Davina Langdale

First Lady



Sceptre 356pp £20 order from our bookshop

Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederate States, has rarely got a good press. Critics called him vain, cold, a pedant obsessed with minutiae and, fatally, incapable of compromise. The Richmond Daily Whig declared Davis ‘ready for any quarrel with any and everybody, at any time and at all times’. Yet the American historian Shelby Foote argued that Davis was ‘an outgoing, friendly man, a great family man’ and that his character was repeatedly maligned to make him a scapegoat for the failure of the war.

There is no doubt what Varina Howell Davis thought of the husband who was twenty years her senior. Or at least the Varina we meet in Charles Frazier’s novel. Dark-eyed, dark-skinned, highly educated, with a caustic wit, eighteen-year-old Varina soon has cause to consider her marriage hasty.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Englishmen Abroad in the Reign of Henry VIII'. Free lecture by Dr Susan Brigden, Thurs 18 Oct, 6.30pm Europe Hou… ,
    • It 'contains twists and near misses and bit-part players, everything you might expect from a true-crime story'. Ian… ,
    • Oh normally a week or two before the ceremony itself - so mid-November. ,
    • Ian Sansom reviews The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World by… ,
    • 'It is hard to think of an economist who could craft such an elegantly readable account of postwar failure as this.… ,
    • Frederick Forsyth reviews The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by ,
    • . reviews What We Have Lost: The Dismantling of Great Britain by James Hamilton-Paterson ,