I had originally wanted to include a paragraph on Mary Lincoln in my Wall Street Journal review of James Swanson’s new book Bloody Crimes. She plays only a bit part in Bloody Crimes, but Swanson’s condemnation of her jumps off the page:
“The real Mary Lincoln was mercurial, jealous, insulting, rude, selfish, deceitful, paranoid, financially dishonest, and, without a doubt, mentally unbalanced.”
Wow! Did she also chew her fingernails? Mary has always had her detractors, so it wasn’t surprising to learn that Swanson is one of them–even if he piled on more than most. (Is it really necessary to say she’s “deceitful” when you’re also calling her “financially dishonest”?)
The really striking thing is that in his 2006 book Manhunt, Swanson sympathizes with poor Mary:
“Mary was at heart a kind woman, but her critics preferred to criticize her personal eccentricities–her expensive shopping habits for both the White House and herself, and her raging, jealous temper–rather than to praise her good works for soldiers or her absolute loyalty to her husband, liberty, and Union.”
It made me wonder why Swanson had changed his tone so radically. In a span of four years, he went from charity to malice. I was going to point this out in the review of Bloody Crimes, but in the end it seemed tangential. These weekday reviews are capped at around 900 words and there’s only so much you can say. But I can say it here.