Desert Isle Keeper
My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton
It’s rare the novel that entrances its reader so thoroughly that you find you’ve passed half the day reading a story and you’d feel as if you’d die for more. Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie weave such an enchanting spell with their take on the life of Eliza Hamilton. Put it on your wish list now and you will need no other bit of Eliza Hamilton-related historical fiction for the rest of your days.
The success of Broadway’s Hamilton has brought about something of a revival of interest in founding father Alexander Hamilton and his wife Eliza, who established New York’s first orphanage during her long widowhood. Authors Dray and Kamoie take a lively, passionate and personal look at Eliza’s 1825 meeting with her former nemesis, President James Monroe, which causes her to give her to give further reminiscence of her long life with and without her husband, what she did during the Revolutionary War, and her participation in the political world as daughter and then wife and widow of two very different and very powerful men.
Readers well know Eliza’s story by now. Her meeting with Hamilton, their lives together, the many children they had, and her deliberate self-effacement from history, followed by her long and busy widowhood in the shadowed footfalls of her husband’s folly of a duel. But as Eliza – Betsy to her closest friends- passionately states, she was someone before she met Alexander Hamilton, and so the book explores her life as her husband’s helpmeet, the daughter of strong-minded politician and soldier Philip Schuyler and her taskmistress mother, the sister of the lively social butterfly Angelica Schuyler and her equally spirited and honest younger sister Peggy – and the mother of the many siblings the musical cut from the production, from baby Cornelia to little brothers Johnny and Jeremiah.
We follow the Schuylers as Philip prepares for a court martial due to suspect activities during the still-ongoing Revolutionary War, and the girls socialize with everyone from Lafayette to Benedict Arnold while trying to keep their parents’ spirits up and deal with the shortages the war has caused. On the domestic front, Angelica has just run off to marry a man against her parent’s wishes – with Eliza and Peggy’s impassioned help, for which both are being punished. The family must work together to make ends meet and keep each other’s spirits up during the long siege. It is here, during the bitter winter of 1780, amidst the war’s most dire hours, that she meets up with Washington’s brotherhood of soldiers and her patriotic fervor deepens. Among them all, Alexander Hamilton becomes the man she’s most attracted to, and soon she endeavors to become his wife even though his impoverished and benighted birth means he has no proper pedigree and no decided future after the war is through. He is dedicated to the hope of an improved future and a united, independent America, and soon so is Eliza. Years of scandal, childrearing, heartbreak, passion, joy, and work await them, memories Eliza will lament and cherish in her many years alone.
The facts in a novel created from historical fiction need no real sweetening; and a good book requires nothing more deeply than a strong narrative voice. Eliza comes out swinging in this story – impressively bold and as solid and corporeal as a flesh and blood being. Her vital relationships – with her sisters (especially Peggy and Angelica, the former of whose bravery during the battle of Yorktown is recounted with beautiful clarity), with her husband and children – are beautifully etched. The romance between the Hamiltons is beautiful and tender, but it dares to suggest that one’s spouse can’t possibly know every facet of their beloved’s heart. But for all of her regrets, the love remains.
The supporting characters are interesting as Eliza is, with Angelica popping to life in the most vibrant way, along with Peggy and Hamilton himself, the wonderful Lafayette – and eventually the siblings, Ana and Phillip. All emerge as well-rounded and lively.
Dray and Kamoie are as at home describing a ball as they are the effects of yellow fever upon the wretched; their dazzling talents glimmer throughout the novel. An excellent experience, a festival for the mind and heart, this is a true gem that’s worth every cent and every second spent upon it.