I recently finished reading Mount Vernon Love Story: A Novel of George and Martha Washington by Mary Higgins Clark. I think this was my first taste of historical fiction, and I loved it! Although fictional, Clark did extensive research before writing the book, which was first published in 1969 under the title Aspire to the Heavens, the motto of George Washington’s mother.
Through her writing, Clark did a great job of telling the story- incorporating both world and personal history. As told in the novel, young Washington fell in love with Sally Carey Fairfax, the wife of his best friend, George William Fairfax. The couple lived on Belvoir, a historic planation neighboring Mount Vernon. However, Washington recognized that she was out of reach and did not pursue a relationship. He met the young, widow Martha Dandridge Custis and they married in January of 1759. Martha was known as Patsy, a nickname given to her by her father. The wedding also marked the time when George Washington became a stepfather to the surviving two children of the four Patsy had given birth to- little Patsy and Jacky.
Not too much later, the new family moved to Mount Vernon, which Washington had inherited from his half-brother Lawrence. Washington absolutely loved Mount Vernon. He had spent a lot of time there as a child escaping the harsh upbringing he experienced from his mother after his father died when Washington 11 years old.
Despite Washington’s young love for Sally, it is apparent that he had undying love and was completely committed to Patsy. They struggled to keep in touch during the war. They dealt with hardships when both little Patsy and Jacky died during young adulthood. After Jacky died in 1781, George and Patsy raised his two younger children, Nelly and Wash. Through it all, they remained a strong system of support for one another.
The book starts out on the day of John Adams’s inauguration. Washington is greatly looking forward to returning to Mount Vernon with Patsy. Chapter by chapter, with present day chapters spread throughout the book, Clark constructs Washington’s biography from youth to post-presidency. I definitely recommend this read!