“Julia,” tells the story of a beautiful, pampered young lady raised by a wealthy Southern family in Natchez, Mississippi, in the 19th century. She falls in love with an unsuitable man not worthy of her family’s aristocratic status. On the rebound, she meets and marries Haller Nutt who becomes obsessed with obtaining large plantations, hundreds of slaves, and a palatial home under the pretense of pleasing Julia. After losing 3 million dollars of property during the Civil War, Haller gives up the will to live and dies. He leaves Julia penniless with eight young children and an unfinished 30,000 square foot mansion called “Longwood.” Her courage and determination are sorely challenged over the next thirty-three years as she tries to obtain recompense from the United States government for the losses incurred during the war. The shell of the mansion stands as a testament of the sacrifices she made for her posterity regardless of race.
Plot: Metcalf tells an epic story of aristocracy, race relations, and societal change in the 19th-century American South. Julia's narrative unfolds in a manner that is especially intimate; readers are privy to the character's full range of thoughts and emotions. Through Julia's distinctive, genuine voice, and with great verisimilitude, Metcalf offers a quiet window into history.
Prose: Metcalf's prose is descriptive, lyrical, and lush. The intimacy of the journal format provides readers with a sense of peeking into the pages of a real diary. The strength of Metcalf's writing, however, is also somewhat hindered by the format, which does not always adhere to the cardinal rule of "show, don't tell." Although the voice is highly engaging, readers may struggle to follow major plot points and relationships that might be more clearly conveyed in-scene and through dialogue.
Character Development: In protagonist Julia, readers will find a believable and highly sympathetic character who evolves substantially throughout her lifetime. Side characters are never as rich as Julia, but through the heroine's perceptions, they come across as substantive and serve the story well.
Originality: The story unfolds in a storied historical setting, but through Metcalf's protagonist, circumstances are rendered fresh. The unique journal format particularly allows readers to witness Julia's incremental growth from an innocent, naive young woman to one who has suffered, struggled, and persevered.
Date Submitted: May 23, 2019