First Lady of the Confederacy: Varina Davis's Civil War

By Joan E. Cashin | Go to book overview

12
THE GIRDLED TREE

AFTER HER RETURN FROM EUROPE, Winnie Davis led a quiet life at Beauvoir. She was devoted to both her parents, and as one observer noted, she seemed to be trying to fill the places of her deceased brothers. A favorite in the Davis clan and described as “lovable” by her friends, she was set apart by her education, probably the only person in Mississippi who could write her initials in Sanskrit. Winnie read as widely as her mother did, and when Varina rearranged the Beauvoir library, she explained the new system to Winnie and included some imaginary exchanges between the authors, Macaulay in dialogue with the Girondists. Winnie was in fact more cerebral than either of her parents. One day when her mother was talking to her about fashion, Winnie interrupted to discuss the suffering of the Irish people and then segued to the labor question in the United States.1

Winnie's relationship with her only surviving sibling, Maggie, was more complicated. The sisters exchanged gifts and warm letters, and Winnie was godmother to Maggie's son Jefferson, born in 1884, yet the nine-year difference in their ages and Winnie's long absence in Karlsruhe meant that the sisters had little in common. Undercurrents of jealousy percolated between them, which their mother tried to smooth over. As can sometimes happen in families with two children, Maggie became her father's favorite, and Winnie, her mother's; the parents typically lauded Maggie for her good looks and Winnie for

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