This slender novel provides a rather romanticized account of the life of Winnie (née Varina Anne) Davis. The second daughter and last child of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his wife, the strong-willed Varina, young Winnie never looked for celebrity. Born in the midst of war, partly educated in Europe, and devoted to her parents, she had fame thrust upon her from an early age. Traveling with her father after the war, she was paraded at “Lost Cause” reunions, and was christened by the veterans as “The Daughter of the Confederacy.”
Oliver sympathetically chronicles Winnie’s ultimately doomed love affair with Alfred Wilkinson, grandson of an abolitionist, who was accepted by her father, but not by her adoring public. After her father’s death, she continued his legacy, supporting herself and her mother through public speaking engagements and writing. Well researched and told through journals and letters, her story is narrated by several people, including her friend Kate Pulitzer, her older sister Maggie, Alfred Wilkinson, and by Winnie herself.
Although it often seems clogged with unnecessary detail, the flow feels somewhat choppy, and the narrators all sound similar, the novel does give an illuminating glimpse into the life of someone who, while famous in her own time, is now almost forgotten. Oliver’s brief descriptions of the meetings between Winnie and her literary soul mate Louisa May Alcott are rather intriguing. For die-hard fans of post-Civil War novels.