Alex and Eliza has taken the world by storm. Whether the play by Lin-Manuel Miranda or the novel by Melissa De La Cruz people are craving for more information about the Founding Father Alexander
Hamilton and his wife Eliza Schuyler. The novel, Alex and Eliza, emphasizes the romance more than the historical, as the author brings to life the love story of these two Revolutionary figures.
The plot spans the years from when they first met in 1777 to their marriage in 1780. Because there is not much information about Eliza, the author had to take liberties to construct a story that was somewhat accurate, weaving
together fact and fiction.
Hamilton is seen as a smitten dashing knight who sweeps the princess, Eliza, off her feet. But it is also a Prince and the Pauper story since
Hamilton was an orphan who did not have a name or financial means. The bright, ambitious, but penniless Hamilton is drawn to practical Eliza, falling deeply in love. His prestige comes from being the aide-de-camp to General George Washington.
Eliza is seen as a strong-willed, sharp-tongued, sarcastic, and intelligent woman. She wants to marry for love, not prestige and wealth, but will not go against her parent’s wishes.
A book quote shows how powerless women were during those times, “It is a cliff, a drop into some unfathomably deep and foggy abyss… a shipwreck.” Yet, in the end, love wins out, and her parents accept Hamilton as a suitable husband.
Readers will get a glimpse of the time period: how they dress, eat, and live are described in great detail. For example, a scene in the book has Eliza helping to
inoculate Washington’s troops with a smallpox vaccine. Fiction, Eliza did not have a hand in it, while, the truth is that the soldiers were inoculated. Another factual scene has a description of Eliza’s dress, with “skirt, underskirt,
petticoat, slip, and ankle-length, form-fitting pantaloons.”
Overall, this book is charming and interesting. These two characters have a voice and a personality that
are engaging. Hopefully, it will draw people to find out more about the early history of this great nation.
Below is the Q/A for the first book in the series. A Q/A
for the second book will be out next week.
Elise Cooper: Why did you decide to write this story?
Melissa De La Cruz: I took my family to see the Hamilton play about two years ago. It overwhelmed me and it helped me feel I too belonged to the American story. My daughter, nine years old at the
time, became obsessed with Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. She was drawing all of these pictures of Eliza, and writing all of these things. I was so excited she wanted to find out more about her so I researched to find answers to my daughter’s questions.
I got caught up in the love story, but the inspiration came from wanting to impress my child.
EC: How did you want to convey
MC: It seemed like a perfect American fairy tale. Elizabeth (Eliza) was the princess coming from one of the most prestigious and richest New York
families. Then there was Alexander Hamilton, a handsome, brilliant, brave, and charming war hero who had no name and no money. I thought about how someone like him could marry someone like her.
EC: Do you think the relationship was more formal than you describe?
MC: Alex is a creation
based on an historical figure. I consider him someone I made up from the real person. These are characters. They may be historical figures, but they are also characters of my imagination. I think that Alexander Hamilton never went by the name ‘Alex.’
There is no way Eliza would call him ‘Alex’, and more likely called him Mr. Hamilton till the day he died. I do put in the book that in public she referred to him as ‘Mr. Hamilton.’ They were very formal.
EC: Do you think he married her for social climbing?
MC: I don’t
think it hurt that she had a name and money. But I do think he was attracted to her for who she was. I believe you cannot separate people from their background. If she was from a poor family would she even be at those balls he was at, or
if he wasn’t George Washington’s aide would she have even met him. I think people fall into their own social circle.
Were the letters real?
MC: The only letters that were authentic are the quotes in the beginning of this book and book two. I weaved the letters into the story for
effect, but they are not his actual words.
EC: Did you base your depiction of Eliza on anyone?
MC: I wanted the Pride and Prejudice sort of style, so that’s why I called it Alex & Eliza. She is portrayed as an Elizabeth Bennet type character,
the sensible one. She was definitely a homage to Lizzie Bennett.
EC: This story goes into the culture of the time?
MC: I am fascinated with the time period including the architecture, dress, and what they ate. What I wanted to do is find the facts and then incorporate them into scenes of the books. I myself
tried to understand who they were, how they lived, and how they partied. I enjoyed finding the details that helps to bring this story to life. For example, the balls would not end until the early morning hours and then they would shortly have to
get up to go riding.
EC: How did you do the research?
I read a lot of biographies about women during Revolutionary times. I hired two research assistants, one of whom was an American history professor. One of the experts was more informed about the Revolution and politics, while the other was more knowledgeable
about domestic matters, such as how they dressed and lived. They would put together dossiers of the characters, like here’s the letters, here’s the archives, here’s the source material. I could pick and choose, and I had an idea in my head
of what I wanted the story to be, so we had to fit in what was happening in history at the time. We had Phillip Schuyler court martialed, so I said, ‘What if Alexander Hamilton was the one who brought that news to the family and that caused them to hate
EC: Was it true that John Andre, someone who turned out to be a British spy, was one of Eliza’s suitors?
MC: She had a huge crush on him. I wanted to make him a rival suitor for her hand, but the history experts told me, ‘no way, they are an American family.’ They
said that a Schuyler would never marry a Redcoat, and I should not write this piece of the plot. I asked, ‘then who?’ They recommended Henry Livingston who was from one of the wealthiest New York families.
EC: This book shows how women during those times had to acquiesce to their parent’s choices for a husband?
MC: Books set in the 19th Century show how women have limited choices. It makes for great conflict and drama. Marrying was like a career for women as their social life, wealth, and prestige depended on who
they would marry. I hope if the parents loved their children they would want to pick someone who would make their daughters happy. I put in this anecdote in the story to show how Eliza and Hamilton married for love. It is actually based on
history, and I’ve noticed people say, ‘Oh, this is so unreal. That would never happen.’ It is in the archives, it’s in the letters. One night Alex had a night walking with Eliza and he went back to the fort, and he couldn’t remember
the password to get in because he was so love struck. I love that detail. We think of this brilliant man who is a Founding Father, but do not realize at one point he was a twenty-year-old soldier in love.
EC: Book two, Love & War just came out. What is it about?
MC: The newlyweds adjusting to life
as a married couple. It takes us through the first couple months of their marriage which is really fun. Alex, still General George Washington’s right-hand man, neglects to consult Eliza when he puts in for a battlefield command. Then after the
war he starts up his law practice. I wanted to show how she was alone a lot and the marriage had some ups and downs.