REVIEW! WINNIE DAVIS: DAUGHTER OF A LOST CAUSE by Heath Hardage Lee

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Synopsis

Varina Anne “Winnie” Davis was born into a war-torn South in June of 1864, the youngest daughter of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his second wife, Varina Howell Davis. Born only a month after the death of beloved Confederate hero general J.E.B. Stuart during a string of Confederate victories, Winnie’s birth was hailed as a blessing by war-weary Southerners. They felt her arrival was a good omen signifying future victory. But after the Confederacy’s ultimate defeat in the Civil War, Winnie would spend her early life as a genteel refugee and an expatriate abroad. 
 
 
After returning to the South from German boarding school, Winnie was christened the “Daughter of the Confederacy” in 1886. This role was bestowed upon her by a Southern culture trying to sublimate its war losses. Particularly idolized by Confederate veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Winnie became an icon of the Lost Cause, eclipsing even her father Jefferson in popularity. 
 
Winnie Davis:  Daughter of the Lost Cause is the first published biography of this little-known woman who unwittingly became the symbolic female figure of the defeated South. Her controversial engagement in 1890 to a Northerner lawyer whose grandfather was a famous abolitionist, and her later move to work as a writer in New York City, shocked her friends, family, and the Southern groups who worshipped her. Faced with the pressures of a community who violently rejected the match, Winnie desperately attempted to reconcile her prominent Old South history with her personal desire for tolerance and acceptance of her personal choices.
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Review

My roots run South in this country; therefore, I was instantly intrigued by this novel.

I’m very familiar with The Daughters of the Confederacy, and the prodigal daughter that started it all, but this author has taken an extraordinary approach by reintroducing Winnie Davis to the world in a most intimate manner. Starting from her birth, we get a detailed background on how Winnie’s future was forged by the chaotic world to which she was born. This young woman was thrust into situations that exceeded her limitations both physically, and mentally. The relationship she had with her mother is one in which many in the South can relate, and her timid behavior was that of a true lady.

Although Winnie is the main subject, she is by no means the only person of which whom we become familiar. The whole family is introduced, as well as the love of her life, which later gives reference to Winnie’s somber and emotional state.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, but I must warn that some may feel as if the entire southern gentry are portrayed as one group of like-minded idiots. Readers must keep in mind, the anger and frustration after the war towards “The Yankees” was so intense, it still resonates today. There are also a couple of “hmm” moments in which the lost Confederate Money conspiracies do not seem so far-fetched. The historical details are extraordinary; however, and the research involved is evident.

My heart ached for Winnie Davis, as the writer has depicted her life with great care.  A tragic tale from a tragic time.

Recommended read.
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About This Literary Chef

heath

Heath Hardage Lee

Heath comes from a museum education, historic preservation, and writing background. She holds a B.A. in History with Honors from Davidson College, and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Virginia.

She started her museum career at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, North Carolina, as the Director of Education and Programs. Heath has since worked as a consultant for southern house museums such as Stratford Hall, Robert E. Lee’s birthplace, and Menokin Plantation, once home to Francis Lightfoot Lee. She is currently working as the Coordinator of the History Series for Salisbury House & Gardens, a 1920’s house museum in Des Moines, Iowa.

Potomac Books, a division of the University of Nebraska Press, published Heath’s first book, Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause, in 2014. This biography about the fascinating youngest daughter of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was one of Potomac Press’s bestselling books for 2014. Winnie won the 2015 Colonial Dames of America Annual Book Award as well as a Gold Medal for Nonfiction writing from the Independent Publisher 2015 Book Awards.

Heath is currently working on her second book, a group biography entitled Vietnam War Wives about the courageous Wives of men who were Prisoners of War or Missing in Action during the Vietnam War. Stay tuned for more news on that book this fall.

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