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Courting Mr. Lincoln

by Louis Bayard

Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard X
Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2019, 352 pages
    Feb 2020, 416 pages


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There are currently 22 reader reviews for Courting Mr. Lincoln
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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!
Power Reviewer
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.
Henry W. (Lake Barrington, IL)

The Humanization of Mary and Abraham Lincoln
Over the years I have been presented with very heroic images of Abe and troubling images of Mary Todd. The author goes beyond these images to speculate how the courtship of the Lincoln's might have occurred. More to the point it was really the courtship of Abe by Mary. The role of various influencers on Mary's strategy in her single minded pursuit within the societal limits provides a bit of intrigue throughout the book. While certain biographers describe Abe as being very empathetic, the Lincoln in this book is clueless. Mary is presented as a competent political aide. The story makes an interesting read even if one might argue with the accuracy of the presentation of various events. The author gives the reader insight into life in the middle of the 19th century. The relationship between Lincoln and Joshua Speed his roommate,coach, and guardian is developed quite imaginatively. The author has been extremely creative in inventing the dialogue between the various players. In the end an enjoyable and informative read.
Suzette P. (Chicago, IL)

Young Lincoln in Love
Louis Bayard's novels are wonderfully well-written and interesting and this latest, about the triangle between a young Abraham Lincoln and two of the most important people in his life - his wife, Mary, and his good friend, Joshua Speed - is no exception. While there are references to the childhoods of each of them, and a coda at the end covering their later years, the book focuses on the time period immediately prior to Lincoln's marriage, when he was a young practicing lawyer out of Springfield, Illinois, sleeping in the same bed as his roommate, Joshua. The book is a revelation - Mary Todd is not the crazy harridan political rivals and some historians painted her but a charming and thoughtful young woman interested in politics who falls in love with the somewhat uncouth Lincoln. And Bayard's rendition of the relationship between Speed and Lincoln is fascinating - an deep yet unspoken love exists that is emotionally resonate. As an Illinoisan, I grew up going on school field trips to Springfield and New Salem and was fed Lincoln lore from his time in the state and I loved this novel. I would consider Bayard's novel a lighter companion piece to George Saunders' masterpiece, "Lincoln in the Bardo" - both books cover periods in Lincoln's life when he was affected by deep emotions, grieving and loving the people in his life. As an aside, I recently read Michelle Obama's "Becoming" in which she discusses her life with an up and coming Illinois politician and I noted comparisons between the accomplishments of Michelle and the sorts of things Mary Todd could have accomplished if she had not been limited by the historical period in which she was born. Bayard's book is superb - highly recommended.
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Beyond the Book:
  History of the First Lady

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