Monday, December 26, 2016
Mrs. Lee & Mrs. Gray- Dorothy Love
Description: Mary Anna Custis Lee is a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and heiress to Virginia’s storied Arlington house and General Washington’s personal belongings.
Born in bondage at Arlington, Selina Norris Gray learns to read and write in the schoolroom Mary and her mother keep for the slave children and eventually becomes Mary’s housekeeper and confidante. As Mary’s health declines, Selina becomes her personal maid, strengthening a bond that lasts until death parts them.
Forced to flee Arlington at the start of the Civil War, Mary entrusts the keys to her beloved home to no one but Selina. When Union troops begin looting the house, it is Selina who confronts their commander and saves many of its historic treasures.
In a story spanning crude slave quarters, sunny schoolrooms, stately wedding parlors, and cramped birthing rooms, novelist Dorothy Love amplifies the astonishing true-life account of an extraordinary alliance and casts fresh light on the tumultuous years leading up to and through the wrenching battle for a nation’s soul.
A classic American tale, Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray is the first novel to chronicle this beautiful fifty-year friendship forged at the crossroads of America’s journey from enslavement to emancipation.
My Thoughts: This book is honestly not what I thought it was. From the description, I assumed that most of it would be set during the Civil War, with a few chapters at first building up to it. Instead, a large portion of the story is about the two women's lives long before the war starts, beginning when Selina is still a child and before Mary and Robert E. Lee were married. At times this was interesting. Selina is a very well written character with a compelling voice, particularly in the beginning when she is still struggling with what she wants in life versus what the Curtis family demands of her.
Mary's voice was not as compelling, however. First, the beginning of the book seems to be her floundering about in life, unsure of how to behave. This may have been interesting if it were a fish out of water scenario, but this was a life that she was raised for and it seemed to be willful ignorance that kept her from knowing what to do.
The writing itself is beautifully done, again particularly in Selina's scenes. Her voice seemed to continually grow and change, first from a childish perspective with ill grammar to an increasingly more refined tone as she spent more time in the main house and continued to read. There was much about this novel to be commended, and I think that if it had focused more on Selina than on Mary then I would have enjoyed it more. As it stands, there is a lot of dull day to day activity recounted by Mary, a lot of which is then retold from Selina's perspective.
I have provided an honest review after having received a copy of this book through the Fiction Guild.