From Publishers Weekly
Cashin has written a smashing study—the first scholarly biography—of Varina Howell Davis (1826–1906), wife of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Cashin, an associate professor of history at Ohio State, follows Davis from her Mississippi childhood through her marriage, her years in Washington (when her husband served in the Senate), through the Civil War, concluding with her widowhood, during which Varina lived in New York City and supported herself by writing for newspapers. Davis had a deep commitment to family (and in later years an almost co-dependent attachment to her daughter) and intellectual sophistication. She was a passionate reader and a scintillating conversationalist. The letters quoted here sparkle with wit. Cashin also uncovers Davis's ambivalence about the Confederacy; a "wavering Confederate patriot," she believed the South was doomed from the start. Davis kept up correspondence with Northern friends and relatives throughout the Civil War, an act that could have landed her in jail. Cashin is a strong, clear writer and situates her complex subject in larger academic debates, for example, about gender in the 19th century, without getting bogged down in academese. All in all, this is a terrifically winning portrait of a fascinating woman. B&w photos. (Sept.)
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As historian Cashin remarks in the concluding chapter of this thorough biography of the wife of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, "If Mary Todd Lincoln is remembered as the First Lady who went to an insane asylum, [Mrs.] Davis is scarcely remembered at all." Sympathetic but not uncritical in her well--researched treatment, Cashin gives Varina Davis her due, drawing distinct images of her personality and clearly estimating her effect on her husband and country. Finding that Mrs. Davis "made many sacrifices for a cause she did not fully support and for a husband who did not fully return her love," Cashin views her within a framework of the traditional role expected of a Southern plantation wife and the role that was anticipated by the Confederate public for their first First Lady. Living in Washington, D.C., as the wife of a congressman, then senator, then secretary of war under President Pierce, was a happy time for her; conversely, times were unhappy when she resided in the Confederate White House in Richmond. Brad HooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved