Henry and Clara

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Overview

On the evening of Good Friday, 1865, Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris joined the Lincolns in the Presidential box at Ford’s Theater, becoming eyewitnesses to one of the great tragedies of American history.
 
In this riveting novel, Thomas Mallon re-creates the unusual love story of this young engaged couple whose fateful encounter with history profoundly affects the remainder of their lives. Lincoln’s assassination is only one part of the ...
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Henry and Clara

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Overview

On the evening of Good Friday, 1865, Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris joined the Lincolns in the Presidential box at Ford’s Theater, becoming eyewitnesses to one of the great tragedies of American history.
 
In this riveting novel, Thomas Mallon re-creates the unusual love story of this young engaged couple whose fateful encounter with history profoundly affects the remainder of their lives. Lincoln’s assassination is only one part of the remarkable life they share, a dramatic tale of passion, scandal, heroism, murder, and madness, all based on Mallon’s deep research into the fascinating history of the Rathbone and Harris families. Henry and Clara not only tells the astonishing story of its title figures; it also illuminates the culture of nineteenth-century Victorian America: a rigid society barely concealing the suppressed impulses and undercurrents that only grew stronger as the century progressed.

Blending fact with fiction, Mallon vividly re-creates the tragic story of Henry and Clara Rathbone--the young couple who sat in the President's box on the night of Lincoln's assassination. Witnessing the event that shook the entire nation changed their lives forever, leading to guilt, madness, and eventually murder. A moving and astonishing story based on a little known tale.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Thomas Mallon's Henry and Clara:

“Amazing . . . one of the most interesting American novelists at work.”
—John Updike, The New Yorker
 
“The powerful story is superbly told. . . . You can’t ask for much more from historical fiction.”
The Washington Post Book World

“Ambitious in scope and depth . . . Mallon makes good use of sharp, disturbing twists on familiar themes.”
The New York Times Book Review
 
“A transporting, beautifully written novel as authentic in its period detail as it is in its rich characterizations.”
Entertainment Weekly

“Riveting . . . Mallon’s most polished gem to date.”
Chicago Tribune

“A pitch-perfect rendering . . . Mesmerizing and assiduously researched.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A powerful reconstruction of actual events.”
New Orleans Times-Picayune

“From the footnotes of American history, Mallon has pulled authentic figures and embroidered a compelling novel.”
Booklist

“A masterly blend of fact and fiction.”
Albany Times Union

“Mallon . . . outdoes himself in this re-creation, which raises the private consequences of history to what seems their deserved status—legend.”
Publishers Weekly

“All written history is a work of imagination, but seldom is it rendered as skillfully as in Henry and Clara.”
Raleigh News and Observer

“Beautifully written, Henry and Clara is marked by tender passion, and its characters are, for all their faults, endearing.”
National Review

“A stately and elegant historical novel of classic proportions. . . . Mallon’s book is smart and engaging, and he manages to bring his characters fully alive while never allowing us to forget that they are truly creatures of another era.”
Los Angeles Times

“An imaginative alteration of events, a provocative might-have-been. . . . Some of Mallon’s finest writing goes into Henry’s letters home. . . . Triumphantly successful as a suspenseful and satisfying work of art.”
The New Criterion

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It is a wonder that the story of Colonel and Mrs. Henry Rathbone is not etched like a fable into the American consciousness. Raised as step-siblings in the same household in the mid-19th century, weaned on American politics in Albany, N.Y., and in the nation's capital, Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris, even as teenagers, were in love. Both keen, irreverent and gifted, the fiery Clara and the brash, cynical Henry epitomized youthful passion. Henry served with distinction in the Civil War's most horrific battles, while Clara suffered in Washington, not far from the action. When peace came, the still unmarried couple availed themselves of the capital's social splendors, while Clara artfully nudged the reluctant Henry toward marriage. Befriended by the imperious Mary Lincoln, Henry and Clara were invited to accompany the President and Mrs. Lincoln to Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865. From the gun of John Wilkes Booth issued a great American tragedy--the death of a leader at the pinnacle of his career. But what attracts Mallon is the tragedy, begun simultaneously, that befell the young couple, and which took another 50 years to find closure. Henry was badly wounded by Booth's knife, and Clara, seemingly without calculation, ministered to the grieving Mary Lincoln through the next morning, leaving her fiance unattended. The guilt that each suffered--Henry, for not saving Lincoln; Clara, for abandoning Henry in order to be at the side of history--became something neither could escape, until Henry took matters into his own hands, giving peace to Clara and releasing himself into madness. Mallon, whose previous novel, Aurora 7 , dealt with conjunctions of historical moment and private consequence, outdoes himself in this re-creation, which raises the private consequences of history to what seems their deserved status--legend. Optioned to Scripps-Howard for TV miniseries. (Aug . )
Library Journal
Maj. Henry Rathbone and his fiance, Clara Harris, sat with President and Mrs. Lincoln in the box at Ford's Theater on the fateful evening of April 15, 1865. Rathbone, knifed by the escaping John Wilkes Booth, lay close to death himself for several days. Mallon's novel is based upon the couple's lives in the wake of this pivotal event. Well written and with a fine eye for the politics of Civil War times, this book will please the history buff. However, the story lacks a sense of adventure and romance, largely because of an imbalance in the portrayal of the main characters. Fully and believably depicted, Clara Harris becomes someone the reader can genuinely care about; Henry Rathbone isn't, and doesn't. In the first half he is physically distant from the action; later, he is physically present but emotionally withdrawn. For larger fiction collections only.-James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, Va.
School Library Journal
YA-This novel details the lives of the Rathbones, a young couple who were guests in the president's box at Ford's Theater the night of Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Although Henry and Clara, stepbrother and stepsister, overcame the objections of their socially and politically prominent family to marry, they could never escape the memories of that night at the theater; innuendo, rumor, and guilt dogged them until their lives ended by madness and murder. YAs will be fascinated by this story about ordinary people caught up in an overwhelming historical event. The author's finely drawn characters present insight into American social and family life from the mid 1800s to 1911, as well as a wonderful picture of Washington, D.C., during and after the Civil War. Also, readers will realize that our lives are driven by the sum of all the parts of our experience, including family, relationships, and the times in which we live.-Carol Clark, R.E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Valarie Sayers
Ambitious in scope and depth...Mallon makes good use of sharp, disturbing twists on familiar themes. -- The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345804761
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/23/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 483,344
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Mallon is the author of eight novels, including Dewey Defeats Truman, Fellow Travelers, and Watergate. He is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review and other publications.
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Reading Group Guide

Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris, a young engaged couple, were President Lincoln's guests in his box the night he was shot at Ford's. Thomas Mallon searched through old newspaper accounts, military records, pension files, census reports, alumni records, and previously unstudied letters to put together the incredible and tragic story of Henry and Clara. Mallon follows Henry and Clara from childhood through married life, skillfully navigating the stretches of time with historical accuracy and finesse. With deft exercise of period detail and uncanny insight into human weakness and passion, Mallon has created an erotic and psychological mystery.

Henry Clara was recognized as one of the outstanding books of 1994 by the New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, and the Chicago Tribune. Foreign rights have been sold to Germany and France, and the film has been optioned by Scripps Howard productions.

Discussion Questions:
1. Beyond entertainment, what can historical fiction teach us about the lessons of the past that is less well accomplished by straight history?

2. In what ways is Clara the victim of this story?

3. In what ways is Henry the victim?

4. Do you think Clara's story would have been different if her father had lived longer?

5. How difficult (legally and psychologically) might it have been for Clara to file for divorce?

6. Would the children really have been sacrificed during such a process, as Clara feared?

7. Why do you think Clara did not accompany Henry home after the assassination?

8. How does Thomas Mallon make the historical atmosphere of this novel convincing?

9. With each major event in Henry's life, his character appears to change. What qualities of his character, from the beginning, may have portended his final outcome?

Thomas Mallon, in his own words:
About the idea for this book:
"About seven years ago I thought about doing a biography of John Wilkes Booth. As I did some preliminary reading, I discovered that a book about the Booth family was in the works, and that dissuaded me. But as I did that reading I kept coming across mentions of the Rathbones -- often no more than a footnote -- and I realized that I was onto something extraordinary."

About writing:
"I still write in longhand. Eventually the draft goes into and gets revised on a computer, but I've handwritten all eight of my books' first drafts. I still think penmanship has its physical pleasures and that writing by hand slows down and improves the thought process."

About historical fiction:
"I think the main thing that has led me to write historical fiction is that it is such a relief from the self. It is like getting out of the house: there are times when it is absolutely necessary, and I think I would go mad if I tried to make fiction straight out of my own life."

About the Author:
Thomas Mallon was born November 2, 1951, and grew up in Stewart Manor, New York. He attended Brown University as an undergraduate, and earned a Master of Arts and a Ph.D. from Harvard. His writing has been recognized by numerous awards. In 1994 he received the Ingram Merrill Award for outstanding work as a writer, and his essay "Rodeo" was included in The Best American Sportswriting 1992. He also won a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1986. His essays and reviews have appeared in GQ, Harper's, The New Yorker, The American Scholar, The Yale Review Architectural Digest, The New York Times Book Review, and The Washington Post Book World. After several years at Vassar College as an English professor, Mr. Mallon was Literary Editor for Gentlemen's Quarterly. He has lived in Texas and in England for a year as visiting scholar at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge University. He currently resides in Westport, Connecticut. He is also the author of the novels Dewey Defeats Truman, Aurora 7 and Arts and Sciences, as well as Rockets and Rodeos, Stolen Words: Forays Into the Origins and Ravages of Plagiarism, and A Book of One's Own: People and Their Dairies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2013

    Trevor

    Here baby

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