Tuesday 1 April 2014

The Spymistress

Finished April 1
The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini

This historical novel is based on the U.S. Civil War experiences of the real-life Elizabeth Van Lew. In her forties, a spinster, with her fiance dying of a fever two decades earlier, Lizzie is dedicated to her family and good works. She and her mother would have freed their slaves following her father's death, but his will expressly denied them the ability to do so. Instead, they pay them like they were free men and treat them well. As Virginia votes to secede from the Union, Lizzie is appalled and determined to do what she can for the Union cause. As Union troops are captured, she works hard to get permission to visit them, bringing them food, medical assistance and comfort. She walks a fine line in the community to not be arrested and taken for treason, but she works carefully, and with the support of her family and the guidance of like-minded friends, makes headway. Eventually she became a reliable source of information for the North, sending them coded messages, assisting escaped prisoners to make their way north and helping place others in strategic positions where they can learn useful information and help those in need.
Lizzie's sister-in-law is on the Confederate side, and life becomes easier for Lizzie when her brother's family moves to their own home. To cover her activities, she also supports charity and assistance for Confederates in need from time to time, evening opening her home to Confederate officers when they are waiting for housing.
This is an interesting story of Richmond, Virginia during the war, the influx of prisoners and wounded men to the city, its effect on the common people, and the availability of those goods needed to survive, and the ultimate abandonment by the South, resulting in terrible destruction. It is also the story of a strong woman, who went on to a career as the postmaster of Richmond under President Grant, proving herself as a good businesswoman as well as a good spy.


  1. I have heard good things about this author and keep meaning to try her. This sounds like one to go with.

  2. I too had heard good things. This is the first of hers that I've read.