THE PERSONAL MEMOIRS OF JULIA DENT GRANT by John Y. -- Ed. Simon

THE PERSONAL MEMOIRS OF JULIA DENT GRANT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant are still widely admired and utilized by historians. His wife Julia's memoirs have lain in a family cupboard, read only by Bruce Catton and a few others, for all the years since she was unable to sell them advantageously. They are a disappointment. Julia seems to have remained a spoiled little girl, though committed spouse, all her life. But, far more important from a documentary point of view, she shows the smallest of compasses and the least of gifts for descriptions beyond sweet, charming, kind, delightful, lovely, pleasant. Most concrete is her maidenhood on a St. Louis plantation which combined Southern ease with Western energy. She always wanted to marry a soldier. Thereafter we hear most about the buying and selling of houses, and that in no striking detail. In fairness to Julia it must be said that she dictated most of the memoir and it remains unshaped. However, when one thinks of the also pedestrian but passionate and astute writings that have come from other women of the Civil War period, Julia remains an irritating bore, who was quartered on friendly Confederate wives ""telling me the action of the government was unconstitutional. Well, I did not know a thing about this dreadful Constitution and told them so. . . ."" Her indifference to public affairs would be pardoned if she provided a bead on the General himself; but, apart from scattered defenses (he was not drunk at Shiloh and he did write his memoirs himself) we get mere glimpses of Grant's patience and impatience with Julia. He might have been any other often-absent, providentially famous husband. The height of psychological revelation appears when she recalls that, to draw him out at parties, she would tell a story all wrong so he could retell it. Julia was only 47 when to her candid sorrow his two presidential terms ended, and their subsequent world tour shows her trying to emerge into full matronhood, among all her banalities about foreign parts. The publisher is quite right to call the book ""artless. . . a 'woman's story'."" Too bad even on the parquet-and-bonnet level Julia gives so little satisfaction. Thoroughly American, she is about as revealing of her period or herself as Mamie Eisenhower.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1975
Publisher: Putnam