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The Emancipator's Wife

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  811 Ratings  ·  159 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
Kindle Edition, 624 pages
Published (first published 2005)
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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
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
Jul 22, 2008 Heidi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 10, 2010 Karyl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 29, 2009 ShareStories rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 21, 2009 Taylor rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, historical
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
Feb 13, 2009 Michelegg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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!
May 23, 2007 Kc rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 04, 2011 Trudy Brasure rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorite-books
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
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
Jan 01, 2012 Nancy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, fiction
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
Dec 08, 2009 Marie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 02, 2008 Holly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Rosemary Cantrell
Jan 26, 2016 Rosemary Cantrell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was recommended by a friend - and I have to agree with her. I really liked the book. It is historical fiction, so while the major events are all historical, the thoughts and feelings expressed are conjecture. There are also a few main characters that are fictional. Even so, it was a fascinating book. I have always been interested in Mary Todd Lincoln since reading a biography of her when I was a child. This really made her and Lincoln come alive. Her life was hard - losing three sons, the 4 ...more
Sep 20, 2014 Aeseyman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mary Czarnecki
This was excellent! A real close-up view of Mary Todd Lincoln and by proximity, Abe Lincoln... fascinating. Now I want to read more about these people. Very well written, absorbing and informative. Wld make a great bk clb selection, but it's 600 pgs-- kind of daunting for most of them. But it does fly by, since the story is carried along by Mary's voice & character, a lot more interesting than I wld hv thought possible-- her childhood in the south, her family, her rocky relationship w/her st ...more
Dec 02, 2015 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I almost gave it 5-stars, because it was very good. I've always liked Barbara Hambly's writing, and Mary Todd Lincoln is certainly an interesting subject. Also describes the destruction and poverty due to the war. Interesting times, and I'm glad I am not living through them (as in the Chinese curse, "May you Live in Interesting Times". May we never have another war on American soil. It makes me even sadder for the devastation across Europe during WWII, and for the devastation affecting families ...more
Sherry Beth Preston
Jul 06, 2015 Sherry Beth Preston rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
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
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
-Let me begin by saying that I wanted so very much to love this book and I did at first but then it began to drag on…and on…and on. I cannot possibly imagine enduring all the suffering that she did. She certainly did go through a lot and as person suffering from bipolar disorder, it could not have been easy. I do understand the frustrations of bipolar disorder, being diagnosed with it myself. I sympathize with her entirely.

I wanted to be able to relate to her, however, she was quite unlikable I
Jan 08, 2014 Shari rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mary Ann
Apr 02, 2015 Mary Ann rated it really liked it
I liked this very much. I have had Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker on my to-read shelf for quite I while; I read more of the Goodreads reviews and comments and decided to give it a pass. However, one of the reviewers mentioned and recommended Hambly's book. It IS very long, but it is a large subject. Hambly skillfully moves back and forth between Mary's earlier life up to the assassination and her post-assassination life. For the first time, I formed a sense of who this woman was.
Jul 10, 2014 Terry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 21, 2014 Patricia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 30, 2011 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 23, 2015 Laurie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mary Todd Lincoln is a complicated woman. The text bounced around so much from where she was currently to the past that it made it difficult to follow. She went through a LOT and I don't think many people would have come through it as well. It is clearly fiction but it helps you see these two historical figures as human and making the best from what they had.
Apr 20, 2009 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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 about Barbara Hambly...

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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).” 5 likes
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