Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule

Written by Jennifer Chiaverini
Review by Arleigh Johnson

When Ulysses S. Grant courted Miss Julia Dent from a Missouri slave-owning family, he was fresh from West Point and soon to be embroiled in the Mexican-American War. Years passed before they were able to marry, and when they set off to start a family, Julia was saddened to learn that her handmaid, a slave named Jule, would be unable to join them. Grant’s Ohio family were staunch abolitionists, and Grant—though he loved his wife very much—found her opinions on slavery to be perhaps the one flaw in their otherwise happy marriage. Events, however, necessitated Jule’s accompaniment when Grant became the up-and-coming commander of the Union army, making Julia an unwitting laughingstock among their acquaintances.

This novel is a split-narrative and features chapters from Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule. The character of Julia is something of an enigma. She continually either puts Jule in her place or worries about her when she’s at home in Missouri. She’s wise and unbiased when dealing with the wives of other officers, Union and Rebel alike. Her loyalty lies with her husband and the Union cause, but she cannot see past her upbringing when it comes to the issue of slavery. When President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, Jule must make the decision of staying with the only family she’s ever known, or venturing out on her own as a free woman.

I found this read tremendously detailed, perhaps overly so, though well-written. I wasn’t quite taken with the characters, as Julia has a slightly peevish personality, and Jule wasn’t well-fleshed, seeming too educated at times for someone in her position. The war details bog down the underlying story with perhaps every military and political move Grant ever made described, although this should appeal to readers who enjoy lengthy war novels.