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The Emancipator's Wife

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3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  666 ratings  ·  137 reviews
As a girl growing up in Kentucky, she lived a sheltered, privileged life filled with picnics and plantation balls. Vivacious, impulsive, and intoxicated by politics, she is a Todd of Lexington, an aristocratic family whose ancestors defeated the British. But no one knows her secret fears and anxieties. Although she is courted by the most eligible suitors in the land, inclu...more
Paperback, 624 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by Bantam (first published 1938)
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Ballinger Ballinger-Cole
I live in Springfield, Illinois. So, I hear a LOT about Lincoln. However, you don't hear so much about Mary Todd Lincoln (and what you do hear is all very negative). I understand this book is historical fiction (as pointed out to me several times by my neighbor James Patton who the author of this book thanks for help with her research). Yet reading this book was the first time I have ever been able to imagine Lincoln and his wife as real people. As I've walked around downtown Springfield since r...more
Rebecca Huston
With this novel, I found all of my preconceived notions about Abraham and Mary Lincoln turned squarely on their heads and forcing me into thinking about them in a very different way. Once again Barbara Hambly is able to recreate a world that we think we know, and instead one that we really don't. Along the way, there are plenty of controversies about slavery, racism, the Civil War, women's rights, and mental illness. I found Mary's story is a tragic one and one that I found very absorbing all th...more
Heidi
At 600 pages and quite complicated at times, this book definately is not a fast read. After reading it, I don't doubt that Mary Todd Lincoln was crazy. I would be too if I had to live in a time where women were so oppressed. She suffered through the loss of three of her children and witnessed her husband getting shot to death--who wouldn't be crazy after that? She also lived a sad life; being rejected by her stepmother and being very lonely secondary to her husband's politcal aspirations. I lear...more
Karyl
One really shouldn't confuse this book with actual historical events. Barbara Hambly does a good job of fleshing out the what-might-have-beens in Mary Todd Lincoln's life, but a great deal of this book is fictional in nature. I see nothing wrong with this, but there are those who insist on the greatest of historical accuracy. This book is clearly fiction and marketed as such.

I've always been of the opinion that Mary Todd Lincoln's insanity stemmed from relatively simple mental illness that would...more
Katherine
Hambly sets out a complicated task for herself at the beginning of this novel. She opens in 1862, jumps to 1875, and then jumps back to 1825. For the rest of the novel she fills in the blanks between 1825 and 1875, a 50-year span that easily explains why this novel extends to 600 pages. I think this was a bit ambitious, since she was forced to simply summarize many pieces of Mary Todd Lincoln's life. When Hambly devotes enough time and space to tell more detailed stories, the novel comes alive,...more
ShareStories
The Emancipator's Wife is a fictionalized biography of Mary Todd Lincoln. Rather than paint her as someone whose mental illness encompasses her entire personality, the book portrays Mrs. Lincoln as someone who is witty and intelligent and truly struggles with the way her mental illness impacts her life.

Author Barbara Hambly takes into account the many other factors that could have come into play to explain Mary Lincoln's unstable behavior, not the least of which were the drugs that were rampant...more
Taylor
This book accomplished what all historical books accomplish, which is to get me interested and researching someone or some point in history I have never explored before. The writing style didn't thrill me, and sometimes it drove me slightly crazy. As though it was almost era-authentic, almost really good...but it felt like it needed just one more edit to really get to where Hambly was taking the story. Close, but not quite.

But the story is indeed compelling - what would it have been like to be...more
Michele
This was a really good story about Mary Todd Lincoln. She suffered horribly from mental illness and migraines. She lost all of her children but one. Her husband was shot while sitting next to her. Her only child had her committed for being insane. And I think my life's bad!
Kc
I know this is historical fiction but I found it had an interesting spin.

Mary Todd Lincoln is an example of an adult that was never disciplined as a child. Could this be what the future of our society holds?
Trudy Brasure
This was the book that reignited my love of reading and admiration for Lincoln.
A great tromp through history in the imagined perspective of a much misunderstood and maligned First Lady.
Angie Fehl
I read so many reviews about this book being a "challenging, long-winded" read that many gave up on, that I was almost hesitant to start it but was curious about the story around Mary Todd Lincoln's insanity trial (or what was called a trial!). I LOVED this book! Yes, it does take some time to get through because it covers all the history between MTL as a little girl all the way up to her death. It is historical fiction but Hambly's note at the end points out that the novel is her working out t...more
Korynn
An amazing book in which the author attempts to craft reasoning to the madness of Mrs Mary Todd Lincoln and creates an astoundingly balanced and sympathetic portrait of what must have been an infuriating and irrational woman. Using the bare facts of history Ms. Hambly takes artistic license to create a romance for Abraham Lincoln and his wife but still manages to tell a story about a woman with constant illness and counter motivations and intrigues of her own. There is not much truly admirable a...more
Marie
I found it sublimely disappointing. I picked it up for free, though, so I can't complain too much.

The author's choices of what to dramatize and what to skim over drove me insane. Intimate domestic scenes were skipped ad hoc, in a woman whose life had to be 90% domestic.

I say, as long as you're dramatizing, you should go for it all the way and give us some characters and interaction.

Sadly, the scenes tended to be drearily repetitive, focusing on long paragraphs of how Mary Tod Lincoln feels, and...more
Holly
This was very interesting albeit lengthy. It makes you wonder how any woman did not go completely insane living in the 1700's. There were too many fascinating historical points in this book to name. For example, she was very involved in her husbands politics and perhaps influenced one of our greatest presidents. Her social connections may have directly influenced Lincolns ability to become elected. She very much supported her husbands emancipation ideas despite her southern upbringing. She may h...more
Aeseyman
Certainly a sympathetic and believable portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln. She was an intelligent woman who, because of the mores of her time, had no outlet for her abilities. Marriage, children, housekeeping: activities for which she was not particularly well suited, were all she was permitted. Her husband and three of her four sons died before their time and the one son that remained had her declared insane and committed.

What I enjoyed most were the (admittedly fictional) descriptions of the intim...more
Sherry Beth Preston
I went to see Lincoln last month and remembered I had this book, so I read it. While it is fiction, I am assuming the author portrayed Mary as accurately as she could. According to the author, Mary was probably addicted to patent medicines which were made mostly of opiates. No wonder she was crazy!

The book starts when Mary was deemed insane and checked into a "rest home" by her son, then flashes back to times with Lincoln and also her childhood. Mary came off as a likeable but very flawed perso...more
Maribeth
I can't put my finger on the reason why I wasn't more excited about this book. It takes place in the most pivotal era of American history, and there was so much drama in the life of Mary Todd Lincoln that I felt like it should have been a page-turner. Any one of the events she lived through (deaths of 3 sons, being committed to a mental institution by her only surviving son, husband assassinated in front of her, family members dying in the Civil War, struggles with migraines and mental illness,...more
Shari
Historical novels should have a powerful mise en scene that places the reader fully in the time and place and I felt this book accomplished that beautifully. It is also a just portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln, paying attention to those parts of Mary's personality that are rarely talked of and examining, with a clear eye, those accusations that have gotten full press.

Hambly pays particular attention to the situation of women of that period. Mary Todd was a southern belle who lived a leisurely life...more
Nancy
The fascinating story of Mary Todd Lincoln encompassing her girlhood to her death. She grew up in Kentucky on a small plantation. Her father was a state politician who was away from home much of the time. Her mother died in childbirth when she was young. She and her stepmother did not get along well. From the time she was very young she had difficulty with her emotions and her temper. At the age of 24 (in danger of becoming an old maid) she married Abraham Lincoln, the one man she truly loved an...more
Alison Dellit
One of Hambly's best books, I think. Hambly has an interesting thesis here about insanity, spiritualism, feminism, war and drugs. All in the story of a spoiled, bratty, tempestuous southern belle. I was nervous about reading this book as I felt the protagonist was likely to be too unlikeable to spend a book on, but I shouldn't have been.

Mary Todd Lincoln had plenty of redeeming qualities - her courage, her determination to have an opinion, her loyalty and her warmth all shine as brightly as her...more
Terry
The author did extensive research. This is a very detailed account of Mary Todd Lincoln's life although much of it is fiction. It chronicles her courtships, marriage to Abraham Lincoln and her addiction to drugs like Laudamin, a type of opium. This caused her to become dilusional and temperamental as a result her son, Robert had her committed as insane to Bellevue Place in Batavia, Illinois. She later was acquitted, travelled to Europe and finally returned to live with her sister, Elizabeth unti...more
Patricia
I gave this 4 stars only because it was so long. Seriously, no matter how interesting a book is, by page 500 or 600, I'm starting to wish it was almost over.
I love historical fiction; I love learning new things about historical figures (and figuring out which ones in the book are the fiction part), and this didn't disappoint. Mary Todd Lincoln was an interesting character, and Hambly certainly brought her(and a lot of people around her) to life for me.
Amy
I really enjoyed reading about Mary Todd Lincoln and I enjoyed the flashbacks/ modern voice throughout the book. It was fascinating to learn that her family mostly were Southern sympathizers and that she was painted as such during the war as well. It must have been very difficult to go against family and everything you knew growing up. It was also interesting to read about the Lincoln / Mary dynamic, she was broken after his assassination. I wish that I had better understood the motivations of h...more
Laura
Whoa, this one is a doozy. It's very long and the cast of characters is enormous. I read this almost every day and still I had a hard time keeping track of who was who.

But if you can make it through, it is well worth it. Prior to reading this I had no inkling about Mary Todd Lincoln and this novel was eye-opening.

It piqued my interest enough to do some side research, to see what exactly was truth and fiction.

Mrs. Lincoln is portrayed as a loving, bi-polar harridan of a woman, but you feel for he...more
Rachel
I really enjoyed this historical novel on the life of Mary Todd Lincoln. It is well written, and the characters are well drawn. It was interesting to read about her mental struggles as it is now believed that she was bipolar and likely had spring allergies causing severe headaches, and some historians also think she may have had minor diabetes symptoms as well, all of which would have been untreated at that time. All of these things added to the grief of losing 3 of her 4 sons to early death and...more
Crystal
A historical fiction book about Mary Todd Lincoln. I think it is interesting, if not surprising to see how one person takes the few snippets of facts and turns out their version of history. Which, I guess is what history really is anyway. I have read many books from both sides of the civil war and found this to be explanatory of Lincoln's personal trials in a phatomable way. Here is another story where I felt pity for the character's and had to remember that this is just an interpretation, not a...more
Lylee
We read this to learn more about Mary Todd Lincoln after having watched Sally Field play Mary Todd LIncoln, in the movie "Lincoln". I always question portrayals of difficult women of history, because I question whether the "difficult" is a male interpretation of a smart, individualistic women, who does not always follow society's directions. Mary Todd Lincoln was all those things, misinterpreted by men, and was also difficult. I think Barbara Hambly shares a Mary whose problems, frustrations an...more
Jane Corsiglia
I read this book at the same time that I was reading Killing Lincoln. The two books together gave me a broader overview of the political life and also the home life of Lincoln. I would recommend both books.
Jennifer Hughes
I picked this book up on a whim on the display shelf at the library. I think Mary Todd Lincoln is a fascinating and misunderstood character, and I did learn a lot about her life in an interesting fictional setting instead of a dry biography. (It's fiction because of the dialogue and the liberties the author had to take to flesh out a complete portrait of MLT, even though the facts of her life are accurate.)

I give it 3 stars because, although I liked the writer's voice fine, I felt like her writi...more
Kimberly Wallace
Though 606 pages and wordy in places, I enjoyed this book. Similar content to other books I have read about Mary Todd Lincoln, but portrayed a different side of Lincoln himself.
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10333
aka Barbara Hamilton

Ranging from fantasy to historical fiction, Barbara Hambly has a masterful way of spinning a story. Her twisty plots involve memorable characters, lavish descriptions, scads of novel words, and interesting devices. Her work spans the Star Wars universe, antebellum New Orleans, and various fantasy worlds, sometimes linked with our own.


"I always wanted to be a writer but everyone...more
More about Barbara Hambly...
Children of the Jedi (Star Wars) Dragonsbane (Winterlands #1) The Time of the Dark (Darwath, #1) Those Who Hunt the Night (James Asher, #1) The Armies of Daylight (Darwath, #3)

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“Lexington wasn't a great city, like Philadelphia or New York, but around the Courthouse square, and along Main Street and Broadway, brick buildings reared two and three stories tall, and it was possible to buy almost anything: breeze-soft silks from France that came upriver from New Orleans, fine wines and cigars, pearl necklaces, and canes with ivory handles shaped like parrots or dogs'-heads or (in the case of Mary's older friend Cash Clay) scantily dressed ladies (but Cash was careful not to carry that one in company).” 4 likes
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