DEVOTION by Julia Oliver


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A literary portrait of the Daughter of the original Confederacy, Jefferson Davis’s youngest.

Conceived after the Confederate Army’s victory at the Battle of Chickamauga, Winnie was two years old when the Civil War ended, and her father, president of the Confederate States of America, was incarcerated as a traitor. From an early age, Winnie worked to remind the world of the true nature of her literate, heroic father, whom she called Jeff. She shared his intellectual curiosity, and when she returned to the States after completing her education in Germany, she wrote, studied and traveled with him. As Jeff aged and tired, Winnie appeared on his behalf at “Lost Cause” rallies across the South, where unrepentant Confederate veterans dubbed her the Daughter of the Confederacy. Before Jeff died, Winnie fell in love with Alfred Wilkinson, a Boston lawyer and grandson of the abolitionist Samuel May. Although her father approved of the match, public opinion was harsh. How could the “purest lily of the South” marry a Northerner? On this, as at every crossroad of public vs. private, Winnie ceded to her father’s legacy. Told in alternating first-person journal entries by Winnie, her older sister, Wilkinson and others, this well-researched novel offers much detail of the era and profiles of historic personages that included Joseph Pulitzer, who befriended the genteelly impoverished family after the war. Beauvoir, the rundown plantation home a widow deeded Jeff in gratitude for his service to the South, is notably described, as are Winnie’s efforts to support herself and her mother by working as a journalist, novelist and public speaker. It is in the conversion of fact to the aesthetics of the novel that the author stumbles. Oliver (Goodbye to the Buttermilk Sky, 1994, etc.) fails to distinguish one character’s voice from another. And the inclusion of much historically interesting material irrelevant to the story undermines the storyline.

A rich subject barely mined for its artistic potential.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-8203-2874-X
Page count: 220pp
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2006