From New York Times Bestselling Author Jennifer Chiaverini, the first novel to chronicle the singular relationship between Julia Grant, beloved First Lady, and the courageous woman who was her slave and namesake.
In 1844, shy Missouri belle Julia Dent met Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant, brilliant horseman and reluctant soldier. The two fell deeply in love, but Grant’s abolitionist family refused to attend their wedding. For despite her husband's objections, Julia kept as her slave another Julia, known as Jule.
Since childhood they had been companions and confidantes. Julia was gifted with prophetic dreams, which Jule helped her interpret; Julia secretly taught Jule to read, while Jule became her vision-impaired mistress’s eyes to the world. But as Grant rose through the ranks of the Union army during the Civil War, the stark distinctions between mistress and slave strained their unlikely friendship. Both women risked certain danger as they traveled to and from General Grant’s military headquarters—until the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation inspired Jule to make a daring bid for freedom.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, The Spymistress, Mrs. Lincoln's Rival, and the Elm Creek Quilts series. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Read an Excerpt
The slaves froze when they heard the old master shouting from the big house, conversations cut off in midsentence, hands grasping spoons hovering between bowls and hungry mouths. Even the little ginger-colored maid strained her ears to listen, dreading to hear her own name bellowed in anger.
For a long, tense moment she heard only the crackling of the fire from within the kitchen house and birds chirping overhead, but then Tom shook his head and resumed eating. “It ain’t us,” the lanky coachman said through a mouthful of oat porridge. “Something happened in the city, but it ain’t nothing to do with us.”
Quickly the slaves finished their breakfasts, scraping their bowls with their carved wooden spoons and licking off every last savory morsel before rising and darting to work. Only the little ginger-colored maid hung back, reluctant to return to the big house and whatever storm brewed within. She busied herself gathering up the dirty bowls and spoons and carrying them to the washbasin, but as she rolled up her sleeves, the cook shook her head. “Poppy can help me with that. You best be running off.” Annie was only twenty or thereabouts, but she was the best cook in the Gravois Settlement and proud of it. “Miss Julia be looking for you. Stay out of the old master’s way and you be all right.”
Glumly she nodded and hurried away. She found Miss Julia seated on the front piazza, frowning anxiously at her hands in her lap, a red ribbon bobbing atop her thick, glossy, dark hair in time with the swinging of her feet. She glanced up at the sound of her maid’s bare feet on the well-worn path—her expression sweet, her skin soft and rosy—but she held her head awkwardly, tilting it this way and that, trying to fix her gaze on her maid despite her cross-eye. “There you are,” Julia cried, bounding out of her seat and down the stairs. She seized her maid’s hand and pulled her along, her glossy curls a dark cascade down her back as they ran. The maid’s spirits rose as they left the big house behind. She knew where Julia was leading her—to the stables and the family’s horses.
They heard Gabriel, the stableboy, singing before they reached the corral, before they saw him emerge from the stable, a sturdy, russet-colored boy of ten years leading the missus’s favorite bay mare by the reins. The boy with the voice of an angel had been given a name to suit when he had been brought into the Dent household four years before. He had been called Tom then, but the old master had renamed him for the sake of the elder Tom, the ebony-skinned coachman. The maid thought it strange that she had not been given a new name too, since she shared one with her mistress. Instead, ever since the old master had bought her when she was scarcely four years old, the family and slaves had made do by calling her Julia the maid or the little ginger girl or, more often, Black Julia.
Side by side, the two Julias stood on the lowest rail and rested their elbows on the corral fence, watching Tom and Gabriel exercise the horses, which Julia adored and rode whenever the old master allowed. When they tired of this, the mistress seized her maid’s hand again and they ran off to the kitchen house, another of Miss Julia’s favorite places on her family’s country estate. Julia could always charm a treat from Annie and never failed to share it. “Ginger and cream,” Annie often remarked when she spied the girls’ clasped hands, the darker skin against the white.
Once, years before, Julia had felt a soft, quick, wetness on the back of her wrist and turned her head in surprise to discover her mistress bent over her hand, the pink tip of her tongue still protruding between her red lips. “I wanted to see if you tasted like ginger too,” Julia had said, her expression embarrassed and guilty.
“No.” Julia had frowned in disappointment. “Just skin. And brine.”
“I was helping Annie pickle cucumbers.” Impulsively, she had lifted Julia’s hand to her mouth, her tongue darting out for a small, swift taste. “Hmm.”
“What? What is it?”
“Definitely cream.” She had nodded sagely before dissolving into giggles. “The sweetest, freshest cream ever.”
Julia had laughed, delighted.
Annie shooed them away soon enough, and they ran off deep into the woods encircling White Haven, to their favorite, most secret place, a beautiful, shadowy, moss-covered nook near a burbling stream that fed into the Gravois. Julia’s favorite game was to pretend that this was a fairy bower and that she was queen of the fairies, ruling fairly and benignly over her kingdom, as confident and gracious in make-believe as she was shy in real life. The ginger maid portrayed her favorite lady-in-waiting, a deposed fairy princess from a far-off kingdom, bearing all the grace of royalty despite her more humble status.
When the sun shone high overhead, the maid, her stomach rumbling with hunger, reminded her mistress that Julia would be expected home for lunch. Just as they emerged from the woods, they halted at the sight of a pair of horses tied up at the front post and the old master greeting two men on the shaded piazza.
“Soldiers,” said Julia, squinting enough to make out their uniforms. “See them for me.”
“They’re officers,” her maid replied. Her mistress’s poor vision was a source of endless frustration, and she often called upon her maid to describe people and scenes for her, especially at a distance. But even things close to hand, like picture books and sewing, gave her headaches if she were obliged to study them too long. When Julia was first learning to read, after squinting at the reader for a quarter of an hour, her forehead would throb so painfully that she would plaintively ask her maid to see the letters aloud for her. The missus soon put a stop to that, reminding Miss Julia that slaves weren’t allowed to read and dismissing her maid with a stern rebuke.
“I see that much for myself,” said Julia. “What else?”
“The tall one is younger,” she continued. “He’s a lieutenant. The short, stout one has gray hair, and I think he’s a captain. I don’t think they ever been here before.”
“They must be from Jefferson Barracks,” said Julia, her voice dropping to a murmur. “One of the officers did something terrible.”
“What he do?”
“I don’t know. Let’s listen.”
Julia took her hand once more. They darted to the house, tiptoed up the front stairs and down the piazza, and crouched silently beneath one of the parlor windows.
What they heard chilled the maid to the bone.
A few days before, Major William Harney, the paymaster at Jefferson Barracks, had become enraged with a slave, Hannah, whom he accused of hiding or losing the keys to his sister-in-law’s household in St. Louis, where he was residing. He had seized a piece of rawhide and had beaten her savagely upon her head, stomach, sides, back, arms and legs, rendering her unconscious, bruised, and bleeding. Hannah died the following day, and the coroner’s jury of inquest noted that her body had been lacerated and mangled in so horrible a manner that they could not determine whether the violence had been committed with whips or hot irons. To avoid arrest—and in advance of a mob of outraged citizens intent on stringing him up—Major Harney had fled the city aboard a steamboat and proceeded to Washington City to request a transfer so he would never have to return to Missouri. The officers had come to warn the old master that anger against slaveholders throughout the county was soaring, and he ought to take care until it subsided.
Julia squeezed her hand. “Did you hear? That bad man will never come back. Papa says Washington City is about as far from St. Louis as you can go.”
She nodded, her throat constricted too much to allow speech, but her heart pounded, her mind flooded with images of a slave woman screaming in anguish as the rawhide cut into her skin, falling to her knees in a pool of her own blood—
She scrambled away from the window and fled to the woods, closing her ears to Julia’s beseeching cries.
She fled to the safest place she knew, the fairy bower, where she lay down on the soft moss and hugged her knees to her chest. Before long Julia arrived, breathless and anxious. “I knew you would come here,” she said, sitting down beside her. “You mustn’t be afraid. What happened to that poor Hannah will never happen to you. I swear I’ll never beat you and I won’t let anyone else either.”
She felt a small measure of comfort, enough to compel her to sit up and wipe the tears from her face. But she knew Julia was just a little girl, eight years old like herself, and incapable of fighting off anyone who might want to hurt her.
“I don’t like it when people call you Black Julia,” the young mistress suddenly declared. “It’s not a proper name, even for a servant. But you can’t be Julia, because I was Julia first.”
She didn’t contradict her, although she was the elder by two months and so had been called Julia longer. Her mistress was the first to be called Julia at White Haven, and she was a Dent. It was fair that she kept the name.
“I’m going to call you Jule,” she said. “It’s almost Julia, but different enough so no one will need to put anything else before it to tell us apart. Do you like it?”
“Yes,” said Jule, after a long moment. “It’s nice.”
“Then Jule it is,” Julia proclaimed, beaming.
Jule was proud of her new name. It wasn’t quite as well earned as Gabriel’s, or as fancy as Suzanne’s, but it was nice, and it was hers alone.
“Miss Julia says we all supposed to call me Jule now,” she told Annie that night as the weary slaves gathered at the kitchen house to eat their supper, deferred while the Dents and the livestock were seen to.
“Really.” Scooping stew into bowls, Annie gave her an inscrutable sidelong look. “You proud of that odd name, ginger girl?”
“It ain’t odd,” said Jule, lifting her chin. “Some girls called Ruby or Opal or Pearl. Why can’t I be called Jewel?”
One of the field hands guffawed into his stew; it might have been Dan, but she couldn’t tell in the darkness, which on that moonless night was lifted only by the light spilling from the kitchen-house doorway and the campfire Tom and Gabriel had built.
“It’s pretty,” piped up Suzanne, the housekeeper’s walnut-colored daughter. She would be the maid for Julia’s next-eldest sister someday but as yet was too young to be much more than a playmate.
“Pretty, huh?” Still clutching her spoon, Annie planted a fist on her hip and regarded Jule from beneath raised brows. “You ain’t called jewel like no pearl or sparkling ruby. You called Jule to be short for Julia.”
“Annie,” chided Tom mildly. “She’s just a girl.”
“She’s eight years old, old enough to know how things are. She ain’t got no mamma, so it falls to me to tell her.” Annie’s expression turned solemn as she crouched low beside Jule and held her gaze. “Listen here. Your new name just a piece of her name, just like she think you no more than a little piece of her. There’s us, and there’s them, and you one of us.”
“I know that,” said Jule sullenly.
“No, I don’t think you do. Listen, ginger girl. You ain’t never gonna be a part of that family, no matter what Miss Julia say now, no matter how she hold your hand and tell you she love you. Soon Miss Nell gonna be old enough to be a real friend and not just a pesky little sister, and as years go by you gonna be less a friend and more a slave. It always happen that way. Unless you want your heart broke, you best get ready and watch for it coming, so it don’t catch you by surprise.”
Miss Julia was different, Jule told herself fiercely, interlacing her fingers over her growling stomach as Annie filled bowls with stew and she waited for one to be passed her way.
Miss Julia was different, and Jule was different. They were ginger and cream. It was not their fault they were mistress and slave too.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Jennifer Chiaverini and her Novels
“History—and its colorful characters—come alive.” –USA Today
“Jennifer Chiaverini imagines the First Lady’s most private affairs through the eyes of an unlikely confidante.” –Harper’s Bazaar
“Chiaverini has drawn a loving portrait of a complex and gifted woman . . . Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker helps to illuminate the path on which her long and remarkable life led her.” –St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Praise for The Spymistress
“[A] must read book . . . Author Chiaverini has a knack for finding fascinating, if unheralded, women in history — she favors the Civil War era — and shining a light on them with readable historical novels.” –New York Post
“Compelling.” –Historical Novel Society
“Jennifer Chiaverini’s latest bestseller will thrill Civil War buffs and anyone who loves reading about American history and the contribution of women to the momentous events that formed this country.” –Bookreporter
Praise for Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival
“In addition to simply being fascinating stories, [Jennifer Chiaverini’s] novels go a long way in capturing the texture of life for women, rich and poor, black and white, in those perilous years.” –Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Filled with details of the social intrigue, slights and innuendo that occurred between the two, the book will appeal to anyone who loves a novel filled with the appearance of numerous fictional accounts of and appearances by the figures who shaped America's history during the period of the Civil War." Bookreporter
Praise for MRS. GRANT AND MADAME JULE
“[Chiaverini’s] depiction of the essential decency of some of our nation’s early leaders is a high point.”
"Chiaverini's fans will love this light historical romance."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
What a predicament being a slave owner and married to Ulysses S Grant, and living through the Civil War. The book starts as Julia is given her slave and friend Julia; she then changes her name to Jule to end the confusion. A contradiction to be sure, and Julia walks a tight rope of explanation, where she tries to justify slavery and her husband’s career. I loved the interaction between Ulys and Julia, right from the start he never say her disabilities, her cross-eyes, and only saw her heart. We are with them in their courtship, their marrying, and having their family, and trials. We continue through their life, and it sure isn’t a dull one, action around every corner. While the story is fiction, as the author notes tell that not much is know about the life of Julia Grant, the rest of the story is fact, we live the Civil War battle to battle. We are Julia and follow her as the wife of the great General and President of the US. One part that touched my heart was what Mark Twain did for the General, I had known this, but it brought it alive for me, and it had such an impact on the story. I loved this read, what a beautiful story the author has written. I received this book through the Publisher Dutton, and was not required to give a positive review.
Julia Grant and her slave Jule vowed to let nothing separate them. Both were blinded with their fondness for each other and staunchly declared their parents’ and peers’ warnings to be incorrect. Time, however, changes so many things. Julie falls in love with Ulysses S. Grant and is astonished at his family’s vociferous condemnation of slavery. She naively believes that will change in time. She never examines the condition of slaves, thinking that Julie has a good home, doesn’t work that hard and has a bond with Julia that other slaves lack. As the Civil War looms closer and closer, Ulysses is rising in the United States Army and travels constantly. Many of his strategies are described geographically and the reader grasps the tension accompanying each movement, win or loss. However, Julia is always allowed to accompany him, living in homes close to where he is stationed. Jule begins to remain back at the Julia’s parents’, home and she falls in love with a slave who is an ardent freedom lover, determined to escape from his cruel bondage. It is he who opens Jule’s eyes to the opportunities that escape would often. A strangeness grows between Julia and Jule, but Julia fails to grasp the root of the change. Julia’s story evolves as her husband gains more glory and honor during the War and she meets famous Washington politicians and their spouses, including the temperamental Mrs. Lincoln whose fiery rampages confuse and frighten Julia. The love between Ulysses and Julia is depicted as very special and very deep, nothing being allowed to separate them, including the jealous slandering that occurs with every successful battle. When he is accused of being brutal in war, he simply states that war demands certain actions to not only guarantee success but to assert the principles that were a consequence of the South attempting to divide the United States. History indeed tells the story from the point of view of the victor. Due to Julia’s eye problems, Jule had been the eyes and ears of Mrs. Grant for years. The problems with the lack of vision parallel her blindness to the approaching end of slavery, including Jule’s eventual escape and success as an accomplished hairdresser. Jule’s husband’s future is shocking but definitely real and no tribute to slave owners. The reader awaits some kind of compromise and reunion between Julia and Jule, but reality instead deems that “happily ever after” scenario to be symbolic of the deep divisions that rule during and after the War. Jennifer Chiaverini has once again crafted a novel that brooks no denial of the sufferings of the war, the harshness of slavery, the dreams and aspirations of slaves, the sacrifices demanded of the Grants. Those who live in the path of the war suffer as well and at times the mercy of the Grants is seen in their response to the requests of widows and families of the “enemy.” Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule is fine historical fiction that is sincere, intriguing, adventurous and passionate on every page. Well-written and researched, this reviewer highly recommends this novel for those who love accurate and suspenseful historical fiction!
I really liked this fictional account of Julia Grant's life and her childhood friend and family owned slave Jule. I thought it was well written and quite interesting. I was captivated throughout the book. Recommended. 5 Stars.
I was reinforced in my opinion when I saw three stars average for the other reviewers, then chagrined when I saw it was the average of a 5-star review and a completely unrelated 1-star! But I believe the book deserves a solid 3 stars. Not historic enough to be history, and not imaginative enough to succeed as a true novel (which, after all, requires conflict/drama), this book does not entirely succeed in either venue. A solid read....in every sense. It's not an unputdownable book that draws you forward into the story, but on the other hand, you'll want to see it through once you get going, even if it's a bit of a chore rather than a pure delight. It's not up to the standard set in Ms. Chiaverini's previous works, and I wonder what part of it is that the life of Julia Grant just wasn't as exciting as the lives of the previous women she wrote about. Or maybe because her books have now become routine sentiments, and no longer very original. In her book about Ms. Lincoln, Chiaverini got off to a slow start, trying too hard to fit in all the history, but eventually her storytelling abiiity took hold , and the second half redeemed the flatness of the first half. Alas, in this book , such is not the case. Chiaverini never quite gets her storytelling ability fully engaged. Her sincerity is never in doubt; her research is evident. It just doesn't "sing", as a good novel ought.
The characters are typical of those who lived in that era. It is a great book and ends in a great way. Loved it.
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