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The Master Passion is the story of the marriage - called by some a misalliance - of Alexander Hamilton, our First Secretary of the Treasury, and Betsy Schuyler. Although born poor and illegitimate, Hamilton courts the daughter of Major General Schuyler, an American princess. Hamilton is one of a trinity of Founders who seem to have been created on purpose to invent our nation. Like all mission-driven men, he is preoccupied, often absent, and not the best provider. The trials of making ends meet and raising an ever growing troop of children are Betsy's. This woman-behind-the-man is barely known, but through war, Indian attacks, multiple births, epidemics, infidelity, unending politics and dire tragedy, Betsy is the force which holds the family together. Conflict is built into this marriage. It does not simply spring from Alexander's childhood experience of bastardy, abuse and abandonment. To quote Alexander Pope, his favorite poet: And hence one master passion in the breast, Like Aaron's serpent, swallows up the rest. Betsy's passion is Alexander, but, sometimes, even more than this wife, Alexander loves America.
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Alexander Hamilton has been in my life since I was ten, with his rags to respectability--never riches--tale. He came to America, like so many others, with nothing but the head on his shoulders. As a teen, he'd fought for freedom. He'd won the respect of the commanding general and gained the hand of a lady. He fought tirelessly to get his brilliant--but far-less well-informed colleagues--to understand and accept his financial plans. If Alexander Hamilton hadn't created a system to unite those thirteen colonies by getting them to agree to pay the debts incurred to our fighting men--and to the businessmen who'd backed the War of Independence--the United States as we know it would have never happened.
But Hamilton was an immigrant, a fact his enemies never forgot or forgave. Worse, he was born illegitimate, and arrived on these shores through the charity of the planters of St. Croix. He was called slightingly, "Creole," or, with frank hostility by John Adams, "the bastard brat of a Scots peddler."
Recently, these themes moved Hamilton back into public consciousness. A few years after Ron Chernow wrote his exceptional biography, Lin-Manuel Miranda, a multi-talented first generation American, had his original hip-hop "Hamilton" storm onto Broadway. I'm just a country girl, so I didn't know that until I'd just finished editing an old in-the-drawer story, A Master Passion.
Frankly, as a long time Hamiltonian, Lin-Manuel's show cheers me. Here in the 21st Century, while McLuhan's medium works a sea change upon what we know, it's probably the perfect way to communicate the story of this extraordinary man, one we were lucky to have had present at America's founding.
We all work in the medium with which we're familiar. The one I know best is that of an aged and hybrid genre--the historical novel. I've written about another great man's spouse in "Mozart's Wife" and so naturally Hamilton's Betsy became a large part of A Master Passion as well. Her life, as well as his, sometimes reads like fiction. Study of the "founding mothers" is (and will probably remain) a minor specialty, simply from a lack of material. 18th Century women hoped to preserve their privacy by destroying personal letters, so I've had to infer what might have been going on in someone's head, or elaborate and fictionalize from tidbits of information gleaned during the long time of research.
Hamilton is such a protean character that in order to produce a coherent whole I've had to omit whole episodes--important people and places--or conflate events, which I hope readers will forgive. I wanted to focus on his family relationships.
Scarred by childhood violence, poverty and humiliation, Hamilton could be vain and brash, impatient with slower minds. He injured his friends and family with a sordid love-affair. His insecurity and his fury towards enemies who dragged his good name through the mud caused the political missteps which destroyed his political career. He might even be seen as the engineer of his own death.
So that's my subject: a great man with Shakespearean fatal flaws. I've tried to I tackle these his-and-hers blockbuster stories in my own way, often through the POV of his loving (and often) dismayed wife in my own way, through the form I have loved all my life: an old-fashioned historical novel.
Juliet Waldron has lived in many US states, in the UK and the West Indies. She earned a B. A. in English, but has worked at jobs ranging from artist's model to brokerage. Thirty years ago, after her sons left home, she dropped out of 9-5 and began to write, hoping to create a genuine time travel experience for her readers.
She's a grandmother, a cat lady, and a dedicated reader of history and herstory. She loves music, from classical to pop.
Juliet spends a lot of her time visiting other centuries, but she's also quite certain she doesn't want to live in any of them. She's known Alexander Hamilton since they were both eleven and living in the West Indies.
On summer afternoons, she and her husband of fifty years quietly roam the back roads of PA on his black Hayabusa, often ending up at the Carsonville Hotel.
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