Gilchrist (The Good Journey, 2001) concocts a fairly blasé pre–Civil War historical romance based on real-life letters exchanged between an irascible, unfaithful New York military man and his brash Southern bride.
With her 1841 marriage to handsome, educated Lieutenant Philip Kearny, Diana Bullitt shows a measure of sexual adventurousness, leaving her pampered life to move to Washington, where Kearny works in President John Tyler’s administration. Diana, however, glimpses a sadistic streak in her husband. Moreover, his abuse of calomel pills, which she suspects he is using to treat syphilis, make him dangerously unstable. When he spends the night out, probably in the arms of a notorious courtesan, Diana hits the roof, but can’t change his behavior. When Philip is posted to the territories, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., he begins to break in spirit, and his wife dutifully heads out after him, to her great peril. A woman traveling by ship with a baby and no husband is vulnerable to harassment, and Diana is accosted by the captain after throwing baby diapers into the river. Reunited with Philip, who is more aghast than happy to see her, Diana adopts an Indian baby boy. But the war in Mexico beckons Philip, and again the two separate. After losing an arm, Philip returns, begins to go crazy and the lovebirds are alienated for good.
A tale in which very little actually occurs other than passionate arguments and sexy reconciliation.