I Mary Critical Context - Essay

Ruth Painter Randall

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

I Mary, based on a landmark adult biography, is free of any invented dialogue or incidents. The accurate portrayal of the subject has been substantiated by later research. In fact, capable young adult readers who become intrigued by this tragic love story will find Jean H. Baker’s 1987 Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography, which incorporates more recent research, includes a multitude of interesting details, and provides a strong feminist perspective, to be an elegant further step in their studies. Those interested in Lincoln’s life after her husband’s assassination will be fascinated with The Insanity File: The Case of Mary Todd Lincoln by Mark E. Neely, Jr., and R. Gerald McMurtry (1986).

One valuable function that biography may provide is to serve as a source of in-spiration to young people. Randall’s biography does not serve this particular function well because it shows Mary Todd Lincoln unable to cope satisfactorily with the tragic events that beset her life. I Mary will be of great interest, however, for the beautiful and genuine love story it tells. It is significant as well for its perspectives on Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and the historical period in general, and may stimulate further interest in knowing more about mental illness. It is important, too, because it clarifies facts that were misconstrued for many years. Beyond all of this, however, it simply tells a good story—that of the life of an interesting, unique, and very human woman.