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I Mary Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Ruth Randall, wife of the great Lincoln scholar James G. Randall, became interested in Mary Todd Lincoln as the result of assisting her husband with his research. Her Mary Lincoln: Biography of a Marriage (1953), a full-length adult biography, served to dispel many of the traditional misconceptions about this tragic figure. Randall, in her diligent research, used numerous primary source materials, including little-known manuscripts and letters from private collections, to produce what is considered by Lincoln scholars the best documented biography of Mary Todd Lincoln ever written. I Mary uses the same material to tell the story for young people and thus may be considered an authentic and accurate biography. Its content follows closely that of the adult biography, but occasionally the language tends to be somewhat patronizing, especially for the upper segment of the intended age range.

The portrait limned of Mary Lincoln is a well-rounded, very human one. She is shown to be “by nature joyous with life,” adoring pretty clothes, loving a good time, and, contrary to the conventions of her generation, having intellectual and political interests. This latter characteristic has been confirmed by later research, and she has been shown to be a woman who was somewhat out of tune with, or ahead of, her time. She is seen as very determined when she chooses to pursue marriage to Abraham Lincoln despite her family’s strong objections. After her marriage, she proved to be a loving wife, but one who was very ambitious for her husband and who reveled in his success. Along with her husband, she was shown to be a doting parent, although at that time the Lincolns’ parenting was criticized as being too lenient. Randall also portrays Mary Lincoln’s more negative characteristics, particularly her bouts of hysteria and irrational extravagance, but is sometimes ardently defensive about Mary’s behavior, either attributing it to mental illness or portraying her as a passive victim of unfair criticism. In doing so, she ignores the fact that Mary Lincoln’s behavior was sometimes quite provocative and that her subject did not fit neatly into the stereotype of a passive Victorian female. Considering that the book on which I Mary is based was published in 1953, such a view is understandable, but the personal views that Randall brings as a biographer must be considered.

Randall provides little detail about the insanity trial of Mary...

(The entire section is 601 words.)