This post contains affiliate links. I previously read Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini. While I enjoyed that book, I was a bit disappointed because I actually wanted to read more about Mrs. Lincoln besides her White House years and next few years after when her dressmaker knew her. Chiaverini’s follow up book, Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters is exactly what I was looking for.
About Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters by Jennifer Chiaverini
This book shifts and back and forth through time from when Mary Todd Lincoln was just a little girl to her death. It also shifts perspective from the four most prominent sisters in her life–Elizabeth and Frances, her older sisters, and Ann and Emilie, her younger sisters.
Mary had a complicated upbringing. She was the fourth of 7 children, but her mother died shortly after giving birth to the seventh child. Her father remarried, and his new wife went on to have nine children with him. In general, Mary’s stepmother preferred her own children over her step children, but she especially disliked Mary, so much so that she sent her to board at a boarding school that was less than two miles away!
Even Mary’s courtship with Abraham Lincoln was fraught with difficulty, in large part due to her family’s influence. Her family thought that Abraham Lincoln came from poverty and was unrefined, so he wouldn’t make a suitable partner for Mary, who came from a prominent political family. In the end, her family was wrong. What’s apparent in this book is that the one role Mary Todd Lincoln was perfectly suited for was wife of Abraham Lincoln. Her ambition and drive as well as her cunning mind for politics definitely played a role in helping him get to the White House.
From the time she was young, Mary would easily get her feelings hurt. Once she got older, if someone slighted her, she would simply cut them out of her life. This led to her isolation and loneliness after Abraham Lincoln died.
Another challenging area for Mary was her relationship with her surviving son, Robert. One would think that after losing three of her four children during her lifetime, she would cherish and dote on Robert. Instead, she railed against him and was endlessly suspicious of his motives, even though he seems to have had her best interests at heart.
My Thoughts on the Book
I enjoyed that this book gave me insight into Mary Lincoln’s life, but in the end, it left me feeling a bit depressed. Mary clearly had mental issues from the time she was a young child. I wonder if she had lived in modern time if she might have been able to take medicine and live a fairly normal life. Chiaverini painfully portrays Lincoln’s paranoia and anger toward her family, even toward her own child.
I also wonder how different her life would have been if Lincoln hadn’t been assassinated. At her funeral, the minister talked about two trees that grow together. When one is cut down, the other withers and dies slowly. That seemed so apropos for the Lincolns. Mary died a slow death without Lincoln; her life ended as much as his did when Booth assassinated him.
Overall, this is a great book for anyone wanting to learn more about Mary Lincoln and her complicated family.
I give Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters by Jennifer Chiaverini 4 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.