Devotion: A novel based on the life of Winnie Davis, Daughter of the Confederacy

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4157-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[x])
  2. Winnie’s Notebook
    (pp. 1-41)

    In the dream, the junction could be a mural or a mirage. The sky is an improbable larkspur blue; the station house resembles a cuckoo clock that I had as a child and believed was haunted. Bystanders appear inanimate until a turbaned woman the color of a fine piano glides toward me with a basket of peaches. Murmuring in the rich timbre of her race, she places a piece of her fruit in my hand; I feel as though I have received a blessing. Now she’s some distance away, standing guard over a long wooden box, and I am lying...

  3. Kate Pulitzer
    (pp. 42-64)

    We met Winnie Davis for the first time twelve years ago, at a party in Syracuse. My husband and I arrived a bit tardily and were informed by the host, “Our young friend from Mississippi is in the side parlor. She speaks fluent French and German, plays the piano on an artistic level, publishes literary works of remarkable erudition, and paints delightful landscapes.”

    Preoccupied as usual with his health and business concerns, Joseph had no idea who the guest of honor was. Perhaps I had neglected to tell him there was one. “With all those accomplishments, the miss from Mississippi...

  4. Winnie’s Notebook
    (pp. 65-86)

    Four and a half years ago, a startling revelation came to me from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Labeled “Personal, to Miss Varina Anne (Winnie) Davis, in care of the New York World,” the letter was forwarded to our home address. I slit the top of the plain, workmanlike envelope and hoped the contents would not require a response. Unlike my mother, who replies with prompt civility even to those who criticize something she has written or is purported to have said or done, I prefer to put that time and energy on writing for publication or, as in these private...

  5. Margaret Connelly
    (pp. 87-100)

    Having been in domestic service since I was fifteen—over half my lifetime—I could tell tales that would raise an eyebrow or cause a gasp, but I don’t have the urge to prattle about people I have worked for and come to know as well as I do my own family. Most of them, including my current mistress, Mrs. Jefferson Davis, have been kind and considerate. So I say at the outset, in the event this rumination is ever read by anyone else, that I am writing in this diary for one purpose only—so that I might revisit...

  6. Winnie’s Notebook
    (pp. 101-142)

    On this day in 1881—seventeen years and half my life ago—I left boarding school. My mother, who has never hesitated to request favors of friends and friends of friends, had asked Miss Emily Mason, who lived in Paris and would be traveling in Germany at that time, to collect me in Karlsruhe and take me to the glorious City of Light, where I would live under her wing until they came to get me. I could hardly sleep the night before; the departure I had looked forward to ever since I arrived at the Friedlander Institute was finally...

  7. Maggie Hayes
    (pp. 143-175)

    My mother has a flair for personal correspondence. A friend of hers who had traveled from Kentucky to Richmond to attend Winnie’s funeral told me, “Varina writes so engagingly, as if we see each other frequently. Indeed, after I’ve read a letter from her, I feel as though we’ve just had a good, long visit.” In letters to me, however, Mother lets her hair down about whatever’s foremost on her mind at that moment—someone has infuriated her, or she’s elated over a bit of good fortune. Until the most recent tragedy, the main theme usually revolved around her other...

  8. Alfred Wilkinson
    (pp. 176-204)

    I have just read of the death of Mrs. Jefferson Davis. Spotting the prominently featured obituary provided a moment of elation, as though I had won a long-waged competition—but there was no competition, and no winner.

    The last time I saw Mrs. Davis was at Winnie’s funeral in Richmond, Virginia, and then from a considerable distance. Hoping to be inconspicuous, I had sat on a back pew during the service in St. Paul’s Church and stood well apart from the graveside gathering. I would have liked to speak to Winnie’s sister, Mrs. Addison Hayes, whom Winnie had referred to...

  9. Epilogue
    (pp. 205-206)

    Alfred Wilkinson died of heart problems on May 27, 1918, at Atlantic City, where he had gone to recuperate from a nervous breakdown. The Harvard Class of 1880’s Fortieth Anniversary Report noted: “He will be remembered by his classmates in his college days as full of life, positive but good natured, companionable and with a sense of humor. He was a man of strong family affections. He never married.”...

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 207-210)
  11. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 211-214)