While there, I learned, for the first time in my 43 years, about Mrs. Lincoln's apparent struggles with mental illness. How could it be that I had come up through the U.S. public school system in the 1970s and '80s, learned much, certainly, about President Lincoln, but never been told a thing about this aspect of Mary Todd Lincoln's life?? I chose this one based on the clerk's recommendation, its fairly recent publication date (2007), and the concerted attempt of the author to take a balanced look at the matter and try to sort out whether Mary was indeed, by today's standards, mentally ill.
This seems improbable on its face because Mary Lincoln did not have all that much money of her own (she lived on a government pension the Congress at the time had to be pressured to approve), and she was a wildly compulsive spender and hoarder and ran up debts everywhere. The author, Jason Emerson, asserts that not only was Robert Lincoln not after Mary, but that he was a true "gentleman of honor and duty" in the Victorian era in which he lived, and constantly treated his mother with utmost compassion and forbearance. Emerson bases his assertions and his refutation of earlier characterizations of Robert Lincoln on a trove of letters and other documents written by Mary Todd Lincoln, Robert, her doctors, and many others that was considered lost, but which the author found among the papers of one of the Lincoln family attorneys.
I read a biography and talked to different people while in Springfield and the general consensus was this book was the best if her "Madness" is what you are interested in.
It's not so much about Mary's mental illness as it is about Robert Todd Lincoln, which is great because he doesn't really get much attention.
Emerson is a formidable editor, and as this book deals with the section of Mary Lincoln's life when her sanity was being questioned, I feel that he really emphasizes his theory that she was bi-polar.
Emerson certainly had an agenda to redeem Robert Lincoln, which concerned me at first as I thought he would ultimately have to villainize Mary Lincoln to make his case.
That said, it seems clear that Mary Lincoln was mentally ill, and Bi-Polar Disorder seems to fit the bill, as well as can be determined at this distance in time. I'll be interested to read the book I have on hold about Lincoln's descendants to see if any of them showed similar signs (as I recollect from our visit to Hildene, at least one of them was described as "eccentric").
That being said, Mr. Emerson definitely makes a strong case and provides plenty of good evidence to support his claim of Mary Lincoln's insanity. A good read that provides lots of good (and newish) insights into Mary Lincoln and what she went through in her later years in life.
She could be warm and inviting, but was many times eccentric; buying myriads of things she didn't need and having a terrible fear of fire. She blamed her only living son, Robert, for a lot of her troubles, but he seemed to do the correct thing by helping her before she hurt herself or fell in with the wrong people and spent all her money.
In short, it's a good, approachable, interesting study of a controversial subject in Lincoln history.