MAJOR JOHN ANDRE: A Gallant in Spy's Clothing by Robert McConnell Hatch

MAJOR JOHN ANDRE: A Gallant in Spy's Clothing

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AndrÉ was the British officer captured behind American lines with the papers that revealed Benedict Arnold's treason. The first biography of this ill-fated intelligence officer reveals an unusual military man, a graceful and soft-mannered gentleman who wrote light verse, sketched, and directed amateur theatricals. He was a fop with finer notions of aesthetics than tactics. AndrÉ is first introduced as a young man of artistic sensibilities who is chafing at joining the family business. After a brief and characteristically idealistic infatuation, rivalry and heartbreak, he joins the army. His charm, his fluency in French and German, and his skill at keeping military journals for his superiors help this merchant's son continually to improve his commission, though his urbanity does not make him popular with the troops. His most signal achievement is organizing a luxurious fete in tribute to General Howe, an extravaganza of jousting, dancing, and marching, with medieval costumes and everything draped in silks and sashes, bows and spangles. This ridiculous affair exemplifies the fat luxury of the occupying army, providing a vivid look at this odd aspect of the Revolutionary War period. Relying largely upon correspondence and journals, Hatch makes the history generally lively. More frequent dates and reference to the general progress of the war might better ground the details, but the espionage buffs who know the story well will not feel their absence. In prelude to the events surrounding the crucial parley with Arnold, Hatch also gives an interesting summation of the theories and methods of 18th-century spying. The tale of AndrÉ's first and last mission is exciting, but as a story of inexperience and eccentricity, this well-crafted history can muster only so much drama. There is some effort to enoble AndrÉ, but the portrait that emerges is neither heroic nor tragic, but merely sympathetic. AndrÉ was not a spy, nor a soldier really, but a romantic with a Tom Sawyer-like taste for cloak-and-dagger melodrama that finally cost him his life.

Pub Date: March 28th, 1986
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin