With three kids in the car, I was going to have to be careful what I chose for our trip to Florida. Although other titles looked intriguing, I settled on Mount Vernon Love Story by Mary Higgins Clark. I’ve never been a Mary Higgins Clark fan. In fact, I’ve never read a single one of her books. However, the promise of this book was one I didn’t have to worry about my kids hearing should they wake up, or worry about listening to while they were awake. In short, it was a safe selection.
This novel was first published in 1969 under the title Aspire to the Heavens and was later re-issued. On the audio version, there is an introduction by the author herself in which she states that this, her first novel, was inspired by a research project in which she uncovered a very different side of George Washington and his wife than the stories that have been passed down through history.
The story shifts between the time of the inauguration of John Quincy Adams, and Washington’s life prior to this point. It starts when he is a young man still living in the home with his overbearing mother, who must try to raise children and manage a household all by herself. Her method of doing this was to use a strap on child and servant alike who disobeyed her. I’ve never heard anything about Washington’s childhood or the events in his life up until he was put in charge of the Continental Army, so the tidbits during this time were quite interesting. Hearing of how prevalent death at a young age was in those times saddened me as well and made me realize how much we take for granted in today’s society. Just hearing of the number of children who were lost at childbirth or soon after made me look at my own children in a different light.
It’s intriguing to read about the environment that Washington was raised in, as well as the hurdles he faced and what shaped his character. However, right from the beginning, I wanted to know what parts of the story were based on facts and what were the author’s own embellishments. Obviously, she could not know what conversations took place between mother and son (or later on, husband and wife), but how much of the story was from actual letters and perhaps accounts of his life by people who knew him well and how much was the author’s own work?
When I read a historical novel like this (or even view a film based on historical events), I always feel that if it makes me research the events depicted, then it is beneficial. This case was a bit harder for me, as there was not going to be a time when I could look into what Washington’s life was like for a few weeks.
However, the story was a decent one, at least for a car trip. I enjoyed listening to the story and imagining the Virginia countryside quite different during Washington’s time than it was as I drove through it. Clark’s descriptions were good enough to enable me to visualize events in my mind.
Although the public seems to know Washington’s wife as Martha, she was never called that by either her father nor George. Instead, she was known as “Patsy” after her father stated that name better suited her character. Clark also asserts that she was not the original love of George’s life, but instead was the one he was drawn to after lusting for his best friend’s wife for a few years, Sally Fairfax. Their love seems to grow as the years pass, rather than being a passionate love right from the beginning.
I think this is maybe where Clark injected a bit of her own romantic biases into the story, as I don’t know that I can believe that Washington actually came as close as she intimates to throwing away his status and a great friendship (and she, most definitely, a prosperous marriage) to be with Sally.
Washington seems to have no problems envisioning a life with “Patsy” at Mount Vernon – which is the one constant throughout the story. His love for the home his brother built is evident right from the start. I had to wonder after a while was the “love story” of George and Patsy, or George and Mount Vernon?
There is no great insight into Washington the politician or Washington the military strategist here. Instead, this is a depiction of Washington’s personal life. It’s a very different side of the man, and in my opinion, it makes him seem more human these two hundred and twenty-five years later.
The narration is good. Linda Emons reads the novel quite well. The tone is very relaxing and she has inflection at just the right points to make it enjoyable without sounding too flat and boring. I’d say it is well worth renting if you come across it at your local Cracker Barrel, especially if history interests you.
Categories: Book Reviews