ROBERT E. LEE: A Portrait 1807-1861 by Margaret Sanborn

ROBERT E. LEE: A Portrait 1807-1861

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Douglas Southall Freeman's brilliant four-volume biography of Robert E. Lee was published more than thirty years ago, but its place on library shelves remains unchallenged by Margaret Sanborn's present effort. It is, as she says, a 'portrait,"" and one looks in vain for depth. More of a southern praline, the book will undoubtedly cause readers to question: ""Margaret who? Margaret Mitchell?"" For this portrait of Lee might well have hung at Tara. The author presents young Lee against a background of light-hearted belles, mythical mammies, and humming packininnies. He is introduced as""...though scion of a distinguished Connecticut family, he had all the warmth of a southerner."" The author is long on kinship and domesticity, but short on history (Lee seems to live in a chronological vacuum). Decidedly no Gilbert Stuart, she wishes completeness and covers every bit of canvas with the spectrum of ""possibility."" Her technique: to use such phrases as ""it is possible that,"" ""must have,"" ""surely,"" ""most certainly,"" ""very likely,"" and all blank spots vanish. If, for example, you don't know what kind of letters Lee wrote to his mother from West Point, simply quote extant letters from other cadets to their mothers. The result is a portrait of Lee in borrowed clothing. In brief, the author should have borrowed the title of James Young's adoring 1929 biography of Lee: Marse Robert, Knight of the Confederacy.

Publisher: Lippincott