The Madness of Mary Lincoln

  • by Jason Emerson
  • Narrated by Steven Roy Grimsley
  • 6 hrs and 48 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In 2005, historian Jason Emerson discovered a steamer trunk formerly owned by Robert Todd Lincoln's lawyer and stowed in an attic for 40 years. The trunk contained a rare find: 25 letters pertaining to Mary Todd Lincoln's life and insanity case, letters assumed long destroyed by the Lincoln family. Mary wrote 20 of the letters herself, more than half from the insane asylum to which her son Robert had her committed, and many in the months and years after.
The Madness of Mary Lincoln is the first examination of Mary Lincoln's mental illness based on the lost letters, and the first new interpretation of the insanity case in 20 years. This compelling story of the purported insanity of one of America's most tragic first ladies provides new and previously unpublished materials, including the psychiatric diagnosis of Mary's mental illness and her lost will.
Emerson charts Mary Lincoln's mental illness throughout her life and describes how a predisposition to psychiatric illness and a life of mental and emotional trauma led to her commitment to the asylum. The first to state unequivocally that Mary Lincoln suffered from bipolar disorder, Emerson offers a psychiatric perspective on the insanity case based on consultations with psychiatrist experts.
This book reveals Abraham Lincoln's understanding of his wife's mental illness and the degree to which he helped keep her stable. It also traces Mary's life after her husband's assassination, including her severe depression and physical ailments, the harsh public criticism she endured, the Old Clothes Scandal, and the death of her son Tad.
The Madness of Mary Lincoln is the story not only of Mary, but also of Robert. It details how he dealt with his mother's increasing irrationality and why it embarrassed his Victorian sensibilities; it explains the reasons he had his mother committed, his response to her suicide attempt, and her plot to murder him. It also shows why and how he ultimately agreed to her release from the asylum eight months early, and what their relationship was like until Mary's death.
This historical page-turner provides readers for the first time with the lost letters that historians had been in search of for 80 years.


What the Critics Say

The Madness of Mary Lincoln is precise, documented, and detailed. . . . Every word counts and every word adds up to a riveting and until-now neglected chronicle begging to be told.” (Carl Sferrazza Anthony, author of First Ladies)
“A judicious, convincing analysis. . . . Emerson's new evidence demonstrates that Mary Todd Lincoln deserves to be pitied more than censured, but also that she behaved very badly indeed.” (Michael Burlingame, author of Lincoln and the Civil War)
“Jason Emerson's heroic efforts to uncover new material on Robert Lincoln have paid off handsomely with this engaging interpretation of Mary Lincoln's later years.” (Catherine Clinton, author of Fanny Kemble's Civil Wars)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Long overdue vindication...

for Robert Lincoln. Previously suppressed letters concerning the mental illness of the strangest first lady America has seen debunk the too-long-standing feminist attack on Robert Lincoln as a heartless chauvinist pig of a son who shunted his misunderstood mother off to Bedlam to be rid of her so he could seize her property and further his own political career. The discovered letters clearly show that Mary Lincoln was, in fact, not misunderstand, but deeply in the throes of a serious mental illness; they also show very clearly that Robert suffered mightily concerning the difficult decision that had to be made for his mother's own safety and well-being and that when she raged against him in delusional thoughts that told her that he wanted her money, he ENCOURAGED her to write him out of her will to prove that this was not his motive. The letters also reveal how predatory "friends" of Mary Lincoln as well as a sensationalist yellow journalist they enlisted wrongly besmirched Robert's character and just out and out lied concerning the luxury private facility that Robert secured for his mother's institutionalization. A VERY important addition to the Lincoln canon--and long overdue.
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- Douglas

And now for the rest of the story...

For those who have a long-standing interest in Lincoln/Civil War history, or for those who saw the film "Lincoln" and wondered what happened to Mary after her husband's assassination, this book provides a fascinating coda to the Lincoln saga.

There are many accounts which attest to Mary's erratic and tempestuous behavior during the course of her marriage. After her husband's assassination in her presence, she managed to more or less hold things together until the adolescent death of her son,Tad, finally sent her over the edge. Anyone familiar with Lincoln lore knows that Mary, though totally devoted to Abraham, was never the most stable of individuals--but during the course of her life she was subjected to a degree of tragic loss that would unbalance many far less fragile than she.

My only complaint about the book is that its thrust seems to be a defense and justification of Todd Lincoln's conduct in having his mother involuntarily committed. I don't necessarily disagree with the author's conclusions, but I do think his interest in exonerating Todd does at time skew his analysis. Nevertheless, the book provides a valuable addition to our understanding of the Lincolns, 19th century women's history and the state of 19th century mental health care.
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- Diane

Book Details

  • Release Date: 12-10-2012
  • Publisher: University Press Audiobooks