Friday, June 16, 2017

Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz

Alex and Eliza is a novel about the courtship of what would become one of the most famous couples of the late 18th century America, a time when a new nation was being forged out of war and hardship.

General Philip Schuyler and his wife Catherine live on a magnificent estate called the Pastures just outside of Albany, New York. Despite having organized a successful campaign against the British in Quebec, General Schuyler was forced to resign his commission June 1777 because of the defeat at Fort Ticonderoga. The defeat also cost Schuyler his Saragota estate which was his second home. The commander of the British forces, General John Burgoyne made it his personal residence but when the Continental forces retook the estate in October, he burned it to the ground. This loss significantly affected the family's fortunes as most of Catherine's inheritance had been depleted in building the Pastures.

The Schuylers have seven surviving children, the three eldest girls being Angelica, an intelligent brunette,  Eliza who is intelligent, beautiful and practical and Peggy a tiny dark-haired beauty. It was time to marry them off but the reduced family fortunes meant that this would have to happen before knowledge of their financial situation became  To that end, Catherine Schuyler decides to throw a ball.

While preparing for the ball, Eliza refuses to dress in the rich burgundy dress her mother has chosen and instead wears "a simple gown of solid mauve, its skirt pleated but unamplified by hoops or panniers, and delicately draped to reveal a darker purple panel underneath. The purple lacing in the bodice ran up the front rather than the back, leaving almost no decolletage in view..." Mrs. Schuyler orders Dot, the maid to dress Eliza in the gown she's ordered but Eliza flatly refuses.

Upon coming downstairs, Eliza witnesses Colonel Alexander Hamilton informing her father,  General Schuyler about his imminent court martial. General Schuyler is curt but commends Hamilton on delivering this message in person and offers Colonel Hamilton the barn as accommodation for the night after the ball. Alex is confronted at the ball by Eliza and her sisters, who taunt him about not fighting in the war against the British and about his job writing letters as an aide-de-camp for George Washington.

Alexander Hamilton
While Angelica spends the night dancing with Mr. John Barker Church, a British citizen ten years her senior and a noted gambler and spy, who favours the Revolutionary cause, Peggy dances with Stephen Van Rensselaer, heir to the largest estate in New York and a mere fourteen years old. Eliza dances with the handsome Major John Andre and the handsome Colonel Alexander Hamilton. Determined to make Alex feel as uncomfortable as possible, Eliza complains about his dancing, insults him in every way possible and steps on his foot. Alex tells Eliza that his errand to tell her father about his court martial was difficult as he very much respects General Schuyler.  Despite all this, Alex is completely infatuated with Eliza.

The story skips ahead two years and finds the Schuyler's financial situation growing more dire. The three Schuyler girls remain unmarried and General Schuyler has been acquitted in his court martial in which Colonel Alexander Hamilton served as clerk for the prosecution.

Eliza is on her way to her Aunt Gertrued in Morristown, New Jersey, travelling with her chaperone, Mrs. Jantzen. Aunt Gertrude who is married to Dr. Cochrane, General George Washington's physician, is working alongside her husband inoculating the local residents and the troops against smallpox. When Eliza had learned of her aunt and uncle's mission, she wanted to help and begged her mother to allow her to travel to Morristown. As it turned out, Eliza's mother was very much interested in her daughter going to Morristown, where General George Washington's army was wintering. Eliza might meet many young unmarried officers and find one to marry. Major John Andre had courted Eliza briefly but she turned him down.

Five miles outside of Morristown, Eliza's carriage breaks down and Mrs. Jantzen injures her ankle.  Amazingly Colonel Hamilton arrives to save the day and Eliza from freezing. She is placed on Colonel Hamilton's horse while he rides behind the saddle and is taken the rest of the way to Morristown and her Aunt Gertrude's home. During the ride Alex tries to recover Eliza's opinion of him by telling  her that he very much respects her father and apologizes for having to participate in his court martial. He also questions her about the hankerchief and the message she left him to meet in the barn after the ball. Eliza has no idea what he's talking  and this leads Alex to feel despair. Nevertheless, Alex attempts to visit Eliza while she's recovering but is turned away.

Aunt Gertrude questions Eliza as to whether she is carrying on a romance with Colonel Hamilton. When Eliza attempts to downplay the entire situation, Aunt Gertrude states, "My point is, I know a swain when I see one. Colonel Hamilton is clearly smitten with you. And though he is handsome and intelligent -- indeed brilliant -- perhaps even bound up in the very future of our young nation..." and she tells Eliza, "You are the quarry and Colonel Hamilton the hunter..."  Little does Eliza know that time and persistence will lead her to change her mind.


Melissa De La Cruz has crafted a romantic and well-written novel about the blossoming love affair between Elizabeth Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton. Although little is known about their courtship, De la Cruz has written a romance that is entirely believable and one which portrays these famous Americans in a true-to-life way.

Eliza Schuyler was known as having a strong-will and for being somewhat impulsive. De la Cruz shows her will in Eliza refusing to wear the dress her mother had chosen for the ball and in the way she initially refused Alexander Hamilton's suit. Eliza and Alexander were engaged very quickly - in April of 1870 after having met only earlier that year. They had eight children. Alexander had an affair with a young woman and when he was accused of speculation,  Alexander published a pamphlet detailing his extra-marital relationship. The affair and his bad behaviour resulted in Eliza leaving him for a time, but she returned to the marriage. When she was pregnant with their eighth child, Alexander was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. Eliza lived to be ninety-seven, outliving her husband by fifty years.

De La Cruz also provides readers with some of the background of Alexander Hamilton, who besides being an aide-de-camp to George Washington, was also a Founding Father of the United States of America. Alexander was the illegitimate child of James A. Hamilton, a Scottish trader and Rachel Fawcett Lavien who had abandoned her abusive husband and fled to the island of St. Kitts. On St. Kitts she met Hamilton and they had two children but never married. James Hamilton abandoned the family on St. Croix. Alexander Hamilton's mother passed away when he was eleven. He was brought to America after he impressed his employer Nicolas Kruger who arranged for him to be sent to America. Once in America, Hamilton's star began to rise; he became involved in politics and the war for independence from Britain.

This novel is likely to be of interest to teen and adult fans of the Broadway musical, Hamilton. The story in Alex and Eliza is different from that portrayed in the musical and is told by both Alex and Eliza in alternating chapters. Fans will find the novel's pacing slow in the middle section, but as Eliza begins to realize her attraction to Alexander, the pace quickens and the novel concludes in a satisfying way.

Book Details:

Alex and Eliza by Melissa De La Cruz
New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons      2017
368 pp.

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