The Madness of Mary Lincoln by Jason Emerson, a book review

Product Details

The Madness Of Mary Lincoln 

by Jason Emerson

Southern Illinois University Press

Description from the back cover:

“This compelling story of the purposed insanity trail of one of America’s most tragic first ladies covers Mary Lincoln’s life from childhood to death and asserts that she suffered from bi-polar disorder.  Utilizing a set of letters that had been lost for eighty years, Jason Emerson shows how Mary Lincoln’s predisposition toward psychiatric illness and a life filled with mental and emotional trauma led by her son, Robert T. Lincoln, to commit her to an insane asylum.  Named Book of the Year by the Illinois State Historical Society, The Madness of Mary Lincoln is a gripping historical page turner.”

This one had me turning pages quickly!  The Madness of Mary Lincoln was recommended to me by a one of the women who worked at the Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois.  She was a volunteer historian and Lincoln specialist.  There are a million books written on Abraham Lincoln and his crazy wife, Mary.  Of course I’m interested in history but more specifically, the “dirt” that remains in history!  lol  What can be more dirty than an insanity trial where a presidential son puts his mother into an asylum?  Much has been written about the insanity of Mary Lincoln but this one was recommended because it’s a little different due to it’s extensive reference and research, also the fact that the author based his book on the “lost insanity letters”.  Not much has been written with these lost letters in mind.  VERY interesting and if you read it, you just might come away with a new feeling for Mrs. Lincoln and new insight into her illness.

I’d read much about how “insane” Mary Lincoln was and with the other books came a feeling that I would truly not like the woman.  I’d always felt that I’d despise her son, Robert, too.  What son puts his mother in an insane asylum after all she’d gone through just to put his hands on his family’s fortune?  Ahhhh,, SO not true were my beliefs.  First of all, it might surprise you to know that the Lincoln fortune really didn’t exist, as far as fortunes of the late 1800’s go.  Robert L. Lincoln had quite a lot of money in his own right and didn’t need his mother’s money.  Another thing I realized after I finished this book was that Robert really did love his mother and felt completely burdened by her actions and by her insanity.  He was a tortured soul who didn’t WANT to have his mother committed or declared insane.  It became necessary to protect her from herself.  After reading this book, I had a whole new sympathy for Robert, the only surviving son of Mary and Abraham Lincoln.

I also walked away knowing that I would have probably REALLY liked Mary Lincoln!  I’m almost afraid to admit this but I saw a lot of similarities between her personality and my own.  Okay maybe not when she became paranoid or manic, but when she was demanding and “wanted what she wants when she wants it”.  THAT part.  I’m that way too.  I felt tremendously sorry that she just kept living after losing 3 of her sons and the husband that shielded her from reality.  She’d pretty much lost every reason to WANT to live.  I’m wondering how many of US could live after so much tragedy?  Untimely death didn’t just begin with her children, it started with the death’s of her mother and father and then sisters and brothers.  Wow.  I can tell you that I’d be insane too!  She didn’t want to live anymore and she did whacky things.  I’m pretty sure I would have too.

I still have questions about whether she was truly insane.  I see the similarities in her behavior and the behavior of my step daughter who’s also been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.  The question remains with some mental health workers, whether or not Mary Lincoln was “emotionally insane” – insanity brought on by living through so much tragedy and sadness – or “mentally insane”.  There’s also a question now about whether or not her behavior was brought on by physical illness.  Maybe she wasn’t insane at all but she suffered from illness that had no diagnosis back then.  Some people think so.  A reoccurring theme with Mary Lincoln was that even during her “insanity” , she communicated with family and friends in a lively and “sane” way. I guess we probably wouldn’t even believe she was insane if we’d met her today.  However, those who knew her best, witnessed self destructive habits.  Even suicidal tendencies.  Again, I seriously don’t blame the poor woman for wanting death to come quickly.  Who knows what any of us would do if we walked a mile in HER shoes?  Many people who attended her funeral say that she appeared to have died with a smile on her face.  Like she was finally at peace.  Poor woman.

I’d give this book 2 thumbs up based on the amount of research that went into writing.  There were also more facts than I’d ever heard about and it painted a clear picture of what Mary Lincoln’s personality was like.  I really enjoyed it and didn’t find the writing style to be dry, as so many other historical books are.  I finished this one a LOT quicker than I thought I would 🙂

Lincoln A Photobiography (by Russell Freedman)… Julia’s Reading Project

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about Julia’s reading project.  It’s been a while because we’ve been so overwhelmed and busy.  Too much to do and too little time.  SOMETHING had to give.  Sadly, it had to be her reading.  I hate to slack in this area because I feel like these reading projects that I give her are sometimes the only education she’s getting.  School just keeps getting more disappointing.  I’m STRONGLY considering taking her out of public high school and either placing her in the Catholic school system or home schooling her.  I feel terrible about even considering imposing such a change at this delicate age but she has to get an education from SOMEWHERE.  There are some days where the ONLY educators who show up to teach these kids are substitute teachers who don’t know their A$$ from a hole in the ground.  I guess that’s a subject for a different post.  TRUST me, that will be a rant that you might not want to read.

Back to the book.  A few months ago, while visiting Springfield Illinois, the hubby and I visited The Lincoln Museum and Library.  Abraham Lincoln is such a colorful personality in history and there’s just so much more to his story than his presidency and the way he died. I wanted Julia to learn about the man and what made him tick.  There are SO many books to read on this subject and I didn’t really know which one would be geared more toward a teenager.  I consulted a representative of the Lincoln Library and she recommended a Photobiography.  I’ll have to admit that I wasn’t sold on this as it seems like I would be helping to “dumb down the youth of America”! Lord knows that once we start resorting to picture books for our teenagers, we’ve given up hope on them ever being literate.  lol  Okay, I gave in because the lady had a good idea.  She told me that this particular book touches on all the subjects that interested me PLUS Julia would be able to see pictures that related to Lincoln’s life.  I think if they’re real photographs, that’s history too, right?  There was enough of the story here and I wanted Julia to be interested.  It worked!

Lincoln:A Photobiography

Lincoln A Photobiography by Russell Freedman

Clarion Books

A John Newberry Medal Winner

“As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master – This expresses my idea’s of democracy.  Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the differences, is no democracy.”

A. Lincoln

“Few, if any, of the many books written for children about Lincoln can compare with Freedman’s contribution… Well organized and well written, this is an outstanding example of what (juvenile) biography can be.  Like Lincoln himself, it stands head and shoulders above it’s competition.”

-School Library Journal

What impressed Julia most about this book?  She tells me that she felt like she actually knew the man.  She discovered what might have motivated Abe Lincoln to feel and act so strongly about certain topics, such as slavery.  Julia was also impressed with how likable a guy Mr. Lincoln was.  She learned that although his photos don’t portray him as a very handsome man, many people who knew him, reported that once they were in his presence, his “spirit” shined through his eyes and his smile and made him appear very handsome.  He was so charismatic and funny.  Julia was also impressed that Mr. Lincoln remained strong in his convictions even while being hated by Democrats and Republicans alike.  He won his last election very narrowly and ONLY because Sherman had torched Atlanta and FINALLY it looked as though the Union would win.  Before that, it seemed as if the war would carry on forever and before too much longer, most of the male population of America, would be wiped out.  Julia tells me that she was amazed to be reminded that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.  In American contemporary issues, it seems like the Democratic party takes credit for being the party who stands up for the rights of African Americans.  In reality, the Democratic Party started out VERY against emancipation of the American slave.  To be fair, not many Republican’s were in favor of emancipation either.  Lincoln BARELY got the Emancipation Proclamation to pass and resorted to a little bit of “trickery” to sneak it past many legislators.  Julia tells me that the schools don’t really focus on the other causes of the Civil War.  Mostly, the kids are led to believe that slavery is the sole reason for the war, when in fact, she learned that slavery didn’t become an issue until after the war had already started.  Through this book, she was able to put faces to names and she learned so much more about this period of time, in history, than she did in school with her history book.

Did she like the book?  Yes and she says she’ll recommend it to anyone her age who needs to do a project on the life of Abraham Lincoln or the causes of the Civil War.  I have to say that even I learned more than I previously knew.  So the picture book thing?  Yeah, I like it!  lol  Julia earned $5 for this one.  However, she had to write 2 book reports because she tried to copy, word for word, part of the first one she turned into me.  So there’s the added lesson she learned about plagiarism!  lol  It’s never too soon to learn about that, right?

Lincoln … A better late than never movie review

As I mentioned HERE, I’m not the most “frequented” of movie goers.  lol  I usually can’t sit still long enough to enjoy my surroundings in a movie theater.  For some reason, January’s are always different and I end up seeing more films than usual.  My mom has a birthday in January and she wanted to see Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg, so by goodness Mama!  We’re GOING to see Lincoln!  lol

My thoughts?  I felt like I went into this film knowing pretty much about Abraham Lincoln.  I’d visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, in Springfield IL, many times and have read pretty many books.  However, I didn’t realize just how much I really would have loved his humor, wisdom and just overall Godly personality!  I was struck by his sadness and his genuine love of his fellow man.  He would have been someone I would want for a mentor, or friend.  Daniel Day- Lewis Did a fantastic job making me feel his emotions!  Lincoln was SO tender hearted, yet he wasn’t a “slouch” and wouldn’t be pushed around.  He calmly and for the most part, quietly, stood firm in his convictions.  I had never given very much thought, until seeing this film, how difficult it must have been to PASS the Emancipation Proclamation!  Dear lord, it was a miracle and passed by the skin of it’s teeth!

I adored Sally Fields performance as Mary Todd Lincoln was SPOT on, IMO!  She was also a person I would have loved to have known!  Bi-Polar and all!  She was actually pretty hilarious in the way she manipulated and demanded the $ to throw extravagant white house parties and redecorate!  lol  Sally Field is always a winner in by book, anyway.  I think she could make the most twisted of people look like someone I’d want to know!

So, yes, this was a dark period of time in American History and filled with so much grief and sadness.  There wasn’t a lot of action and it moved along a little slow BUT it kept my interest, and I actually laughed in quite a few places.  I’d definitely recommend seeing this, if you haven’t already.  I learned a lot…. you probably will too 🙂  Two thumbs up!