Herbert Barger‘s often ALL-CAPPED protestations notwithstanding, the critical consensus seems to have swung decisively in the direction of Annette Gordon-Reed and her interpretation of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. For her history The Hemingses of Monticello, Gordon-Reed has won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and now the George Washington Book Prize, given annually to the “most important new book about America’s founding era.” It’s what the Washington Post this morning calls “the literary Triple Crown.”
Here’s an excerpt from the Post‘s Q&A with Gordon-Reed:
Is there any written interaction between Sally and Tom? Any record of their relationship, as recorded by them? Letters or notes?
No, no, no, no, no. None at all. There are none between him and his wife, for that matter. He destroyed all those.
I think that it was something of a convention at the time. There was a sense of privacy between husband and wife, and destroying the letters was a way of keeping their relationship between them.
Was there love involved between Sally and Tom?
People often ask that. The most you can say is that it went on for 38 years. You don’t think of someone maintaining a purely sexual relationship for that period of time. “Love,” though, is tricky business.
IMAGE: Virginian Luxuries, from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, Va. This link helps to explain this remarkable piece of art: “As if to mimic the tendency of most Americans, including the Founding Fathers, to say as little as possible about slavery, and either to deny or avoid discussing its brutality, the painting, Virginian Luxuries appears anonymously (undated and unsigned) on the back or unseen side of another painting.”