About Twilight at Monticello
A 2008 Book-of-the-Month Club Selection
A 2008 History Book Club Selection
A Washington Post Best Seller
Alan Pell Crawford’s beautifully written, evocative portrait of the “Sage of Monticello” in his retirement years is a welcome addition to the Jefferson bookshelf. Juxtaposing affecting scenes of Jefferson’s domestic life with fresh and illuminating perspectives on his subject’s late-life political, philosophical, and spiritual preoccupations, Crawford’s fine book should engage and reward a wide audience.
Peter Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Professor of History
The University of Virginia
Insightful analysis and lucid prose make this autumnal portrait a rewarding experience.
Based on new archival research and hitherto unexamined documents from special collections across the country, Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson, published by Random House in January 2008, offers a poignant and unforgettable look at Thomas Jefferson in the nearly 20 years of his life that followed his presidency.
Drawing on the correspondence of Jefferson’s children, grandchildren, distant relatives and Monticello neighbors, the book examines in vivid detail the struggles this iconic Founding Father faced in his retirement years—his chaotic and sometimes violent family life, his mounting personal debts, and his evolving yet contradictory views on race and slavery. It was during these years—from his return to Monticello in 1809 after two terms as president until his death in 1826—that Jefferson’s idealism would be most severely, and heartbreakingly, tested.
“Twilight at Monticello is Crawford’s best book and a humanizing corrective to the recent tide of Jefferson damning,” Bill Kaufman writes in one of the early reviews, published in The American Conservative.
Twilight at Monticello begins on the evening of February 1, 1819, when Jefferson learns that his beloved grandson and namesake Thomas Jefferson (Jeff) Randolph, armed with a horsewhip, is stabbed in the streets of Charlottesville, by his alcoholic brother-in-law Charles Bankhead, who has been beating Jeff’s sister. As Jeff lies near death, bleeding profusely, the 75-year-old Sage of Monticello orders his horse to be saddled and, against the advice of his loved ones, gallops through the woods to and into town to weep at his grandson’s side.
The day, while hardly typical, is nonetheless characteristic of Jefferson’s life during his final years: These were years in which his hopes for idyllic retirement met with bitter disappointment and disillusion. Through it all, however, Jefferson persisted, remaining a profound political and cultural force by establishing the first wholly secular American institution of higher learning, the University of Virginia at Charlottesville.
With sensitivity but without pulling punches, Crawford reveals mental illness, alcoholism, sexual excess and domestic abuse in Jefferson’s family while his grand house at Monticello—the architectural masterpiece and symbol of all he held dear—fell to ruin. (Just five years after Jefferson died, his heirs would sell Monticello to pay debts.)
Jefferson proved able to survive crisis after crisis thanks to his remarkable powers of mind—but also, it seems clear, to his vast capacity for self-delusion. This was especially the case with Jefferson’s finances and his contradictory, if evolving views of slavery. Opposing the institution on principle, he nevertheless could not bring himself to join forces with those who would abolish it.
Crawford also shows sheds new light on Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings, his enslaved chambermaid—how, for example, he built a special staircase from the servants’ quarters at Monticello into his own bedroom and study.
From the Reviews of Twilight at Monticello:
In "Twilight at Monticello," Alan Pell Crawford treats his subject with grace and sympathetic understanding, and with keen penetration as well, showing the great man's contradictions (and hypocrisies) for what they were. And he brings alive a milieu…Drawing on new archival sources, Mr. Crawford reconstructs daily life at Monticello and depicts a colorful supporting cast of eminent personages, family members and retainers.
--The Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2008
Broader in focus than its title suggests, "Twilight at Monticello" covers the entirety of Jefferson's life and explores an abundance of subjects, including his stances on religion, slavery and federalism as well as Jefferson's relationship with his slave Sally Hemings. It's an intimate, well-researched look at Jefferson, and even readers with only a passing interest in our third president should find it fascinating.
--The Richmond Times-Dispatch January 13, 2008
How this most remarkable man persevered, sometimes desperate enough to engage in dubious transactions, is the melancholy story historian Alan Pell Crawford tells with great subtlety and charm in `Twilight at Monticello.
[Twilight at Monticello] is so skillfully written and well-researched that the book held my interest until the final page.
…a well-researched narrative of Thomas Jefferson's post-presidential years … Crawford deserves credit for focusing on less trampled ground and for shedding new light on Jefferson's dysfunctional family life and shopaholic tendencies.
--The Washington Post
Buy Twilight at Monticello at Amazon.com
The paperback of Twilight at Monticello is scheduled for release in February from Random House.