Courting Mr. Lincoln (Bayard)

Courting Mr. Lincoln 
Louis Bayard, 2019
Algonquin Books
352 pp.

A page-turning novel about the brilliant, melancholic future president and the two people who knew him best: his handsome and charming confidant (and roommate), Joshua Speed, and the spirited young debutante Mary Todd.

When Mary Todd meets Abraham Lincoln in Springfield in the winter of 1840, he is on no one’s short list to be president. A country lawyer living above a dry goods shop, he is lacking both money and manners, and his gift for oratory surprises those who meet him.

Mary, a quick, self-possessed debutante with an interest in debates and elections, at first finds him an enigma. “I can only hope,” she tells his roommate, the handsome, charming Joshua Speed, “that his waters being so very still, they also run deep.”

It’s not long, though, before she sees the Lincoln that Speed knows: an amiable, profound man who, despite his awkwardness, has a gentle wit to match his genius, and who respects her keen political mind.

But as her relationship with Lincoln deepens, she must confront his inseparable friendship with Speed, who has taught his roommate how to dance, dress, and navigate the polite society of Springfield.

Told in the alternating voices of Mary Todd and Joshua Speed, and inspired by historical events, Courting Mr. Lincoln creates a sympathetic and complex portrait of Mary unlike any that has come before; a moving portrayal of the deep and very real connection between the two men; and most of all, an evocation of the unformed man who would grow into one of the nation’s most beloved presidents.

Louis Bayard, a master storyteller, delivers here a page-turning tale of love, longing, and forbidden possibilities. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Raised—Springfield, Virginia, USA
Education—B.A., Princeton University; M.A., Northwestern University
Currently— Washington, D.C.

Louis Bayard is an author of 9 novels, many of which draw their inspiration from history. Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Bayard grew up in Northern Virginia. He earned his B.A. from Princeton University and his M.A. in journalism from Northwestern University.

Bayard's most recent work, Courting Mr. Lincoln, was published in 2019. His historical mysteries include Mr. Timothy (2003), The Pale Blue Eye (2006), The Black Tower (2008), The School of Night (2010), and Roosevelt's Beast (2014). The Pale Blue Eye, a fictional mystery set at West Point Academy during the time Edgar Alan Poe was enrolled, was shortlisted for both the Edgar and the Dagger Awards. His works have been translated into 11 languages.

Bayard has also written book reviews and essays for The Washington Post, New York Times, Salon and Nerve. He has appeared at the National Book Festival, and he has written the New York Times recaps for Downton Abbey and Wolf Hall.

Earlier Bayard worked as a staffer at the U.S. House of Representatives for D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. He also served as press secretary for former Representative Phil Sharp of Indiana. He continues to live in Washington where, in addition to his own writing, he teaches fiction writing at George Washington University (Adapted from online sources, including Wikipedia. Retrieved 5/9/2019.)

Book Reviews
Bayard has written eight other novels, and he’s extraordinarily gifted at blending provocative fiction with history. The details of [Mary Todd and Lincoln’s] courtship are lovely to read, but Lincoln’s time with Speed is much more riveting. At book’s end, who’s courting Lincoln remains an enticing mystery.
Washington Post

A rich, fascinating and romantic union of fact and imagination about young Lincoln, the woman he would marry and his beloved best friend. Bayard’s compelling take on this question is not academic, nor is it a polemic; Courting Mr. Lincoln is intimate, warm and, above all, compassionate. Bayard is concerned with the possibilities of the human heart, and he presents an enigmatic Lincoln seen—and loved—from two other points of a romantic triangle…. [T]he greatest triumph of Courting Mr. Lincoln is how effectively Bayard creates suspense, even when we know how the story ends. Love is love is love, after all, and he invests us deeply in the moving journey of three extraordinary people.

Thoroughly researched and thrillingly plotted…. Filled with rich historical detail and compulsively readable, Courting Mr. Lincoln is a story of a best friend, a future wife, and the political legend that they came together to create, each leaving an indelible mark on the man that would one day become president. Fans of historical fiction will be up late into the night to uncover the next chapter of this fascinating time in history.
New York Journal of Books

A wildly clever imagining of Honest Abe's complicated personal life. In Courting Mr. Lincoln, Louis Bayard, an accomplished historical novelist, breathes life into the massive cultural icon whom we know so well, but really don’t have much of a clue about. Read the book. You’ll thank me.
Washington Independent Review of Books

[T]he early days of Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln’s relationship [is a] delightful embellishment of American history.… This charming love story delicately reveals the emotional roller coaster of two inexperienced adults… trying to meet the… expectations of society.
Publishers Weekly

Mary falls for an ungainly young lawyer with a golden tongue, and their interest in politics cements the deal. In the background is Joshua Speed, Abraham Lincoln's friend, roommate, and possible lover, and he shares narration responsibilities with Mary.
Library Journal

With a richly imagined setting and complex characters…this [is] a worthy addition to the fiction-about-Lincoln bookshelf.

(Starred review)  Mary Todd… gets a welcome contemporary reappraisal as a woman of spirit and will… rather than [a] needy hysteric…. Not a lot of action, but in Bayard’s skilled hands, three complicated people groping toward a new phase in their lives is all the plot you need.
Kirkus Reviews

[E]nchants and thrills… [Bayard's] meticulous, almost otherworldly, understanding of his historical subject awes and inspires.… He offers more reasons to love one of the most admired presidents in U.S. history and proves yet again why he is one of the nation's greatest literary gems.
Shelf Awareness

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