Dear George, Dear Mary by Mary Calvi
Genre: Historical Fiction
Dates Read: February 16-18, 2019
Synopsis: A novel about heiress Mary Philipse’s relationship with George Washington, based on historical accounts, letters, and personal journals.
“Love is said to be an involuntary passion, and it is, therefore, contended that it cannot be resisted.” —George Washington (from Goodreads)
This novel is breathtaking. Mary Calvi uses beautiful language in her descriptions and captures the first flutters of love perfectly. In fact, it almost felt as if I were falling in love with George Washington myself. Calvi accomplishes in her novel what I think is the most important for a work of fiction based on a real person: she made him seem real. Going into this book, I viewed Washington as a historical figure, but one for whom I had a soft spot because he was a fellow Virginian. After reading Dear George, Dear Mary, I feel even more connected to him because, whether all of the emotions expressed in the novel were truly his or not, I felt with and for him through reading his words. How Calvi made a whole, gripping novel out of letters she read between Washington and Mary Eliza Philipse is inspiring, to say the least. She did an excellent job here. I was expecting something mediocre and got something great and memorable instead.
I loved how certain little things are treated as an “if you know, you know” kind of thing, without any extra explanation. If you remember certain things from history class, it feels like you’re in a secret club. I also loved the cameos of other famous figures from history, namely Alexander Hamilton and Nathan Hale. I’m glad Calvi didn’t go into a lot of detail explaining different events and matters of historical importance because, to the characters in the novel, they were just things that had happened. George even says at one point,
One’s character is rarely drawn until decades, even centuries, after the sphere of action has long come to a conclusion. (Loc 2605)
The same is true for history. They didn’t know that even some of their smallest, most insignificant statements or actions would be remembered hundreds of years later — just as Mary could not have known that if she’d waited just a little while longer, George would have returned to her from Virginia.
At the end of the novel we are left with a sad truth that can be seen throughout history: the plight of women who suffer because of the men in their lives. Mary becomes a traitor because her husband is one. It doesn’t really matter what she thinks or does. Because Roger Morris is a traitor, so too is Mrs. Roger Morris. She didn’t get to see George again in time before her wedding to Morris because other men were keeping secrets, hiding letters, and holding the pertinent people back. But Calvi does bring out the positive in Mary’s sad situation, because, after years of believing she was cursing those she loved to their deaths, Mary changes her perspective:
They called her traitor. She’d refuse the title.
They showed her hatred. She’d find love.
They took everything, leaving her not even a pence in her pocket, but she knew that no being can be poor who is rich in spirit. […]
She realized her truth and knew now exactly what she was. She was Mary Eliza, and she was enough. As long as there was breath on her lips, she decided right then, she would live. (Loc 4747 – 4755)
I loved Mary Eliza more for this realization. I found myself tearful and cheering her on in my heart.
The only thing that takes away from this book is that some parts were a little hard to follow, which is why I knocked a bit off my rating. I don’t know if that’s fixed in the final edition, or if that’s just how it’s going to be.
The book is marketed as a love story that may or may not have sparked the American Revolution. That obviously requires a stretch of the imagination, given the state of the relations between the colonies and Great Britain at the time, but I’m also aware that Calvi may not have had much to do with that description. In my reading, I didn’t get that message from the book, only in the blurb, and I am thankful for that.
|The ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.|
- “The only limit to your possibility is the limitation you’ve made possible. This is your time.” (Loc 608)
- She carefully dried nature, then gently glossed over death with the color on her paintbrush. (Loc 1113)
- “Every flower must emerge from the darkness to bathe in the light.” (Loc 1114)
- Her skin was smoother than he ever thought skin could be. (Loc 1561)
- Love. Everyone needs more of it in their lives. (Loc 1852)
- “You are capable of the impossible, Mary Eliza, for you have survived the unthinkable.” (Loc 1864)
- With him, time, it seemed, could not be counted in any rational sequence, but melded into one big beautiful moment. (Loc 2520)
- She loved the way he touched her without even touching her. (Loc 2666)
- “These years have passed and you still hold on to what should have been. If only. Yes, if only. Release yourself of it.” (Loc 4057)
- It was done. A power greater than her took control. She had to accept this. Accept everything. (Loc 4741)
- In her hands, destiny was etched into metal: Where there is love, there is freedom. (Loc 4756)