My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I love the cover on this book. That alone was almost enough to make me pick it up and read it. Almost, but not quite. You see, didn't know much about Benedict Arnold, except that he was a traitor to the cause of independence. But I didn't know the details, and I wasn't interested in reading a book that might make me like him. But when the Founding Mothers Book Club chose this as the first group read, I knew it was interesting enough to try it. I'm glad I did.
No problems with reading the book and feeling bad for Benedict. But more about that in a minute. First I need to talk about the main character, Peggy Schippen Arnold. From the moment we meet her, we recognize her as a whiny, manipulative, self-centered creature. While her family had Tory leanings that she picked up, she was more concerned with where her next fancy dress was coming from and how she could be the belle of the next ball than she was with who won the war; just win it and let me get back to my partying! She very quickly changed leaning when she met Benedict and realized the influence he had and the nice things he could give her. And as soon as she saw he chose the wrong side and she could have nicer things if the British won, she worked on him to change sides.
That said, I can't place the entire blame for his betrayal on Peggy; Benedict had some character flaws that made him susceptible to her influence. Based not just on this book, but on other sources I've read, it's easy to see that Benedict was a man overly-concerned with respect and his due. Once he felt disrespected, it was easy for Peggy to move in to convince him others may give him more respect.
The one part of the book that I had trouble relating to was the story with the servants. It's hard looking back from the 21st century to understand how Clara (the maid) and the others would suffer the abuse and fear so much for their jobs. The fear that they would be homeless if they left this employer, and that they would not find another job, was hard to relate to.
This was the best kind of historical fiction for me; I learned something I didn't know, and I was motivated to read more about the subject. The main story concerning Benedict and the betrayal appear to be based on fact, and I really appreciate that the author has taken the time in her notes to clarify what is fact, what is fiction, and what is speculation. This looks like a thick book, but once you are into the story, it is a very quick read!
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