Tuesday, October 13, 2015

518 (2015 #75). Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule

by Jennifer Chiaverini

This is the fourth of Jennifer Chiaverini's historical fiction / biographical novels featuring lesser-known women of the Civil War era.  It is most similar to the first in that group, Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, in that it's about a President's wife and a black woman.  Unlike that book, the black woman in this one is not a free woman.  I was surprised to learn that Julia Dent Grant, the wife of Union General and later President Hiram Ulysses S. Grant, came from a slave-holding family in Missouri.

Apparently, Mrs. Grant was often accompanied by a "favorite slave" when she joined her husband at various military outposts, according to the author in an interview, in reference to her research.  Little is known about this woman, except that her name was also Julia (and she was often referred to as "Black Julia,") and that another Dent family slave described her as a "tiny ginger-colored maid."  Chiaverini uses these two details to build an almost-entirely fictional character (and her related experiences).

I found the story of the novelized Mrs. Grant to be far more interesting.  I also learned a lot about Ulysses S. Grant and his career from this book.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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