a Novel About Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln
by Irving Stone. Doubleday &: Company. 468 pp. $3.95.
Historians are inclined to dismiss the historical novel as having no positive value and, as a matter of fact, of contributing in a major way to the misunderstanding of history. Yet a great many readers of the biographical novels of Irving Stone would know nothing at all about Jessie and John Charles Fremont, Rachel and Andrew Jackson, and—currently—Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln, were it not for his books. Despite the liberties he has taken with his subject, the knowledge his readers have gained of American history is essentially accurate. In recording the events of history, he is meticulously careful; it is only when he introduces the thoughts and words of his characters that his biographical portraits are open to question.
The reader of this book will emerge with a better pen portrait of the Lexington, Kentucky, and the Springfield, Illinois, of Mary Todd Lincoln’s time than he will find in any other work in the field of Lincolniana, with the possible exception of Carl Sandburg’s description of Springfield in The Prairie Years . These cities come alive in Mr. Stone’s pages. In the Washington-Presidential period, the reader is more apt to be disappointed. Here the portrait is less convincing.
Mr. Stone is obviously in love with his heroine. He does not try to explain away all of her faults—as some writers have imprudently done—but he does use the novelist’s device to build up his heroine at the expense of her husband. That Abraham Lincoln was a difficult husband no one can deny, but Mrs. Lincoln was far from perfect herself. Lincoln’s spells of melancholia are exaggerated, and in the hands of a skillful artist help to convey a most sympathetic portrait of Mrs. Lincoln.
If the portrait of Lincoln does not quite accord with the opinions of most of the reputable Lincoln biographers, the story itself is told with a high degree of literary craftsmanship.