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.”
Lyrically written and steeped in atmosphere, Monticello is both fascinating and compelling. Gunning’s keen eye for historical detail gives readers a clear sense of life in colonial America and offers insight into the personal life of the daughter of one of our most complex Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson.
Reviews for Monticello
"Well researched and beautifully written, this captivating novel tells the remarkable story of Thomas Jefferson’s daughter caught up in two families’ secrets. Highly recommended.”
− Paulette Jiles, New York Times bestselling author of News of the World and Enemy Women
"Gunning's writing is elegant, the period details are exact, and the dissipation of Martha's youthful exuberance into the weariness of being a dutiful daughter, wife and mother is often palpable. The novel's most fascinating theme is how Martha feels about Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman with whom Jefferson had several children. Martha is at turns defensive, in denial, or seething with resentment about Hemings' relationship with her father. 'I make no excuses for these families,’’ Gunning writes in a note to readers. “I explored their struggles in an effort to better understand how intelligent, conscience-ridden people could accommodate such an institution (slavery) for so long.’’ Monticello does not fully answer the question. But it does begin the conversation."
-- USA Today
"Monticello is one of a half-dozen residences of former American presidents that enjoy widespread name recognition, so how fitting it is that experienced historical novelist Gunning titles her latest highly researched and gracefully presented novel with that beautiful name. The focus is on the Jefferson home in Virginia, in both a physical and emotional sense, as Gunning explores the close relationship between the third president and his eldest daughter . . . Through Martha’s loving eyes, we observe Jefferson back home in Monticello as she begins to discern the true nature of his relationship with her aunt, the slave Sally Hemings. Gunning also dramatizes Martha’s relationship with her distant cousin, Tom Randolph, whom she will eventually marry; the economic conditions of the neglected Monticello estate; and Martha’s growing discomfort with slavery, themes that give Gunning’s novel both muscle and drive."
"A brilliant exploration of what it meant to be a slave owner in antebellum Virginia where farming depended on slaves, and their presence in the household gave them an intimacy with family members that could be both comforting and threatening. This story of Thomas Jefferson’s devoted daughter, the indomitable Martha Jefferson Randolph, helps us understand all the complexities and contradictions endured by Martha and her family as they struggle with their consciences and responsibilities toward their families, their plantations, and the people who work for them. Women especially will identify with Martha’s conflicting loyalties and duties to her father, husband, children, servants, and country . . . Highly recommended as an engrossing tale of a strong woman in tumultuous times, with deftly interwoven historical details that make her trials all the more authentic."
-- Libary Journal
"This is more than a worthwhile read about an individual about whom I knew nothing but learned much."
--Historical Novel Reviews
"Sally Cabot Gunning provides a strong and thought provoking novel."
Portland Book Review "
"An elegant, stately minuet of a novel."
-- Reader to Reader
"Sally Cabot Gunning's MONTICELLO is a captivating, timely, fictional exploration of the fledgling era of a nation, providing an insightful glimpse into the politics and family life of the Jeffersons -- bringing Martha and her father, Thomas, vividly to life."
-- Book Binge
"It's clear [Gunning] keeps honing her craft further with each book . . . a remarkable and complex story."
-- The Cape Codder