlovely looks, she adored him--even when she had an affair with another to defuse some of her heat. How much of the bedroom scene is fact and how much fancy must be left to the reader to decide, but it does give credence to Mary's very forward manner and her later "passionate" approach to shopping.

She used her shopping expeditions to accumulate things that would "protect" her family--and finally herself, when she felt her son Robert's growing disapproval of her. In his statement to the "insanity" lawyer, Robert said, "I have no doubt my mother is insane. She has long been a source of great anxiety to me. She has no home and no reason to make these purchases." Mary saw them as talismans against disaster, and she certainly had suffered disasters in abundance. She buried three sons and was holding her husband's hand when he was assassinated by a bullet to the head. Her eldest son, Robert, was a cold, unfeeling, haughty shell of a man to whom Mary did not speak after she was released from the asylum to her sister's care. She spent four years in Europe and, when her health failed, returned to her sister's house, where she received her son once before she died.

"First Lady" is a term that was coined to describe Mary Todd Lincoln, while she was the President's wife. It was meant as a backhanded compliment, because she was front and center during much of Lincoln's term. Presidential wives usually stuck to their knitting, but not Mary. Her unconventional ways did her husband a great deal of good; indeed, it was her ambition for him that finally ignited his own ambition. She also helped him to become a great orator. Ultimately, her "unsexed" manner contributed to her being judged insane in 1865 and committed to Bellevue Place, an asylum in Batavia, Illinois, outside Chicago. No President has been more praised nor any first lady more vilified than Abraham and Mary Lincoln. Janis Cooke Newman brings a time, a place and a person to life in a wholly believable and compelling manner. --Valerie Ryan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Abraham Lincoln's widow was committed by her son in 1875; kept awake by the bedlam of her fellow inmates, she takes up a pen. Newman, author of the memoir The Russian Word for Snow, portrays Mary Todd Lincoln (1818– 1882) as a proto-feminist: she seduces poor Illinois lawyer Lincoln; kick-starts his career; draws his attention to the slavery issue; corrects his elocution before the Lincoln-Douglas debates; and lobbies behind the scenes (she also has an affair). After the 1860 election, the narrative returns to accepted history, dominated by Mary's crushing misery after a son's death in 1862, her husband's assassination and another son's death in 1872, punctuated by lavish shopping expeditions and an occasional psychotic break. Not introspective and demonstrative, Mary presents a challenge for any historical novelist. Newman makes a good choice in telling the story through Mary's eyes and drawing readers into her perspective. Lincoln buffs can give this a pass because he comes across as a shadowy figure, but readers looking for a vivid, mostly flattering (and rather massive) account of his once-notorious spouse, whose letters are becoming more read, will not be disappointed—and those who simply come upon it will be happily surprised. (Sept. 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

It kept me interested every chapter.
Aside from the well written and very compelling character study, Janis Newman has written insightfully of women of the 17th century.
A. Anderson
This book is very well written and enjoyable to read.
J. M. Gard

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader on September 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Janis Cooke Newman's novel is should please lovers of historical fiction as well as Lincoln aficionados, women's history readers, and civil war buffs. It is a cracking good read; rich in detail, engrossing, and an interesting take on an historical figure who continues to be controversial. Like Margaret George's "Autobiography of Henry VIII"--another great example of looking at familiar events through the eyes of its often-maligned main character--Newman allows Mary Todd Lincoln writes her own story, this time from the asylum where her son Robert has committed her.

Like so many 19th century women, Mary had more physical desire than she was supposed to, and was starved for affection on top of it. Her losses were staggering--three sons dead, a husband shot to death while sitting next to her at Ford's Theater, and betrayal by a beloved friend---but while we might say that this would be enough to unbalance anyone, the 19th century was not so forgiving. Many women experienced this depth of loss and were expected to just get on with it. Mary could not.

Her "appetites" for love and shopping (her desire to improve the look for the dirty, seedy White House and the resulting shopping sprees in New York) lead to debts and scandal. She believed that things would keep her and her family safe. She was not loved by the nation, nor by her only surviving son, Robert, a man born with little affection to give. But was she insane? She did lack the moderation and balance expected of women of her period. Newman's novel presents up a complex personality, someone of her time but not well suited to it. This rich and absorbing novel is highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
A few scant years after Abraham Lincoln's assassination, his widow, Mary, passes the lonely days incarcerated at Bellevue Place Sanitarium, under the care of an arrogant physician with the usual chauvinistic prejudices of the era. The doctor announces that Mary's "bladder is hysterical" and that she is "possessed of an irritated spine." Later he will blame her state on the "unfavorable humors of an older woman's womb". Subject to the determination of the doctor and her eldest son that she is restored to reason, Mary, at fifty-six, knows only that she must please them to hope of ever gaining her freedom. An easy target of the tabloid since her time as First Lady, Mrs. Lincoln has been driven, in her incarceration, to put pen to paper, filling the sleepless hours of the night with her memories, to "make me forget that I am locked in a madhouse... and keep me sane."

Beginning with her mother's death in Lexington, Kentucky, when Mary is six, she writes of a life cursed with excess and loss: her first meeting with the man who would be president; their tumultuous courtship and marriage; Lincoln's congressional career; the Civil War, the loss of three of her four sons; a long flirtation with Spiritualism; a short foray into infidelity and its consequences; the fated night at Ford's theater, the Chicago fire, years of prescribed drug therapy (chloral hydrate and laudanum) and her distressing stay at Bellevue. Notably emotional, Mary assuages her fearful insecurity during the war years with overzealous spending, a habit that brings her much grief. But aside from the events that mark the passing decades, Mary's life is suffused with an overabundance of passion, unacceptable in her position, coupled with the raging grief of her unbearable losses.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By F. Jasmine on October 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I grew up in Illinois and all I ever learned was the standard party line about Mary Todd Lincoln: that she'd been committed to an insane asylum after her husband was assassinated. And that was where my knowledge stood until Janis's book came along to give a more compassionate take on why Mary might have done what she did (compulsive shopping, erratic behavior, seances, etc.)

Many of us know that Mary Todd Lincoln lost three sons as well as her husband--but history gave her a bum rap because when she didn't behave in a manner that was considered seemly for a former First Lady. With the understanding of psychology and pharmacology we have now, Mary's actions make a lot more sense to us than they did 130 years ago.

And it is the process of seeing how her actions unfolded that makes this such a page turner--though this book may seem long, it doesn't read that way at all. There is no bogging down in exposition; dialogue flows, and things happen on practically every page. I can't imagine a more compelling way to learn a little-told historical tale!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Twain Bunyan on August 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Mary Lincoln has always been portrayed in movies (once by a frantically emoting Mary Tyler Moore) and historical novels (ie, Gore Vidal's Lincoln)as a migraine-plagued hysteric. In Cooke Newman's hands she is all of that, yes, but, more than that, Mary Lincoln becomes human. Granted, Mary here is presented as a shopaholic rivaling Andy Warhol, but, having to deal with Abe's own fits of catatonic melancholia as well as the death of 3 of her 4 children, she has to have some outlet for her frustration, doesn't she? And Robert, her only son to survive to adulthood, is anything but doting on his widowed mother. In fact he has Mary committed to Belleview Sanitarium outside Chicago largely due to her free thinking/shopaholic ways; Robert is almost a villain out of Dickens here, so cold and withdrawn is he toward his mother's plight. Only near the end of Mary's personal account of the events of her life up to and during her incarceration at Belleview, does the reader begin to see that maybe he was justified; as free thinking and liberated as Mary may be, years of massive doses of chloral hydrate and laudanum begin to take their toll. Added to her drug addiction is a rabid loneliness which draws her into the cloudy world of the seance in order to communicate in whatever way possible with her dearly departed: Eddie, Willy, Abe, and, finally, Tad. What emerges is a woman chased by demons no one around her is able to comprehend. Apparently laudanum (an opiate) was prescribed like aspirin in the second half of the 19th Century to cure everything from migraines to grief. Today Mary would be offered some counseling or a support group as a way of dealing with loss and disappointment, not drugged and left to her own devices as she is here. At over 700 pages, the novel is massive, but I could have read on and on, so engaging was Cooke Newman's work. She has done a beautiful job breathing new life into the saga of Mary Lincoln.
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