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Summary and book reviews of Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard

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
    Paperback:
    Feb 2020, 416 pages

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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.

Excerpt
Courting Mr. Lincoln

had a notion of running upstairs to Mary's bedroom and mending themselves before the looking glass. But the back stairs were blocked by kegs, and Mercy was anxious about leaving Mr. Conkling alone for too long, and so they were just inching back into the main hall when a gentleman guest, leaning indolently against the wall, chose that moment to swivel round.

"Why, there you are, Miss Todd," he said.

Joshua Speed's coat fit him as lightly as feathers. His boots looked as if they had been blacked at the door. But what struck Mary most forcibly was his hair, which had lain hidden from view during their last encounter and which now rippled in chestnut waves down to his collar. A prodigal mane that had the effect of both lengthening and poeticizing his face. Yes, she thought, this must have been how Lord Byron looked, training his gaze upon some Alpine lass.

"Good evening," she remembered to say. She slid a damp tendril off her face and glanced into the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Bayard's book is superb, and I highly recommended it...It's perfect fodder for book clubs in search of brilliantly crafted historical fiction...continued

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
[A]rresting...Bayard offers readers no absolutes. At book’s end, who’s courting Lincoln remains an enticing mystery.

Newsday
A rich, fascinating and romantic union of fact and imagination about young Lincoln, the woman he would marry and his beloved best friend. Bayard’s compelling take on this question is not academic, nor is it a polemic; Courting Mr. Lincoln is intimate, warm and, above all, compassionate. Bayard is concerned with the possibilities of the human heart, and he presents an enigmatic Lincoln seen—and loved—from two other points of a romantic triangle...the greatest triumph of Courting Mr. Lincoln is how effectively Bayard creates suspense, even when we know how the story ends. Love is love is love, after all, and he invests us deeply in the moving journey of three extraordinary people.

New York Journal of Books
Filled with rich historical detail and compulsively readable, Courting Mr. Lincoln is a story of a best friend, a future wife, and the political legend that they came together to create, each leaving an indelible mark on the man that would one day become president. Fans of historical fiction will be up late into the night to uncover the next chapter of this fascinating time in history.

Publishers Weekly
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.

Booklist
Bayard (Lucky Strikes, 2016) runs his narrative on parallel lines, one seen through Mary's eyes and one through Joshua's. Inserting Joshua, a real-life friend from Lincoln's Springfield days, adds dimension to a familiar story and, along with a richly imagined setting and complex characters, makes this a worthy addition to the fiction-about-Lincoln bookshelf.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Not a lot of action, but in Bayard's skilled hands, three complicated people groping toward a new phase in their lives is all the plot you need.

Author Blurb A.J. Finn, bestselling author of The Woman in the Window
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.

Author Blurb Liza Mundy, bestselling author of Code Girls
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.

Author Blurb Thomas Mullen, author of Darktown and Lightning Men
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.

Author Blurb Mary Morris, author of Gateway to the Moon
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.

Author Blurb Christopher Bollen, author of The Destroyers
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.

Reader Reviews

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, ...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

Dorothy G. (Naperville, IL)

Heartwarming!
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 ...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

History of the First Lady

FLOTUSCourting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard describes the budding romance between future President Abraham Lincoln and the woman who would become his wife and First Lady, Mary Todd.

Although the role of the President of the United States is described in depth in the US Constitution, the "job" of First Lady is one that has evolved over the years since George Washington was sworn in, in 1789. George's wife Martha wasn't referred to as the First Lady until a journalist used the term for her 40 years after her death; prior to that, the President's wife was referred to as "Lady" (e.g., "Lady Washington"), "the President's Wife," or "Mrs. President."

Frances Folsom ClevelandFrances Folsom Cleveland was the youngest woman to serve as First Lady - only 21 years old when ...

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