The Unfortunate Insanity of Being Female
This is an absorbing read, based on the life of Mary Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s wife, who was judged insane and incarcerated in a lunatic asylum by her eldest son.
Whilst Mary was clearly a person strongly ruled by her emotions, and someone who held passionate beliefs, inevitably the ‘under story’ has to be – ‘If this intensely emotional, passionately committed person had been male, at this time, would he have been judged insane and incarcerated by his son and the court system’. The answer would seem to be ‘unlikely’
Mrs Lincoln would I suspect not have been judged as insane today. The book’s sympathetic account of the central character reinforces a sense that it was the patriarchal straitjacket women were laced into that was insane, and that those women who were unable to be confined and laced within its cruel strictures were often victims of a rigid, blinkered and unemancipated society, terrified of its own ‘shadow’
2 other books which cover the territory of ‘woman confined by cruel patriarchy’ in a similar historical period are Margaret Attwood’s wonderful Alias Grace and also The Madness of a Seduced Woman , which was also based on a real life case. Marge Piercy’s fictional Woman on the Edge of Time (A Women’s Press classic) is yet another passionately written, deeply wise and compassionate account of how female desire and conviction has been (and still is) seen as threatening and dangerous.
If you enjoyed this book, these 3 should be worth a read, and if you haven’t yet read Mrs Lincoln, a treat awaits. Janis Cooke Newman has written a rich and moving account. It is also very much a love story – between Mr and Mrs Lincoln, and the love of parents and children for each other, and of the alienation within families.