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The author’s dedication—to her grandmother, —a Confederate to the last——tells you everything you need to know. The Jefferson Davis here is chivalrous and honorable, pious and caring, the archetypal Southern gentleman, one who had a great deal in common with Douglas Southall Freeman’s Robert E. Lee. Allen pooh-poohs the need to wrestle with slavery, though it was the central fact of the Civil War, which propelled Davis to the Confederate pantheon. The slaves who do appear in this biography are a happy, loyal lot who enjoyed the extended family that life in the antebellum South afforded them. Miles Cooper, for example, wept and wailed when he viewed Davis’s corpse. (Allen relies on a New Orleans newspaper, not exactly an objective source when it comes to slavery, for her description of the weeping.) In another passage, Allen sounds indistinguishable from an antebellum planter penning a defense of the paternalistic utopia that was the Southern plantation when she transforms slaves’ traveling papers into evidence of the joys of community: —The very pass one needed to go off the place was to show the road patrol (seldom in operation) that he . . . belonged somewhere. The sense of belonging, of being needed, was strong.— The form is as grating as the content, since Allen begins her story near the end of Davis’s life, with his postwar imprisonment, and then retraces his childhood, military career, marriages, and Civil War exploits. She often lapses into the present tense——Varina does not rush off. [She] is . . . waiting for Burton Harrison——in an attempt to bring Davis and his world more vividly to life for a target audience that may never have buried them. The Daughters of the Confederacy will eagerly embrace this hagiography. Everyone else can skip it. (72 illus.)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-8262-1219-0
Page count: 808pp
Publisher: Univ. of Missouri
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1999