Cover image for Sally Hemings : a novel
Title:
Sally Hemings : a novel
ISBN:
9781556529450
Publication Information:
Chicago, Ill. : Chicago Review Press, 2009.
Physical Description:
371 pages : genealogical table ; 23 cm
General Note:
"With a new afterword by the author"--Cover.

Includes a reader's guide (p. 365-370).

Reprint. Originally published in 1979.
Geographic Term:
Holds:

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Summary

Summary

One of the greatest love stories in American history is also one of the most controversial. Thomas Jefferson had a mistress for 38 years whom he loved and lived with until he died--the beautiful and elusive Sally Hemings. But it was not simply that Jefferson had a mistress that provoked such a scandal in both his time and ours. It was that Sally Hemings was a quadroon slave and that Jefferson fathered a slave family whose descendants are alive today. In this moving novel, originally published in 1979 and having sold over two million copies worldwide, Barbara Chase-Riboud re-creates one of America's most powerful love stories, based on the documents and evidence of the day, and gives us a poignant, tragic, and unforgettable meditation on the history of race and sex in America.


Author Notes

Barbara Chase-Riboud is an acclaimed African-American novelist, poet, and sculptor. Her bestselling historical novels include Echo of Lions , Hottentot Venus , The President's Daughter , and Valide .


Reviews 2

Guardian Review

First published in 1979, this novel appeared when its eponymous black heroine was largely unknown. Today, due largely to DNA tests conducted on her descendants, it is generally accepted - despite the resistance of his white descendants - that Thomas Jefferson made Sally Hemings his concubine and fathered six of her children. This confirmation of the novel's main premise gives an added frisson to what was already a good read. Despite a paucity of known facts about the real Sally, Chase-Riboud creates a character of compelling richness. Dispatched to Paris to serve the Jefferson household (Jefferson was, in the 1780s, the fledgling United States's ambassador to France), the adolescent Sally finds that her duties include sharing her widower master's bed. Becoming pregnant, she returns to Jefferson's Virginia plantation and, as the years follow, runs her master's household while raising a counterpart black family to his existing white issue. Alternating between a third-person and first-person narrative, Sally Hemings is enlivened by a background of historical incidents (the French revolution, Jefferson's presidency) and characters. But the focus remains fixed on Sally and the ambivalence of her situation. Sally's feelings for Jefferson are powerfully depicted: despite her affection for the man, they stop short of love, simply because she is literally never free to love. Jefferson remains a remote figure in the novel, but this works well. For it suggests the arrogant, aloof abstraction of a man who, having helped spearhead a revolution at home, doesn't notice the one in France going on around him; who writes inspiringly of man's need for liberty without any sense of being contradicted by the existence of his own slaves. It is, anyway, Sally Hemings's story Chase- Riboud is telling, and a rich and remarkable one it is. Andrew Rosenheim's novel Hands On was published in 1993. To order Sally Hemings with free UK p&p call Guardian book service on 0870 066 7979. Caption: article-rosen.1 Alternating between a third-person and first-person narrative, [Sally Hemings] is enlivened by a background of historical incidents (the French revolution, [Thomas Jefferson]'s presidency) and characters. But the focus remains fixed on Sally and the ambivalence of her situation. Sally's feelings for Jefferson are powerfully depicted: despite her affection for the man, they stop short of love, simply because she is literally never free to love. - Andrew Rosenheim.


Booklist Review

A pair of riveting, sensitive novels, the second one limning the life of Thomas Jefferson's slave, who was purportedly his mistress, and the first telling the life of her daughter, reputedly fathered by Jefferson.