Born in 1819 and brought up in Kentucky in a slave-owning family, Mary Lincoln visited a black one-legged ‘conjure woman’ who told her that she would marry a very ugly man who would one day be President. Over the next month she studied all the unmarried gentlemen in town, looking to find one sufficiently ugly to satisfy the prediction. Abraham Lincoln was swarthy, and his large ears were as fleshy as ham steaks. Worse still, he was badly dressed. His swallow-tail coat, too short, did not match the cut of his trousers.
Mary’s behaviour scandalised society. She attended séances, aired her political opinions, and ran up huge debts with her compulsive spending. Although Mary’s family disapproved of her relationship with Abraham, the sheer inevitability of marriage due to their physical need for each other resulted in a hurried wedding.
Abraham’s political career progressed and he soon became President. Mary, who bore him four children, was delighted to become First Lady. The happiness and success of Mary and Abraham Lincoln ended when President Lincoln was assassinated and their two younger sons died. The eldest surviving son, Robert, lacked the ability to show sympathy and understanding to both his mother and his own wife, and he began committal proceedings against his mother. He persuaded Cook County Court to declare Mary insane, and she was incarcerated in an asylum. In this book, Mary Lincoln writes her own story in order to prove her sanity and win back her freedom.
This is a powerful novel. I was impressed with the research, but horrified at the ease with which families were able to commit their own relatives to lunatic asylums when it suited them.
Early United States