Sunday, April 21, 2013

Defiant Brides The Untold Story of Two Revolutionary Era Women And The Radical Men They Married


Defiant Brides
The Untold Story of Two Revolutionary Era
Women And The Radical Men They Married

By Nancy Rubin Stuart

Beacon Press, Boston

ISBN 978-0-8070-0117-2

216 pages

Review by Tom Miller

Peggy Shippen Arnold, wife of notorious traitor Benedict Arnold.  Lucy Flucker Knox, wife of beloved Revolutionary War hero Henry Knox.  Somewhat of an odd couple to include in a joint biography but Nancy Rubin Stuart does so successfully in her book Defiant Brides

I enjoyed this book.  Stuart tells a good story while offering insights into personal lives of characters who had significant influence on events that took place during the War.    
Rather than focus on the labels attached to them by their association to their husbands, Stuart delves into the motivations, actions, personalities and characters of the two women.  By drawing deeply from correspondence and diaries of the ladies and their contemporaries for source material, Stuart develops the texture of their lives.  We see them both as teenagers born to privilege.  We see them marry men whom their families would rather they not.  We see them as devoted to and accordingly supportive of the men they love.  We experience their successes and disappointments as well as their tragedies.  We watch the War exact a terrific cost on each of them in different ways.  We see them grow and evolve into mature women and deal with the loss of their husbands well before their times.

Stuart chooses to tell these biographical stories in the same book because the background of the two ladies is so similar, the time lines match, and while they never met, their husbands did.  Set in a time in which wives and women in general had no legal status other than that bestowed upon them by the fact of their marriage or their relationship to the patriarch of their family – father, brother, husband - in a very patriarchal society, both of these women developed into recognizable and forceful personalities in their own rights.  Both defied their families in choice of mates.  Both bore the burdens of driven husbands whose ambitions carried them away on dangerous and distant missions.  Both learned how to adapt and exert some measure of control over their social environments.

Peggy Arnold we learn is not just the social butterfly we see in other portrayals.  Lucy Knox we find is not just the staid and steady woman behind the man that she is often thought of.  Both are living breathing real people who feel, think, plan, execute and sometimes succeed and sometimes fail.

Stuart’s style is both readable and informative.  The book is well researched and documented.  I think it speaks to both the personalities of the focal characters and to the role of women in general in the Revolutionary War era.

-Tom Miller

***** Tom Miller is a graduate student of History at Salem State University.  He is a retired auto executive, as well as a published poet. He is included in the upcoming Bagel Bard anthology.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review Tom. It was all Peggy's fault!!--Dennis