Henry and Clara

Henry and Clara

by Thomas Mallon


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345804761
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/23/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 488,415
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About 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.

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.

Customer Reviews

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Henry and Clara 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
SherryKaraoke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating imagining of a real-life couple who were involved in one of the most important events in American history - the assassination of Lincoln. What brought them to that place and what happened to them afterwards.
JBD1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The masterfully-crafted story of those who were attended the theater with the Lincolns.