Work Title: Devotion: A Novel Based on the Life of Winnie Davis, Daughter of the Confederacy
Work Author(s): Julia Oliver
University of Georgia Press
214 Pages, Hardcover $24.95
Reviewer: Keya Kraft
In Devotion, Jefferson Davis's youngest daughter Varina Anne ("Winnie") Davis writes in a private journal about the unsolicited public attention she receives in the aftermath of the civil war, "I was learning to mentally separate from my new persona and the misdirected devotion it attracted." Oliver's novel explores the implications of this kind of devotion for the identity of a woman who was in many ways defined by her historical moment. Born in 1864, when the war was nearly over, and educated in Europe in her adolescence, Winnie returns to America to find herself as the central symbol for the defeated South, Daughter of the Confederacy.
Winnie is at once a representative of a fleeting southern femininity (she is crowned queen of the men's society, the Krewe of Comus, at the exclusive New Orleans Mardi Gras ball) as well as a feminist New Woman who breaks off an engagement with a northern man she loves. Winnie writes in her journals "I began to be intellectually fascinated by the subjects of infidelity and promiscuity." The novel is told from a series of different perspectives, beginning with Winnie's own fictional diary entries dated the year of her death. In writing about the youngest daughter of the defeated leader of the Confederacy, Oliver offers a serious exploration of American and southern femininity at the end of the Nineteenth Century. The simmering resentments underlying the narratives of those closest to Winnie reveal the controversial nature of her Southern femininity. Devotion is...