I've always been curious about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his eldest daughter Martha. Author Sally Cabot Gunning renders a compelling and well-written portrait of one of America's most interesting women.
Book Title: Monticello: A Daughter and her Father by Sally Cabot Gunning
Category: Adult Fiction, 384 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Release date: June 27, 2017
Content Rating: G
From the critically acclaimed author of The Widow’s War comes a captivating work of literary historical fiction that explores the tenuous relationship between a brilliant and complex father and his devoted daughter—Thomas Jefferson and Martha Jefferson Randolph.
After the death of her beloved mother, Martha Jefferson spent five years abroad with her father, Thomas Jefferson, on his first diplomatic mission to France. Now, at seventeen, Jefferson’s bright, handsome eldest daughter is returning to the lush hills of the family’s beloved Virginia plantation, Monticello. While the large, beautiful estate is the same as she remembers, Martha has changed. The young girl that sailed to Europe is now a woman with a heart made heavy by a first love gone wrong.
The world around her has also become far more complicated than it once seemed. The doting father she idolized since childhood has begun to pull away. Moving back into political life, he has become distracted by the tumultuous fight for power and troubling new attachments. The home she adores depends on slavery, a practice Martha abhors. But Monticello is burdened by debt, and it cannot survive without the labor of her family’s slaves. The exotic distant cousin she is drawn to has a taste for dangerous passions, dark desires that will eventually compromise her own.
As her life becomes constrained by the demands of marriage, motherhood, politics, scandal, and her family’s increasing impoverishment, Martha yearns to find her way back to the gentle beauty and quiet happiness of the world she once knew at the top of her father’s “little mountain.”
I've always been curious about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his eldest daughter Martha. Author Sally Cabot Gunning renders a compelling and well-written portrait of a woman who was beloved by her father and who lived through many tumultuous moments. Although this is very much a character-driven novel, there is never a dull moment. I did find parts of it to be depressing, though.
It's clear that the author extensively researched the history of the Jeffersons. I was motivated to look up information on the Internet and was so impressed by the author's ability to bring this family to life. Not only the family, but also the slave issue for landowners trying to make a living in the South. Although they disliked that black people were sold into slavery and tried to make up for this by treating the slaves as workers, they were still caught in the system. Their increasing financial strain forced them to buy and sell slaves even as their conscience warred with these actions.
Sally Hemings (Jefferson's beautiful mulatto concubine) plays a role in this story too, and I was taken in with how her relationship with Thomas Jefferson was portrayed, and how Martha deals with it. The tension between the two is palpable. I thought the way the author dealt with the slave issue was realistic and although it wasn't the main theme, it certainly was part of Martha's life.
I went through so many emotions reading this book. Although Martha was an intelligent and strong woman, she was constrained by her gender and her marriage, giving birth to twelve children and living with a husband with a volatile temperament. The author does not shy away from showing Martha's flaws as well as her strengths, especially that of loyalty. It is her relationship with her father that is her saving grace.
Monticello, the family's beloved Virginia plantation among lush mountains is almost like another character in this book. The importance of its location and the meaning it has in Martha's life is paramount throughout the book. Monticello is Martha's haven.
A lifelong resident of New England, Sally Cabot Gunning has immersed herself in its history from a young age. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Satucket Novels—The Widow’s War, Bound, and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke—and, writing as Sally Cabot, the equally acclaimed Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard. She lives in Brewster, Massachusetts, with her husband, Tom.
Find out more about Sally at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.