Courting Mr. Lincoln: Book summary and reviews of Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard

Courting Mr. Lincoln

A Novel

by Louis Bayard

Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard X
Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard
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  • Publishes in USA 
    Apr 23, 2019
    352 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

From the prizewinning author of Mr. Timothy and The Pale Blue Eye comes Courting Mr. Lincoln, the page-turning and surprising story of a young Abraham Lincoln and the two people who loved him best: a sparky, marriageable Mary Todd and Lincoln's best friend, Joshua Speed.

When Mary Todd meets Abraham Lincoln in Springfield in the winter of 1840, he is on no one's shortlist to be president. Rough and reticent, he's a country lawyer lacking money and manners, living above a dry goods shop, but with a gift for oratory. Mary, a quick, self-possessed debutante with a tireless interest in debates and elections, at first finds him an enigma. "I can only hope," she tells his roommate, the handsome, charming Joshua Speed, "that his waters being so very still, they also run deep."

It's not long, though, before she sees the Lincoln that Speed knows: a man who, despite his awkwardness, is amiable and profound, with a gentle wit to match his genius and a respect for her keen political mind. But as her relationship with Lincoln deepens, she must confront his inseparable friendship with Speed, who has taught his roommate how to dance, dress, and navigate the polite society of Springfield.

Told in the alternating voices of Mary Todd and Joshua Speed, and rich with historical detail, Courting Mr. Lincoln creates a sympathetic and complex portrait of Mary unlike any that has come before; a moving portrayal of the deep and very real connection between the two men; and most of all, an evocation of the unformed man who would grow into one of the nation's most beloved presidents.

Louis Bayard, a master storyteller at the height of his powers, delivers here a page-turning tale of love, longing, and forbidden possibilities.

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Media Reviews

"A miracle; an exquisite story exquisitely told. This glorious novel, big-hearted and clear-eyed, features the most uncanny incarnation of our sixteenth president since Daniel Day-Lewis strode onscreen in Lincoln. If you love Jane Austen, or Hamilton, or fiction - of any era - that transports and transforms in equal measure, look no further. 'Whatever you are, be a good one,' Lincoln urged. Courting Mr. Lincoln is a good one - as good as storytelling gets." - A.J. Finn, bestselling author of The Woman in the Window

"In this sparkling tale of strategy and desire, Louis Bayard renders the origin story of the Lincoln-Todd marriage with a wit worthy of Jane Austen and the keen political insight of the best presidential biographers. When it comes to bringing our most revered historical figures to vivid life - and returning to them their full humanity - Louis Bayard has no peer. He is, quite simply, a master of the storytelling art." - Liza Mundy, bestselling author of Code Girls

"Courting Mr. Lincoln gives us a young Abe Lincoln as we've never imagined him. It's a moving portrait, told with cutting wit and intimately drawn detail, of three friends struggling to find their own identities against the weight of social expectations." - Thomas Mullen, author of Darktown and Lightning Men

"In exquisite detail and luminous prose, Louis Bayard has taken what might have been a footnote in the history of Abraham Lincoln and made it the story. It is as if there was a secret door in Lincoln's life and Bayard has opened it and walked inside. Suddenly all the pieces fit. Utterly fascinating and brilliantly convincing, this is a terrific book that people will be talking about for a long time." - Mary Morris, author of Gateway to the Moon

"Superb, witty, gorgeously written. For the length of this dazzling, subversive novel, I was plunged so deeply into the sitting rooms and muddy streets of mid-nineteenth-century Springfield, Illinois, that I too had fallen in love with and had my heart broken by the awkward, young lawyer from Kentucky. Courting Mr. Lincoln is an essential read: it makes the past a human place." - Christopher Bollen, author of The Destroyers

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Reader Reviews

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Jean L. (Omaha, NE)

At the Beginning
Abraham Lincoln arrived in Springfield,Illinois, in 1837. He was born and raised in Kentucky. His family was dirt poor and he had little formal education. On a borrowed horse, a few law books, a change of clothes, and a personal debt of $1,000.00, Lincoln hoped that he could succeed as a lawyer. He was a real country bumpkin. The first person he met in town was Joshua Speed. He was a storekeeper who offered to provide him with a bed in the room above the store. Over the course of time, he taught Lincoln how to function in polite society. He groomed him for his ultimate future.

Mary Todd arrived in Springfield in 1839. She arrived with plenty of fancy clothes. Her family was a part of high society in Kentucky. Her hope was to find a husband. Her sister Elizabeth Edwards and her husband provided a home for her. Elizabeth took it upon herself to find an appropriate husband for her sister.

These two young people would never had met if they had stayed in Kentucky. The story of the courtship and marriage of Mary and Abraham is told through the eyes of Mary Todd and Joshua Speed. Often times the same event is described differently by the two storytellers. The social mores of Springfield and the complexities of the personalities of the couple made courting a real challenge. Added to that was the strong disapproval of Elizabeth Edwards to that relationship.

This is a book of historical fiction. The author,Louis Bayard, makes the reader feel like he/she has a ringside seat to the couple's courtship. Though it is never stated, he also makes a strong argument that without the support and love of Mary Todd and Joshua Speed there never would have been a President Lincoln.

Sarah H. (Arvada, CO)

Wonderful and imaginative
Historical fiction seems to me the most challenging of genres. You have to create a "character" that competes with a pre-existing idea the reader has of that person, honor what history has shown us, and yet create your own world, your own story. All while battling the additional challenges of a period piece, which can so easily create caricatures instead of characters. I am happy to say that Louis Bayard has overcome these challenges and created a beautiful and engaging story that feels more like a time machine than a work of fiction. I so appreciate the ride and the opportunity to take a peek into the world of Mary Todd and Mr Lincoln.

Dorothy G. (Naperville, IL)

As with other reviewers, I have always favored President Lincoln, as he was from Illinois, as am I, and because he came from nothing and made so much of himself. Ms. Bayard's style reveals layers of each character with each chapter. The relationships are given a depth and purpose which made me connect with them. The work behind the courtship, the friendships, and the politics is artfully layered making the book difficult to put down. I enjoyed learning of Mary's intelligence and her unusual enjoyment of politics, and, as with all the interesting characters, the author gives us the backstory on how these passions emerged. After reading, I realized that very many people were "Courting Mr. Lincoln" and I was mesmerized by them all. I will keep this book next to my biography of Lincoln and when sharing will recommend people with an interest in Lincoln read both.

Sylvia T. (Rancho Mirage, CA)

An Exceptionally Pleasant Read
Louis Bayard fictionalizes the early days of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln's relationship in this entertaining embellishment of American history. When Mary, seeking a husband, moves into the home of her brother-in-law in Springfield, Ill., she meets the awkward yet principled Lincoln, a lawyer and local politician. Chapters are alternatively narrated by Mary and Lincoln's witty roommate and friend, Joshua Speed, who grooms and guides Lincoln on his road to romance. The story shows two sides of Lincoln: a young, self-educated politician attempting to make sense of high society and a romantic attempting to pursue a serious relationship. As Mary becomes the belle of Springfield, Lincoln makes fumbling attempts to woo her and awkward appearances at fancy dinner parties. I enjoyed reading the entries of Joshua and Mary, who provided unique reflections on a man who is deeply troubled about the path his country is on. After Mary and Lincoln get over initial hurdles, they begin to steal away for "unchaperoned visits," but when their liaisons are discovered, the upper society of Springfield is temporarily scandalized by their secret courtship. This charming love story delicately reveals the emotional roller coaster of two inexperienced adults traversing the unknown realm of love while trying to meet the demands and expectations of society. It's an exceptionally pleasant read - one that keeps the pages turning despite time and necessities!

Diane S. (Batavia, IL)

Courting Mr. Lincoln
My goodness, I think I'm turning into an emotional willy nilly! I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Abraham Lincoln. When asked that question, who would you want to meet, dead or alive? Lincoln was always my answer. Despite that, I knew little about his beginning time in Springfield, first meeting Mary Todd, and his friendship with Joshua Speed. This novel filled that time period, ably and wonderfully.

A young Lincoln, so nice to imagine him at the beginning of his career, newly arrived in Springfield, becoming Speeds' roomie and meeting Mary. A young, awkward, Abe, no social grace's, few manners, taught by Joshua all he needed to know to comport himself in society. Mary Todd, living with her eldest sister, the Belle of Springfield. A keen political mind, not afraid to speak out with her opinions. The relationship between her and Abe, the starts and stutters, until finally, and in a most unusual place makes his declaration. By then, I had quite fallen for them both.

Told with tenderness, this in-depth look at a man and woman, who had so much heartache in their lives. The novel surges forward to the eve Lincoln's inauguration and then again to Mary alone, looking back, waiting. Bellevue and her stay there briefly mentioned, a part history if which I'm very aware as I live in the town where it is located. A wonderful story, history lovers will cherish this. Sometimes fiction can flesh things out, be a little more personal than non fiction. Bayard does a terrific job with these two people now present only in history.

The recipe for kiss pudding, mentioned in this book. Had never heard of it but liked the name and it seems easy enough to make.

Gail B. (Albuquerque, NM)

A Tale of Politics, Love and Rivalry
On Mary Todd's twenty-first birthday, her sister Elizabeth whispers to her, "Don't panic," implying that SURELY some man would come along to save Mary from a lifetime of spinsterhood. There is nothing "wrong" with Mary. She is attractive, vivacious, talented in womanly arts. Her drawback -- she has "standards." She wants more than a dancing partner; she wants a man she can talk to. In Springfield she meets her "match" in A. Lincoln, who has just begun his career in politics.

The story alternates between Mary's version and that of Lincoln's roommate, Joshua Speed. It is interesting to see another side of Lincoln's life. It remains to the reader whether it is believable.

...15 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Louis Bayard Author Biography

Photo: D.A. Peterson

With his most recent novels, The School of Night, The Black Tower, The Pale Blue Eye, and Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard, in the words of the Washington Post, has ascended to "the upper reaches of the historical-thriller league." A New York Times Notable author, he has been nominated for both the Edgar and Dagger awards and has been named one of People magazine's top authors of the year.

Bayard is also a nationally recognized essayist and critic whose articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Huffington Post. His other novels include Fool's Errand and Endangered Species. He is a contributor to the anthologies The Worst Noël and Maybe Baby (HarperCollins) as well as 101 Damnations (St. Martin's). He also teaches creative writing at ...

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Link to Louis Bayard's Website

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