I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Monday, August 1, 2016

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini

By the author of the many quilting mysteries series and Mrs. Lincoln and Her Seamstress comes a very unique look into the life of a woman that, while much is written about her, including her own autobiography, many people do not really know who she is.  While very little is known about her maid and slave Jule, Chiaverini was forced to create as correct a story-line for her as possible.

This book opens with Julia Dent of Missouri, the daughter of a slave owning planter, meets Lieutenant Grant who is soon off to fight in the Mexican American War.  When he first asks for her hand in marriage, she is so shocked that she says no and watches as he goes back to Ohio to see his folks before coming south again to go fight.  She immediately regrets her decision.  While Grant graduated from West Point at the bottom of his class and earned quite a few demerits, he excelled at math and horsemanship, something they both shared.  He hoped to get a job teaching math after the war.  Julia, an insecure woman who was born with a lazy eye that causes her to get headaches if she reads or does embroidery.  She depends on Jule to be her eyes for things that are far away to describe them for her.  The two are the same age and grew up together calling themselves ginger and cream. 

Jule is in love with the stable master, Gabriel who has a magnificent voice and wants to be a preacher as soon as he can get his freedom.  Jule keeps turning his offer of marriage to him down, because she knows that when Grant (who finally gets permission from Julia's father to marry her) returns from the war, that Julia will take her away from Missouri.  But when Grant returns, he is forced to stay in the army for another ten years, traveling from place to place in the North, where it would look bad for Julia to have a slave with her, so Jule goes ahead and marries Gabriel.

Julia and Grant would have four children, Fred, Ulysses, Nellie, and Jesse.  Grant would be forced out of the army on the false rumors of him being a drunkard who could not control those under his command.  In truth, Grant suffered horrible migraines and there were always those who just wanted him to fail.  Grant's comes from a family of abolitionists who take a while getting used to Julia. After leaving the army, Grant tries his hand at farming the land Julia's father gave them as a wedding present, but fails.  He goes into business with another man in Ohio and that also fails.  Just as he starts working for his father, the Civil War breaks out and he is sent to train men.

The book goes on to describe the times that Julia and on occasion, one or more of her children with her, to be with Grant at his encampment.  She spends the rest of the time between her parents house and Grant's parents house.  She gets to witness the fall of Vicksburg, as well as many other battles.  Grant's sobriety rumors start up again, but he keeps winning battles, and Lincoln famously says "send a barrel of whatever Grant is drinking to my other Generals".  The North goes through many heads of the army, but after Vicksburg, Lincoln realizes that Grant is just the man to win the war for him and Sherman is left to take care of the Western front while Grant faces Lee on the  East and directs all the troops. 

Grant is magnanimous when he accepts defeat from Lee at Appomattox and offers a good deal: the soldiers will be pardoned, will have to put down their guns, will get to keep their horses and land.  Grant knows that Lincoln is the man who will really help the nation heal, as he is not out to punish the South.  That famous night at Ford's Theater, when Lincoln was shot, the Grants had received an invitation to go, but Julia, who all her life has had visions that tend to come through, begged him not to go and to leave Washington City at once, because it was not safe.  Later, it turns out, Grant's name was on the list of those who were to be killed, but the killer could not get to him.

Sadly, this book is scant on Grant's presidency.  Grant's presidency was the most corrupt in American history.  He was frequently taken advantage of and quite frankly, was more a soldier than a president.  After retiring, he found out that he has lost all his money, a quarter of a million dollars, to bad investments.  He has to borrow money, then sells everything he can to pay it back.  Salvation comes when he is asked to write some articles for the newspaper, who suggest that he write his memoirs.  While slowly dying from mouth cancer, he determinedly sets out to do that in order that his family might be financially secure when he is gone. 

Jule, meanwhile, runs away from Julia during the war when they are in Cincinnati.  Gabriel had been sold twice and was now somewhere in Texas, and though Jule tries to find him, is unable to do so, that's why she decides to run.  An abolitionist soldier told her where to go if she could escape and she goes to a church where they help her set up a life in Washington City as a beautician, who also sells lotions and beauty products.  While she becomes very successful, she is always looking over her shoulder for Julia who comes to Washington City sometimes.  Julia is an odd woman, perhaps because she is Southern, and Southerners, quite often are a little off.  She is pro-Union, but also pro-slavery.  She believes the slaves would not know what to do with themselves if left to their own devises.  That they would starve to death.  She sees her family as kind.  One that treats them well, feeds them, clothes them, and provides them a place to live.  Over time, Julia changes, and in her later years makes friends with one of the most surprising women of her time. 

This book is fabulous.  I've never known anything about Grant's wife, much less that she was a slave holder from the South, who marries abolitionist, Ulysses Grant.  I also knew very little about Grant, except a few of his exploits from the battle.  This book paints him as a very understanding, caring, giving, modest, and gracious man.  Julia was a brave woman, who was Grant's equal, who would learn to see the world in a different light.  She was often not wanted no matter if she was in the South or the North, because of her heritage and her marriage.  She would turn the White House, in shambles, back to its former glory, and be quite the hostess.  Jule is also an amazing woman for having the strength to run away in dangerous times and as a woman, to make a very nice living for herself.  This is a novel truly worthy of your time.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Mrs-Grant-Madame-Jennifer-Chiaverini/dp/0525954295/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470054217&sr=1-1&keywords=mrs.+grant+and+madame+jule+by+jennifer+chiaverini

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