Alex, Eliza, and Historical Inacquracy

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For starters, I very much enjoyed Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz. It’s very well written and the story is a page-turner. In the wake of the smash-hit musical Hamilton, a number of novels have come out telling the love story of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler. Alex and Eliza is known as the fanfic/ romance novel version of this story, as opposed to more straightforward historical  fiction works like The Hamilton Affair (which I did not care for) and I, Eliza Hamilton (which I haven’t read but probably won’t, lest it give me The Hamilton Affair PTSD), and is the least historically accurate of the three.

Historical fiction is by nature, speculative. History itself often gives us only the bare bones of what happened and its the job of the author to provide the details. The courtship of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler is an example of this. We know when they met, when they started courting, when they got engaged, and when they got married but we don’t everything that went into getting from one of these steps to another.

Alex and Eliza is heavily influenced by Pride and Prejudice, mainly in how the dynamic between its two protagonists is set up. Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler first met in 1777, when he was sent to relieve her father, General Philip Schuyler, of command after the Continental Army’s loss at Saratoga. In Alex and Eliza, this makes Eliza dislike the young colonel, though he becomes smitten with her. Alex is pranked by some of Eliza’s friends, who send him a note, supposedly from Eliza, saying that she will meet him in the barn at midnight. He is upset when she is a no-show.  A misunderstanding causes our hero and heroine to initially dislike each other.

Hamilton and Schuyler met again three years later in February of 1780 when she came to visit the Continental Army headquarters in Morristown New Jersey, which I visited a year ago. The official reason for her visit was to aid her aunt and uncle (her uncle was surgeon-general to the Continental Army) but there was an unspoken assumption that she was there to find a husband among the Continental Army’s eligible officers. Hamilton’s letters show that he was smitten with Eliza, who he described as “unmercifully handsome,” and they were engaged within three weeks. The couple are reintroduced in Alex and Eliza when her carriage breaks down and he comes to her rescue. They become reacquainted when she inoculates him against smallpox. I do not think that these events happened since if they had, it probably would have come up in the letters that Hamilton wrote to Eliza during their engagement and marriage (her letters to him, unfortunately, have not survived) but are not out of the realm of possibility.  Doctor Cochran, Eliza’s uncle, is best known for inoculating the troops stationed in Morristown against smallpox. Having Alex rescue Eliza is conforming to the tropes of romance novels. These are examples of the author fleshing out the bare bones of history but Alex and Eliza does contain some glaring historical inaccuracies.

John Andre- Did they or didn’t they?

British war hero John Andre spent some time with the Schuyler family as a guests/prisoner of General Philip Schuyler. From all accounts, Andre was a dashing a noble figure and Eliza Schuyler is believed to have had something of a crush on him. Andre was a talented artist and sketched a portrait of Eliza. Her later fiance, Alexander Hamilton said that he was jealous of Andre’s “talents.” Hamilton and Andre would later cross paths again because of Andre’s involvement in the Benedict Arnold Affair.

In Alex and Eliza, Eliza dances with Andre at a ball and is so taken with him that she says she would run away with him if he were to ask. Andre and Alex compete for Eliza’s attention during the ball. Later on, Eliza explains that Andre proposed to her but she refused because a relationship between the two of them would be impossible due to their being on opposite sides of the revolutionary war.

Henry Livington- Who?

The subplot with Henry Livingston, the man that Eliza’s family tries to marry her off to, is where Alex and Eliza feels the most fanfic like. It comes out of nowhere, just when Alex and Eliza are starting to become close. As the main obstacle to Alex and Eliza’s relationship, of course, he is a douche and an attempted rapist: he attempts to force himself on Eliza the night before their wedding and Alex comes to her rescue. Henry feels like a character in a fandom that Melissa de la Cruz did not like, so she paints him the worst possible light in her fanfic.

Henry Livingston in Alex and Eliza is the brother of socialite Kitty Livingston, a friend of Eliza’s and one of Hamilton’s early crushes. There appears to have been a Henry Livingston living in the correct place and around the right age to be this character but I could not find out if he was Kitty Livingston’s brother and he appears to have had no connection to the Schuylers.

Clothing- Frock Flicks would have a field day with this book. 

Eliza is described as wearing a pair of pantaloons under her dress which she describes as “risqué” and “French”. Pantaloons were indeed considered a risqué garment, associated with dancers and courtesans, not something a practical and respectable young lady living in the somewhat puritanical American colonies would wear.

It wouldn’t be for another forty or so years until we see pant-like garments commonly worn on females: pantalets, which worn under the shorter dresses of little girls.

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H. A Friedrich-portrait of a noble girl, 1820s

 

Underdrawers would not be worn on all women until the mid 19th Century.

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Underdrawers- 1840-60s

Aunt Gertrude, Eliza’s chaperone in Morristown is frequently described as wearing a blouse decorated with a cameo brooch. Women in the 18th Century would have worn a fitted bodice and skirt and what we would think of as a blouse would only be worn as part of a riding habit, rather than the domestic setting that de la Cruz puts Aunt Gertrude in.

Eliza’s boorish fiancé, Henry Livingston, insults the “jumper” that she wears in the first chapter he is introduced in. I had a hard time imagining what type of garment Eliza would be wearing in this scene. Jumper style gowns would not be worn until the 1790s, another ten or so years after Alex and Eliza takes place.

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September 1796 Journal des Luxus und der Moden

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Vigee Le Brun- Countess du Barry (1789)

I also thought that “jumper” could be a mistranslation of “jumps”, an unboned bodice worn in an informal setting.

Or it could refer to a bibbed apron

What universe is de la Cruz living in if she thinks that Eliza Schuyler in 1780 would dress like this?

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Alex imagines Eliza wearing an “ivory wedding bonnet.” Wedding bonnets are more of a 19th rather than an 18th-century thing.

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Wedding bonnet-1845

 

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Wedding Bonnet- 1845

Bonnet could refer to the frilly caps which 18th Century women often wore.

This is an example of an outfit that Eliza might have worn to her wedding to Alex. The bergère hat could be the “wedding bonnet” Alex is referring to.

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Wedding Dress of Jane Bailey (1780)

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Wedding dress of Jane Bailey (1780)

At her actual wedding, Eliza is described as wearing a veil. Wedding veils are not usually an 18th Century thing. Typically a cap or hat or a fancy pouf hairstyle with all the trimmings would be worn. The bridal outfit we would recognize wouldn’t come into place until the 19th Century. Queen Victoria is credited with popularizing the white wedding dress.

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Wedding Dress of Queen Victoria (1840)

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Queen Victoria on her Wedding Day (1840)

The color white is associated with purity and virginity so it was an appropriate color for a bride but it would not become the traditional color for wedding dresses until the 19th century. A bride in the 18th Century would have worn her best dress or had a particularly fancy dress made. It would not necessarily be white.  The wartime wedding of Eliza Schuyler, a scion of one of New York’s most prominent families, would not be the high society extravaganza that it would have been during peacetime but Eliza would have wanted to look her best.

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Some of the dresses worn in this story are described as being worn without a corset, especially those worn by the trim figured Peggy or the practical and unpretentious Eliza. An example of this is Eliza’s wedding dress. We have an image of corsets as a rib-crushing, patriarchy induced torture device worn only by the vain and frivolous or the old, overweight, and straight-laced but this is projecting our modern ideas of comfort onto the past. 18th Century women would have worn corsets from childhood and would have been used to it. Instead of warping the torso into an hour-glass shape with an impossibly tiny waist, corsets provide support for the bust and form a shelf from which the skirts hang. A dress worn without a corset would look sloppy and ill-fitting, not how even the tomboyish Eliza would wish to present herself on her wedding day.

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Henry Livingston is described as having muttonchops, which are typically considered an 18th Century style.

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General Ambrose Burnside (19th Century)- the namesake of the “sideburn”

Though we usually think of mutton chops or sideburns as a 19th-century style, it is possible that Henry Livingston would have worn something similar but less elaborate. 18th-century men were typically clean-shaven whereas elaborate facial hair is more of a 19th-century fashion trend.

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The clothing described in the story seems to be a ye olde melange of 18th century, regency, and Victorian.

Despite all of the annoying inaccuracies, Alex and Eliza is enjoyable fluff and I would recommend it for your summer reading.

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