Book Review: Monticello : A Daughter and Her Father by Sally Cabot Gunning

June 29, 2017

Monticello : A Daughter and Her Father by Sally Cabot Gunning is a novel about Martha Jefferson Randolph, daughter of one of America’s founding fathers and its third president Thomas Jefferson. This is Mrs. Gunning’s fourth historical novel.

  • 553 pages
  • Publisher: Thorndike Press Large Print
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1410494454

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There were several reasons I wanted to read Monticello : A Daughter and Her Father by Sally Cabot Gunning, I like to read good historical novels, I have been to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and we are going there again this summer. So besides reading books about the building and the man who built it, a little historical fiction could go a long way in knowledge and especially understanding.

On our first, and only for now, trip to Monticello we were impressed by the ingenuity of Thomas Jefferson’s inventions, the magnificent architectural details, the gardens and even fences. What impressed me the most, however, were the stables for the guests – how they are hidden underneath the mention but easy to access.

We even bought our daughter a book, Thomas Jefferson’s Feast by Frank Murphy, which introduced children to the famous men in a few easy pages, which tell of how Mr. Jefferson introduced such treats as French Fries and tomatoes (considered poisonous) to the American public. Later we found out there were some controversies with the book, but there always are. The book talked about one aspect of Monticello, the dumb waiter, which the kids looked forward to seeing the whole tour and were very excited to finally see it (even though it was misrepresented in the story, since it only took up wine).

But getting back to this novel, it was an interesting read and I learned a lot about Martha Jefferson Randolph. Surprisingly, I read a lot about the American Revolution and Thomas Jefferson and while I remember Martha’s name coming up here and there, she really didn’t play a big role in any of the books. Maybe because she spent very little time with her famous father, either stuck in a European convent or running his estate while he was busy being… well… Thomas Jefferson.

Monticello is a well written and meticulously researched book told from the point of view on Martha. Much of the book’s running theme is Martha’s views of slavery, she abhors the institution but practices it. Martha thinks she can fix the world at first, simply “free the slaves” but the reality of Virginia gentleman farmers, views and family (both hers and the slaves) make it almost impossible and towards the end she has to make some tough choices.
And she also bore 12 children, 11 of whom survived.

Martha married a difficult man, Thomas Mann Randolph Jr. (Tom) who kept trying to prove himself and get out of the shadows of his famous family (Virginia aristocrats) and his famous father in law. Tom has been dealt a bad hand financially and did not have the mindset to deal with it, despite excellent familial connections and workable debts inherited from his father. Like Martha, Tom seemed unable to make tough decisions.

The book, while expertly written, was difficult for me to read. The novel is full of information on every page, almost like a history book which takes longer to digest. I also expected the estate, Monticello, to be its own character and while the author made an effort to do so, to me it seemed she fail short.

The novel is a genuinely good historical fiction, I wish more novels were written in such style and accuracy. The story is fascinating and best of all, I learned many new things and tidbits about a woman who led a difficult, yet fascinating, life.

Buy Monticello : A Daughter and Her Fatherfrom*
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More Books by Sally Cabot Gunning


  • Give­away ends: July 06, 2017

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Dis­claimer: I got this book for free from TLC Book Tours
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