Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as military commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John André. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former love and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.
Told from the perspective of Peggy’s maid, whose faith in the new nation inspires her to intervene in her mistress’s affairs even when it could cost her everything, The Traitor’s Wife brings these infamous figures to life, illuminating the sordid details and the love triangle that nearly destroyed the American fight for freedom.
While I’m familiar with the story of Benedict Arnold and knew the name of John André, the story of Peggy Shippen Arnold is one with which I was unfamiliar. It was a pleasure, therefore, to read this fascinating debut novel about the woman who almost changed the course of history. Peggy Shippen came from a prominent Philadelphia family and was well known in the city’s social scene. She adored the fame and craved fortune and power. While the British held Philadelphia she could often be found in André’s company. When they left the city and the Continental Army took control of it, Peggy ingratiated herself with military commander Major General Benedict Arnold. In The Traitor’s Wife, Pataki has written two very strong characters. We can see that they were ideally suited. Both wanted prestige and wealth and were prepared to do whatever was necessary in order to achieve their goals. Both come across as detestable, at least to this reader.
The maid in the story, Clara, is a more favorable character. Employed as Peggy’s maid, she is often employed as Peggy’s chaperone to social events. At first, Peggy treats Clara as a friend but as they get older the relationship turns frosty. Having learned the art of manipulation from her employer, Clara finally turns the tables and takes a stand for what she knows is right. The final exchange between these women will have you cheering for the servant. Clara also gets to experience romance, but the cost is never knowing if she will see her loved one again as he fights for liberty with Washington’s army.
Allison Pataki has written an historical novel that is as educational as it is entertaining. She expertly takes the reader back to 18th century Philadelphia to experience life during the American War of Independence. While some facts have been ‘adapted’ for the sake of the story, Pataki has stayed mostly true to historical record. The Traitor’s Wife covers the time from just before Arnold’s arrival in Philadelphia to when the General’s treason was discovered. An epilogue tells of the Arnolds’ life after that.
Thank you to Howard Books for my complimentary electronic copy of The Traitor’s Wife, which I downloaded from NetGalley. No review was required.
Have you read The Traitor’s Wife? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.
Publisher: Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster)
Publication Date: 01 February 2014
Page Count: 352