“Wow . . . An extraordinary, compelling tour de force—wise, hard-nosed, and not the least bejasmined or fraught with Confederate or Victorian nostalgia. In the circus this is called working without a net. Oliver gets things right by getting Winnie’s voice right, right from the beginning, and then getting all the rest.”
—Philip Beidler, First Draft
Devotion re-creates the life of Varina Anne (Winnie) Davis, the youngest child of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. Winnie was not quite a year old when the family fled the Rebel stronghold of Richmond as the Civil War was ending. Twenty-one years later, Winnie was catapulted into a celebrity she did not seek. As the officially proclaimed Daughter of the Confederacy, she was presented with great fanfare at large conventions of Confederate veterans from Texas to Virginia. In the late nineteenth century, Winnie Davis was known here and abroad as a foremost cultural symbol of the South's Lost Cause.
Yet she was also a cosmopolitan, intellectual "New Woman" who earned a living as a journalist and novelist and traveled with the Joseph Pulitzers. Winnie's adoring followers often misread her steadfast love for her father as unconditional support of the failed Confederacy and the Old South's nostalgic ideals of womanhood. Julia Oliver explores these contradictions from several angles. Winnie speaks from the pages of her journal. Other narrators include Winnie's close friend Kate Pulitzer; her sister, Maggie Hayes; and the love of her life, Alfred Wilkinson, the grandson of a famous abolitionist.
From the portrayals of Winnie's romance, her relationships with her parents, her illness and depression, and her ambivalent role as torchbearer for the Lost Cause emerges a young woman whose conflicted existence reflects the tenor of the country in the aftermath of the Civil War. An intimate saga about a remarkable, star-crossed family, Devotion poignantly measures the massive weight of memory on individuals caught up in the sweep of history.
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