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The Emancipator's Wife (A Novel of Mary Todd Lincoln) Mass Market Paperback – March 25, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hambly (A Free Man of Color, etc.) has a knack for bringing historical figures to life in all their flawed humanity. This touching portrait of Mary Todd, a brilliant but troubled belle in Kentucky when she meets Abraham Lincoln in 1839, recounts Mary's personal struggles and triumphs and describes the general state of women in the 19th century, as well as supplies an evenhanded overview of the political and practical issues surrounding the emancipation of the slaves. With her sharp intelligence, social skill and standing, and political astuteness, Mary seems the perfect partner for Lincoln. But her emotional problems hobble her from the start and worsen over the years under the tremendous strain of political life and with the terrible loss of three of her four sons as well as her husband. Ten years after Lincoln's assassination, Mary's sole remaining son is fighting a court battle to have his mother declared insane. Told from her own perspective and that of some fictionalized historical figures like Frederick Douglass, Mary's story, including her hard-won insight into her own difficulties and her addiction to her laudanum-laced medicine, is moving. Despite a jarring abruptness to some of the changes in point of view and the slow pace of the narration, the novel paints a full, nuanced picture of a talented, tormented woman.
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.

From Booklist

Hambly has painted a compelling fictional portrait of one of the most maligned and misunderstood First Ladies in American history. Born into a prominent Lexington family, pretty and passionate Mary Todd always had difficulty controlling her legendary temper. Plagued by headaches and spells even as a child, she suffered--according to the inadequate medical lexicon of the day--from female problems and a nervous disposition. Defying both her family and convention, the independent-minded Mary married a debt-ridden bumpkin with dubious long-term prospects. Even marriage to the undisputed love of her life did not bring her enduring happiness or contentment. Although she and Lincoln enjoyed an egalitarian partnership, she continued to be haunted by voices and visions that often led to fits of hysteria. Her delicate mental health was made even more precarious by the tragic and untimely deaths of three of her four sons and by her husband's assassination. Brought up on charges of lunacy by her son Robert in 1875, she fights for her own emancipation as she revisits pivotal episodes in her storied past. As the action stretches back and forth through time, an intelligent woman struggles to come to terms with depression and addiction in a society ill-equipped to cope with mental illness of any sort. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: A Novel of Mary Todd Lincoln
  • Mass Market Paperback: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (March 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553585657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553585650
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.3 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #925,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Graessle on February 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Preface: I am a librarian at a local public library. I am also a long-time FAN of Barbara Hambly's novels, both historical mysteries and her numerous fantasy works.

This book is insightful and thought-provoking. Hambly uses her fine ability to write sympathetic, yet very human characters to provide a credible portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln. Is this book the final word on Mrs. Lincoln? No. Do I have a greater awareness of the complexity of life in the American 19th century, especially from a woman's perspective? Yes!

Barbara Hambly is a historian by training and her ability to weave the details of a time and place make her historical (and fantasy!) books a pleasure to read. At times you can feel the oppressive humidity or find yourself wrapped in the sights and sounds of a parlor scene or find your heart beating in anticipation or fear along with Mrs. Lincoln.

Fans of Tracy Chevalier's novels may enjoy this title, as well as readers of Ahab's Wife by Sena Jester Naslund. If you find that you like Hambly's narrative style and American historical fiction, you might try her Benjamin January series that is set in New Orleans during the 1830s-40's. The first book in the series is A Free Man of Color.

A final note: If you are looking for a biographical work that focuses on life of Abraham Lincoln or a Civil War novel with lots of action scenes, this book is not for you. Nevertheless, I would encourage Civil War fiction readers to consider this book for the cultural context it provides to this pivotal period of American history.
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Format: Paperback
Barbara Hambly's "The Emancipator's Wife" is a remarkably well researched fictional narrative of the life of Mary Todd Lincoln. That she lived with mental illness is not disputed - ample evidence exists to suggest that she was bi-polar. However, history has damned her for displaying anxiety and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, for shopping and relying excessively on "elixers" of the day (which were loaded with opiates and alcohol) to distract, soothe and medicate herself (both practices still commonly used by people to deal with PTSD symptoms and symtoms of other mental illnesses), and for daring to challange the narrow and confining societal role expected of her. I applaud Ms. Hambly for doing such a superb job of keeping these important contextual factors in the forefront of Mary Todd Lincoln's story.

Mary Todd Lincoln lived a fascinating life. She was well educated, connected to national political leaders through her own family and her family's friendships, and was allowed to partake in political maneuverings in ways that most women of her time were not. She lived through momentus historical times in the shaping of governments in several states and of the nation.

She also was an average woman with an average life full of losses due to violence, disease and the dangers of childbirth which were so common during this point in history. She was neglected as a child and had to manipulate and fight with numerous siblings and her step mother for attention. She was socially confined and limited by men and by the many women who subscribed to the male ideas of what female life should be. She competed with other "belles" of her Southern upper class for the attention of powerful men and for the glimmers of power that women connected to them were afforded.
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Format: Hardcover
The Emancipator's Wife by Barbara Hambly is a great novel...emphasis on the word NOVEL. I have noticed before reading the book that others have given it a less than superior rating on basis that not all of the facts on Mary lincoln's life were true and that is right. this book is not in any way a biography of Mary Lincoln's life. There are other numerious books out there that do that. The Emancipator's wife is, instead, a work of historical fiction based on the life of one amazing woman. I could not put this book down and finished it in probably three days. The use of detail that Ms. Hambly uses in her writing is superb; the reader really feels like they are living through all of the horrific experiences that Mary Lincoln had to face. I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves historical fiction or who just would love to read an outstanding book. Before reading, I knew nothing of Mary Lincoln or of President Lincoln, however, this book has sparked my interest in looking for more information on this woman's life and the trials she faced. Mary Lincoln's strength and pure feminine nature shines throughout this book---awesome read!
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Format: Hardcover
Barbara Hambly's reputation for thorough historical research and meticulous attention to detail is abundantly evident in this innovative and incisive biography of Mary Todd Lincoln, The Emancipator's Wife. In her critically acclaimed Benjamin January series, set in early 19th Century New Orleans, Ms. Hambly breathed life into a vanished world by peopling it with colorful, multi-dimensional characters who lingered long after the last page was read. She repeats that difficult achievement here as she lays bare the heart, soul and flaws of the exuberant and exasperating woman who was, arguably, our most controversial First Lady. Not only are Ms. Hambly's backdrops of Washington City, Chicago, Lexington and Springfield deftly drawn but she also illuminates a dark, largely ignored corner of American history -- the fate of newly freed slaves released into a society ill-equipped to handle them. The picture painted of these lost souls is shameful and not a little disturbing, as is this portrait of Mrs. Lincoln. It's impossible to read The Emancipator's Wife without seeing its subject in a startlingly new light.
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