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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Jennifer Chiaverini settles a score with Mrs. Lincoln's Rival

Author Jennifer Chiaverini,best known for her series of Elm Creek Quilts novels,has been expanding her literary scope lately with a trio of books that highlight previously unknown ladies of the Civil War era,the newest one being Mrs. Lincoln's Rival.

The young lady of the title is Miss Kate Chase,daughter of Salmon P. Chase who was once the governor of Ohio. With her father being a widower three times over,Kate has had to become his political hostess using her considerable charms to woo support for his greatest ambition,the Presidency of the United States.

However,despite his prominence and merit,Chase has to watch on the sidelines as his party gives their preference and votes over to Abraham Lincoln,a rising star on the campaign scene. Sharing his disappointment,Kate joins her father in resigning themselves to playing what parts they can in doing their best for the new administration. Kate's challenges,however, are more on a social level as she winds up competing for status amongst the grand ladies of Washington with the First Lady herself,Mary Todd Lincoln:

Gaining popularity over Mrs.Lincoln turns out to be rather easy at the beginning,due to many people finding the First Lady's melodramatic flair and lavish spending habits a ready source of material for gossip and sniping.

Kate's brief encounters with Mary Lincoln(where she feels slighted and unduly snubbed) further encourage her to indulge in listening to numerous tales told by acquaintances such as John Hays about Mrs. Lincoln's interfering ways that earn her such nicknames as "The Hellcat" and "Her Satanic Majesty".

While Kate does wish to give Mrs. Lincoln the proper respect due to her, she also relishes the thought that someday she'll be the one to reign supreme in the White House when and if her father achieves his true political dreams:

Yet, other more important concerns arise that manage to put this unspoken rivalry aside as the Civil War begins between the North and the South. As Secretary of the Treasury,Salmon Chase has much to do in keeping the troops going and his daughter is with him nearly every step of the way.

Kate hopes that the war will be quick and result in ending slavery,another campaign that she and her father are most passionate about.

 Along with the tension that this major upheaval brings for the nation comes signs of true love for Kate as she has an on-again,off-again romance with William Sprague,the "Boy Governor" of Rhode Island who she eventually marries. While Kate is torn between smoothing the path for her father's ultimate goals and following her heart, the overall impact of the War Between the States puts everything into it's true perspective:

Chiaverini caps off her trilogy of Civil War heroines nicely with this slowly engaging story of a behind the scenes mover and shaker in skirts during that era. This portrait of a young woman being made to choose between daughterly duty and personal desire lifts this story beyond the expected level of cattiness between her and Mrs. Lincoln.

 Kate Chase may have the same type of overbearing confidence that  Jane Austen's Emma Woodhouse possesses but takes somewhat of a different journey in seeing the error of her ways and yet,like that particular Austen heroine, her vulnerabilities are the greatest part of what makes her a strong woman in the end.

 Even if you haven't read Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker(which shares a few references here) or The Spymistress ,Mrs. Lincoln's Rival offers plenty of historical and emotional insight into two great ladies of that age and is worth reading for it's own merits:

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