Irving Stone was famous for his historical novels, the best
known of which is The Agony and the
Ecstasy, about Michelangelo. The less-known Love Is Eternal, about the
marriage of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, is a curious entry in
Lincolnalia. Mary Lincoln, so often portrayed as a shrew and lunatic,
is seen sympathetically. Mary is the dominant figure, and Lincoln and
their marriage are viewed through her perspective.
The book opens in Lexington, Kentucky, where Mary Todd grew up in a prosperous, slave-holding family. Her married sister Elizabeth invites her to Springfield, Illinois, where Mary meets Abraham. The story progresses through their courtship and marriage, Lincoln’s rise on the national political stage, and finally the White House years during the Civil War. They suffer through the death of two sons, Lincoln’s depression, and Mary’s migraines. The novel ends a few weeks after Lincoln’s death, when Mary leaves the White House with her youngest son, Tad. The sad 17 years she had still to live aren’t covered.
Historians can debate whether Mary Lincoln deserves the favorable portrait. What’s undeniable is that she endured great heartbreak. In the early years of her marriage, she was alone with her young sons for extended periods when Lincoln rode the lawyer’s circuit in Illinois. His melancholy did little for her loneliness when he was home. Only one of her four sons survived her. She endured public attack, especially from those who questioned her allegiance to the Union. She lost her husband and three half-brothers who died for the Confederacy.
The aspect of Mary Todd Lincoln’s character on which historians and novelists agree is that she was a well-educated, ambitious woman who supported her husband’s political career. In Love Is Eternal, Mary is essential to Lincoln’s achievement.
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