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Civil War Wives: The Lives and Times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant (Borzoi Books)by Carol Berkin
Synopses & Reviews
Here are the life stories of three women who connect us to our national past and provide windows onto a social and political landscape that is strangely familiar yet shockingly foreign.
Berkin focuses on three “accidental heroes” who left behind sufficient records to allow their voices to be heard clearly and to allow us to see the world as they did. Though they held no political power themselves, all three had access to power and unique perspectives on events of their time.
Angelina Grimké Weld, after a painful internal dialogue, renounced the values of her Southern familys way of life and embraced the antislavery movement, but found her voice silenced by marriage to fellow reformer Theodore Weld. Varina Howell Davis had an independent mind and spirit but incurred the disapproval of her husband, Jefferson Davis, when she would not behave as an obedient wife. Though ill-prepared and ill-suited for her role as First Lady of the Confederacy, she became an expert political lobbyist for her husbands release from prison. Julia Dent Grant, the wife of Ulysses S. Grant, was a model of genteel domesticity who seemed content with the restrictions of marriage and motherhood, even though they led to alternating periods of fame and disgrace, wealth and poverty. Only late in life did she glimpse the price of dependency.
Throughout, Berkin captures the tensions and animosities of the antebellum era and the disruptions, anxieties, and dislocations generated by the war and its aftermath.
"The wives of abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld, Confederacy president Jefferson Davis and Union commander Ulysses S. Grant don't fit comfortably between one book's covers. Though they lived during roughly the same period, they differed in disposition, situation aspiration and gifts. But Baruch College and CUNY Graduate Center historian Berkin (Revolutionary Mothers) isn't out to create a group portrait. Instead, she wants to catch the realities of three 'privileged, yet restricted' women and thus to reveal how even the most fortunate of wives — at least fortunate in the importance and celebrity of their husbands — struggled, not always successfully, to face down the difficulties of their sex. In this, Berkin is entirely successful. Her engaging prose and sympathetic posture bring the three women vividly to life. Weld, Davis and Grant were unrepresentative in their marriages but typical in their struggles to use their sharp minds to break free of the era's restrictions on married women. Even if they weren't, contrary to Berkin's hackneyed word, 'heroes,' they pointed the way to what women's lives might — and eventually did — become. 6 photos. (Sept. 9)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In the life stories of three “accidental heroes”women whose marriages provided them with position and perspective they would not otherwise have hadCarol Berkin, one of the nations premier historians, offers a unique understanding of the tumultuous social and political landscape of their time.
Drawing on private and public records, Berkin shows us how Angelina Grimké Weld bravely renounced her Southern familys values, embracing the anti-slavery movement, only to find her voice silenced by marriage to fellow reformer Theodore Weld. In Varina Howell Davis, we see an independent mind and spirit that incurred the disapproval of her husband, Jefferson Davis, and made her ill-suited for her role as First Lady of the Confederacy, but served her well when she was lobbying for her husbands release from prison. The wife of Ulysses S. Grant, Julia Dent Grant, was a model of genteel domesticity, content with the restrictions of motherhood and with the alternating fame and disgrace, wealth and poverty, that her marriage entailed, until late in life when she glimpsed the price of dependency.
Bringing these three remarkable women vividly alive, Berkin captures the tensions and animosities of the prewar era and the disruptions and anxieties generated by the war and its aftermath, and connects us to our national past with rare immediacy and verve.
About the Author
Carol Berkin received her A.B. from Barnard College and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. She taught at Baruch College from 1972 to 2008 and has taught at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York since 1983. She is currently Baruch Presidential Professor of History. Berkin is the author of Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for Americas Independence, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Loyalist, First Generations: Women in Colonial America, and numerous articles and reviews. She lives in New York City and Guilford, Connecticut.
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