Fates and Traitors: A Novel of John Wilkes Booth and the Women Who Loved Him
by Jennifer Chiaverini
This historical fiction novel, copyright 2016, consists of 382 pages not including the acknowledgements or the bibliography.
This author wrote several other historical fiction novels about the Civil War, including the New York Times Bestseller “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker.” I read several of the author’s other books. All of these books focus especially on women’s experiences.
“Fates and Traitors” told the story of John Wilkes Booth and four women in his life: his mother Mary Ann Booth, his sister Asia, his “secret fiancée” Lucy Hale (the daughter of an abolitionist Republican senator from New Hampshire), and boardinghouse owner Mary Surratt.
This novel would appeal to the following:
- those who enjoy reading about women’s experiences during the Civil War;
- those fascinated by the theatrical Booth family;
- those fascinated by the conspiracy and trial surrounding the Lincoln assassination.
I mention the above comment on POV, because in another recent thread on this board, several posters discussed the craft of writing historical fiction. One poster mentioned the challenges of writing about characters who hold views that are not acceptable in modern times. In my opinion, Chiaverini accomplished this quite well. For instance, in the sections told from Mary Surratt’s point of view, the author described Surratt’s resentment over her perceptions regarding the treatment of white southern women.
I learned the following “fun facts:”
- Actors in the 1800’s were required to provide their own costumes.
- Mary Surratt was the first woman that the federal government sentenced to execution.
- The federal government arrested four women in connection with the Lincoln assassination, though they eventually only charged Surratt.
- Robert Lincoln and Lincoln secretary John Hay both courted Lucy Hale before she secretly got engaged to John Wilkes Booth. Lucy Hale was at the White House studying Spanish with Robert Lincoln and Hay at around the same time that Booth shot Abraham Lincoln. Lucy Hale later married the future Senator William Chandler.
- Asia Booth Clarke’s husband asked her for a divorce after her brother shot Lincoln.
- Asia Booth Clarke later wrote a memoir about her father, the actor Junius Brutus Booth.
- Junius Brutus Booth initially forbade all of his children to follow him into acting. However, three of his sons (Edwin, John, and Junius Jr.) became actors.
- Junius Brutus Booth left his first wife and started a second family with Mary Ann. John Wilkes Booth was a teenager when Junius’ first wife accused him of adultery and sued him for divorce. John Wilkes and his siblings grew up being taunted about their illegitimacy.
I thoroughly enjoyed “Fates and Traitors” and I recommend it.