Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki

In her debut novel, Allison Pataki (daughter of former NY Governor George Pataki) chooses the intriguing story of Benedict Arnold and his second wife, Peggy Shippen, The Traitor's Wife. History is so interesting when written within the confines of a novel. It is a shame that when it is taught students don't get that personal and exciting view.

Clara Bell, (Oh, that Pataki had chosen a different name for her narrator) comes to live in the Shippen household as a maid for the daughters of Judge Shippen of Philadelphia and his wife. Clara is to help both Peggy Shippen and her sister, Betsy, However, Peggy is the bold sister and does not relinquish Clara for any duties other than to wait on her. Peggy Shippen is a flirty, attractive member of Philadelphia society even at the age of 16 and it is all that Clara can do to keep up with her since she has also been charged as Peggy's chaperone. Peggy has her eyes set on a British soldier, John André. The two have amorous feelings toward each other that are kept in check by Clara's watchful eyes. Judge Shippen does not approve and thwarts the budding romance by forbidding Peggy to attend the Meschianza Ball that André had planned. Shortly after, the Redcoat left the city and a grieving Miss. Shippen.

Enter Benedict Arnold, a military hero of the Battle of Saratoga and northern outposts. He moves into the elegant Penn Mansion and Peggy sets her eyes on him. They eventually marry and after a series of tribunals for selling Black Market goods move to Fort West Point. Arnold has been wounded and not received pay for his service, a circumstance that does not sit well with his young, aristocratic wife. As events unfold, she convinces him to begin to trade secrets with the British via her former paramour, John André (aka John Anderson). The rest, they say, is history.

Pataki builds The Traitor's Wife through the eyes of very observant fictional servants in the Shippen and Arnold households. Clara, Mr. & Mrs. Quigley, and Hannah, and Caleb understand their masters and mistresses and do a fine job of painting their characters. The historical part has been well researched and a list of works consulted included. Of particular interest was in the epilogue where Pataki goes on to detail what became of the Arnolds and Shippens. It is a part of history that doesn't get covered in the text books. 

The novel is an easy and interesting read. It is very reminiscent of Finishing Becca by Ann Rinaldi, which I had read close to 20 years ago. In this novel, Becca is sent to be Peggy Shippen's maid and also performs the role of narrator. I wonder if Allison Pataki read this, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wondered if Miss Pataki had read Ann Rinaldi, as well. Personally, I thought the Rinaldi book was more authentic and provided a more detailed account of life at that time.