About the book: A general’s wife and a slave girl forge a friendship that transcends race, culture, and the crucible of Civil War.
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.
Paperback 400 pages Published June 14, 2016 by Thomas Nelson
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My review: I love reading books by Dorothy Love. She quickly transports me to another place and time, and I become immersed in the story she is telling and feel like I am part of the story. Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray immediately captured my attention and held me captive from start to finish.
When I started reading this book I didn’t know anything about Mrs. Lee and only knew about Mr. Lee from his role in the Civil War. It was interesting to read about the two and their love story which wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be. I felt sorry for Mrs. Lee as she spent a lot of her married life separated from her husband due to his military duties. Raising seven children basically on her own seemed to be a daunting task and at times I felt she really had no control over her children.
I found the friendship between Mrs. Lee and Selina (who later becomes Mrs. Gray) to be interesting but maybe not so unusual. I can easily imagine other friendships such as this one occurring during this time between mistresses and those who served them. Even though Selina was Mrs. Lee’s favorite I could still feel a distance between the two that seemed greater at times than others.
I love the way the story is told. The story switches back and forth between the women and the chapter headings of either “Mary” or “Selina” lets the reader know who they will be hearing from. Even though some events are told from both women’s perspectives I never found the story to be boring or repetitive. Love does a wonderful job of keeping the story fresh and interesting as we hear both sides of the story from the storytellers.
Even though this book is 400 pages it is a quick read. The story is interesting and the descriptions are well-written. This is one of those books I found myself thinking about when I wasn’t able to be reading it. I couldn’t wait to get back to the story and what was going on in these ladies’ lives. Fans of historical fiction are sure to enjoy this story of the woman behind Mr. Lee and the slave who was her friend. A book worth reading again and again.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion which I have given.
About the author: Before returning to her writing roots in historical fiction, Dorothy Love published twelve novels for young adults. Her work has garnered numerous honors from the American Library Association, the Friends of American Writers, the International Reading Association, the New York Public Library, and many others.