'Mrs. Lincoln's Rival' by Jennifer Chiaverini

Staff recommendation

Mrs. Lincoln's Rival cover In her new novel, Mrs. Lincoln's Rival, Jennifer Chiaverini returns to Civil War era Washington, D.C. to tell the story of Kate Chase Sprague. When Kate Chase invited First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln to call upon her, Washington society was astounded.  Her invitation established a social and political rivalry between the two ladies until President Abraham Lincoln's death in April 1856.

I was drawn to reading this novel since Kate has an appearance in Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker.  I knew a little bit about Miss Chase so I was eager to read more about her.

The eldest daughter of Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, the beautiful, lively, and well-educated Kate was one of the prominent society hostesses in Washington during the 1860s. She and her father, who was Secretary of the Treasury during the Lincoln administration, regularly welcomed visitors of note to their home.  (In 1865, Chase received his second major official appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.)  Influential and noted figures of the day appear in the novel, whether residing in or visiting Washington.

Only Mary Lincoln was Kate's rival, and she had the White House.  Although the two ladies periodically saw each other at important functions, there was a distance between them. Their contrasts were the subject of newspapers and magazines: Kate was eagerly noted and sought by society while Mary was criticized and suspect for her Southern origin. Political dealings and rivalries, ambitions, and secrets are some of what happens in the story against the backdrop of wartime Washington. Although the novel ends in 1865, the author leaves readers a historical afterwards about this remarkable young lady.

With the ongoing 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the novel should be of interest to those wanting to read fiction about Washington, D.C. during the period. Of note, the song "Hail Columbia" which Kate hears at an official function is featured in the documentary The Civil War by Ken Burns.

If you're interested in reading novels set in Washington, please visit DC By the Book.

~Elisa Babel, Adult Librarian