Sunday, June 10, 2018

Love and War by Melissa De La Cruz

Love and War picks up months after the marriage of Elizabeth Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton. It is April 1781 and the War of Independence is raging. Elizabeth is living at the Pastures, her parents' estate in Albany. Eliza, desperately missing Alexander, has been out with  her sisters, Angelica, Peggy, five year old Cornelia and eight-year-old Rensselaer picking a rich harvest of berries.

Eliza is impatient to move out of her parents home, wishing that she and Alex could set up their own home soon but they have been apart more than they have been together.  After their marriage he had rushed back to General Washington's headquarters. Before Alex leaves to report back to duty, Eliza's family have planned a goodbye party this evening.

Eliza's father General Philip Schuyler, her husband Alexander Hamilton,  as well as Angelica's husband John Barker Church have gone into town on business. In the back room of the Schuylkill Tavern the three men seal a munitions agreement where Church will "provide five hundred rifles, twenty barrels of powder, and two tons of shot to General Washington at Newburgh, and the Continental army will pay you one thousand pounds sterling."  When pressed, Alex reveals that he plans to ask General Washington for his own unit to command.

This greatly concerns his father-in-law who fears that Eliza will be left a widow. Alex tells General Schuyler and John that he intends to fight at Yorktown, Virginia where the British under General Cornwallis has gathered his troops. It is a matter of pride - he doesn't want to thought of as a coward who "spent the war in a paneled office with a pen in his hand and a warm fire at his back..."  When further pressed if he has revealed his ambitions to Eliza, Alex admits he has not done so yet.  Alex know this will break Eliza's heart but he is determined.

Meanwhile in the Schuyler mansion, Eliza pays her mother a visit in her parents' bedroom. Eliza's mother, Catherine is due anytime to deliver what will be her last child. Catherine asks Eliza to play host to the party in the evening, concerned that Angelica's connection to her husband who is British makes her unsuitable as host. The party turns out to be a large affair with many important persons in attendance including George Clinton, governor of New York State. Eliza is thrilled to be with Alex again. However her happiness is ruined when she learns from Governor Clinton that Alex is intending to lead a regiment into battle at Yorktown. Shocked and deeply hurt by her husband's lack of consideration, Eliza argues with Alex and they part for the evening unreconciled.  For two days the young couple are not together but when Alex takes his leave to travel to General Washington, Eliza shares her concerns while Alex apologizes profusely.

Alex is given the command by General Washington he so desperately wants and marches to Williamsburg with his soldiers. On the way he gets to know them better, by sharing in the hardships of the march.At Williamsburg, Washington and Count de Rochambeau, the French General, finalize their plans for the battle at Yorktown. During their discussions, Alex learns from his friend the Marquis de Lafayette, that Lafayette's aide, Major Jean-Joseph Sourbader de Gimat will lead Alex's troops - the First and Second New York and the Fifteenth Connecticut into battle. Dismayed and angered, Alex passionately makes his case for being allowed to lead his troops into battle and wins  General Washington consent. The patriots succeed in winning the battle ending the war for the colonies' independence from Great Britain.

Back in Albany, Catherine Schuyler gives birth to a healthy girl who is named after her mother. Three months after Catherine's birth, the Schuyler family is accosted by redcoats at the Pastures. Eliza confronts the men in a friendly manner, bluffing that her father is on his way back with twenty armed men and fortunately for the Schuyler family, they leave.

With the defeat of the English at Yorktown, Alex resigns his commission and  heads for home. As Washington and others begin working to build a new nation, Alex and Eliza commence their new life too, in New York City.  It will prove to be a trying time for the young couple both in their marriage and financially but it will also see Eliza cement her position in New York society and Alex establish his reputation as a lawyer of considerable skill.


Love and War is the second book of the trilogy by Melissa de la Cruz about the life of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton and continues their story a few months after their wedding. De la Cruz's version presents a sort of  'bare bones' version of Eliza and Alexander's early years of marriage in Part I which covers the year 1781 to the end of 1783. Eliza did not remain with her family in Albany but travelled to Windsor to be near Alex while he was part of General Washington's army. They also had their first child, Philip in January, 1782. De la Cruz admits in her Author's Note that she deliberately left out any children in the her retelling of the Hamilton's story. This is a fairly big departure from their real life story which de la Cruz uses to drive the increasing tension between Alex and Eliza.

In Part I the major tension between the couple is due to Alex's determination to fight in the War of Independence. Alex doesn't tell Eliza and when she learns of his intent, she is devastated. Confronted by Eliza, Alex tells her, "I am a soldier, Eliza, and a good one. Without a command, I would never rise in the ranks, never gain the respect and honor I am due,...Please, try to understand. I am no one, I am nothing. I did this for us."  However, Eliza retorts that this is something a man might do, "...But a husband -- never,"  While Eliza argues that Alex's sharp mind could be put to better use helping "the transition from colony to country", for Alex it is a matter of pride. "What kind of man would I be if I was content to send others to the front lines while I took shelter in the general's tent?"

Part II of Love and War deals with Eliza and Alex's early life in New York City where they moved in 1783 as he launches his law career. This part of the novel deviates significantly from the real life story of the Hamiltons. Well into their marriage, they are no longer newlyweds, and have no children. Alex's focus is on his law practice while Eliza remains at home, considering her china and silverware. Eventually she does become involved in New York society but finds that she and Alex have little time together. This is in stark contrast to her portrayal in the first part of the novel as a strong woman involved in society, who undertook "fund-raising and fabric drives that had made her simultaneously the most admired and most dreaded girl in the capital region." De la Cruz also has Eliza sitting for her portrait by Ralph Earl who is in debtors prison in 1784 but her portrait was not painted by Earl until 1787. By this time Eliza and Alex had three children.In  Part II, the focus is on an increasingly distracted and inattentive Alex who works late and often forgets to communicate with his wife. Eliza feels abandoned and finds herself beginning to notice the attentions of another man. Meanwhile, Alex heads off the attentions of a loyalist war widow he is representing in court. This sets the stage for the third novel which will likely feature the crisis in their marriage

Love and War, although rich in detail about life in colonial America, is in some ways a very modern retelling. In the spring of 1781, Eliza's views on children and marriage are presented.  Eliza considers her mother's twelve pregnancies, "astonishing", an attitude that would have been unlikely for that era as it was common for women to have many children, often well into their forties. Of those twelve pregnancies, seven children died, some before they could be baptized. Eliza wonders, "True, seven lived and provided their parents with all the joys that children can impart, but one death for every life? It seemed almost too high a price to pay."  This attitude was also probably uncharacteristic for a woman in this era as both maternal and infant death was an acknowledged part of life. There was very little understanding of how to prevent deaths in childbirth, which were not the result of too many pregnancies but to poor nutrition and lack of obstetrical knowledge. Doctors had limited means of intervention in the late 1700's.

Eliza also exhibits a very modern view of  motherhood, marriage and life. She wonders at the awesome responsibility of becoming a parent at a young age. It is likely Eliza would have been prepared for this role in life by her mother and the social norms that existed at the time. In the 1700's she would expect to marry young and to bear children at a young age. However her thinking about her own place in the world of colonial America is decidedly progressive. "How could she expect to rear and mold a brood of her own, when she was still trying to decide not only who she was, but how she would be in the world?" Eliza remarkably states that she doesn't think "that raising children should be all a woman concerned herself with either."  Although maybe a wealthy woman like Eliza Hamilton could entertain the possibility of doing things other than raising children, for most women, raising a family was their sole occupation and was considered an important duty.

Love and War will definitely appeal to fans of the Broadway musical, Hamilton. Readers should not expect an accurate portrayal of Alex and Eliza Hamilton's lives or their attitudes at that time,  but one that will definitely fuel their interest and which may encourage them to research the real story behind these two famous Americans who lived at a time when a new country was being forged.

Book Details:

Love and War by Melissa de la Cruz
New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons          2018
366 pp.

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