Tuesday, April 29, 2014

394 (2014 #22). Mrs. Lincoln's Rival

by Jennifer Chiaverini

This historical fiction / biographical novel is about Kate Chase Sprague, the "Belle of Washington" or "Belle of the North" during the Civil War.  She was the daughter of Salmon P. Chase, an Ohio governor and senator, who was Lincoln's first Secretary of the Treasury, and who was later appointed by Lincoln as chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Kate was very pretty and very bright, and served as her thrice-widowed father's official hostess and political advisor and confidante (Chase had aspirations to be President).  While the two women apparently did not have a high opinion of each other in real life, Kate's "rivalry" with First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln is not a major part of the book (and somewhat misleading as a title - although I have to wonder if the book was so named to dovetail with Chiaverini's other book with the same setting, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, which I liked better).

Much of the book focuses on the courtship and marriage of Kate and Rhode Island governor William Sprague, a wealthy businessman who later became a senator from that state.  Sadly, their marriage was an unhappy one.  I did not find Kate to be a particularly likable character, but I did feel sorry for her in this marriage.

The book covers the period from March 1858, when Kate is 18, through the period just after Lincoln's assassination.  The Civil War comes up often as news of the battles reaches Washington, D.C. (often by incorporating quotes from real newspaper articles of the era), and the social life there is described in detail (dresses, food, etc.). Maybe too much detail for both, as the book felt a bit long.  An author's note at the end tells what happened to Kate and her family afterwards, and the acknowledgments section lists an impressive number of sources.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

 [This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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