Washington’s Lady: A Novel
Author: Nancy Moser
ISBN: 978-0-7642-0500-2, $13.99, Released June 1, 2008
Reviewed by Jen Cardwell for Reader Views 07/08
Martha and George as Real People
“It is said that without George Washington there would be no United States, but without Martha, there would be no George Washington.”
– “Washington’s Lady” by Nancy Moser, page 396
How did George Washington have the strength to basically be away from home for eight years during the Revolutionary War? How was he able to leave his home for so long and still have something to come back to? The answer, according to “Washington’s Lady,” is that he gained strength from his wife, Martha Washington.
Moser begins her story of Martha Custis Washington with the death of her first husband, Daniel Custis. Martha had a great deal of sorrow in her life – outliving all four of her children who survived past infancy, as well as two husbands – and Moser does not spare the reader from any of it. As a young widow Martha is distraught, but she is also strong. With her in-laws also deceased, Martha must continue to supervise her holdings for the inheritance of her two remaining children.
When Martha Custis meets George Washington, they are immediately drawn to one another and are soon engaged. One rather humorous thing (in historical hindsight) occurred when Martha’s mother made it known that she believed Martha, the wealthiest widow in Virginia, was marrying somewhat beneath her. George was not incredibly wealthy nor from the best family in Virginia, but he was gaining a good solid reputation.
The majority of “Washington’s Lady” chronicled George and Martha’s life together, making it clear that they were partners and George relied on Martha’s strength of character. When George hesitated to take the commission as head of the revolutionary army, it was Martha who assured him he was the correct man for the job. When he worried about his record in battle, it was Martha who asserted that he was the only one who could inspire his men.
Moser did an admirable job portraying Martha as a strong woman and an inspiration to George. Many authors of historical fiction portray women of the past as if they were women of the present, but I thought the character of Martha was well-balanced as a strong woman of her time and there were no major anachronisms that I noticed. I also appreciated that Martha was not written as someone so strong that she never made mistakes. Instead, Moser wrote both Martha and George as fully human with faults and doubts that any person might have, yet as passionate about and fully committed to The Cause.
The other major historical fiction trap that Moser avoided was that of turning the story into historical romance. I was actually quite nervous upon starting the book. I don’t really care to hear about sex between Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII or Juana of Castile and Phillip of Hapsburg, but I desperately did not want to read a sex scene between George and Martha Washington. Luckily, Moser did not choose to indulge in any such thing, for which I was extremely grateful.
This was a good, solid work of historical fiction, with an extensive chapter-by-chapter discussion of what was fact and what fiction at the end (which I believe should be required of all historical fiction). I would recommend this book to any who are interested in the lives of the Washingtons or of women during the Revolution. I would certainly pick up other works by Moser about interesting historical figures.