History Trumps Story in Love Is Eternal

The trouble with historical novels is that they have to be historically accurate. To meet this demand, authors often must attempt to account logically for illogical human behavior.

Irving Stone’s Love Is Eternal: A Novel about Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln is a case in point.

the Lincoln family
According to the novel’s dust jacket, Stone’s goal is to take readers inside Mary Todd’s heart; however, even getting into her head would take a team of psychiatrists: Both Mary Todd and Lincoln suffered from depression that at times was almost pathological.

(The liner notes also say “Literally the whole [Civil] war was fought across her bosom,” a claim whose veracity I doubt. But I literally digress.)

Irving devotes most of the novel to the Lincolns’ political struggles. Stone shows Mary shrewdly aware of how the successful politician’s wife should behave but totally unaware that her husband’s election to the presidency was a fluke of the electoral system, not an indication of his popularity.

Readers get very little sense of the Lincolns as a couple before the White House and no sense of the Lincolns as a couple afterward.

Stone ends Love Is Eternal with Abraham Lincoln’s widow wanting to die.

And he leaves readers with no reason to want her to live.

Readers may enjoy these photos of Lincoln more than Stone’s novel.  I’m indebted to @dougpete for the link.

Love Is Eternal:
A Novel about Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln
By Irving Stone
Doubleday, 1954
1954 bestseller #3
462 pages
My grade: B-
 

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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