The Man in the Mirror

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The story of Benedict Arnold’s treachery has become the stuff of legend. Clare Brandt’s THE MAN IN THE MIRROR cuts through the mythology which has grown up around Benedict Arnold, the traitor, and offers a convincing portrait of Benedict Arnold, the man.

In Brandt’s eyes Arnold is neither the devil of popular memory nor a misunderstood romantic hero. She sees him as a man deeply scarred by financial tribulation early in life. As a result, he grew obsessively concerned with money and social status, becoming fully “the man in the mirror,” a person captivated by surfaces and indifferent to deeper meanings in life. Arnold’s moral universe centered entirely on himself. His needs were his calculus of good and evil. Had Arnold persevered in his first career as a merchant, his egotism might have had no disastrous consequences for him or his country. Instead, the American Revolution intervened, and Arnold, gifted with an intense physical courage and a genius for leadership, became one of America’s leading military heros. Arnold’s contributions to the American cause in the early years of the Revolution were truly impressive. He fought valiantly in campaigns ranging from Canada to New England, and played a key role in winning the decisive battle at Saratoga.

Arnold was arguably the best battlefield commander in the Continental Army. Unfortunately, like many American generals, he did not believe that Congress rewarded his services adequately. Committed to his career rather than his cause, Arnold gambled that a switch of allegiance would bring him the money and honors that he craved. Arnold’s plan to betray West Point to the British miscarried, however, leaving him excoriated at home and an embarrassment to his new allies. Arnold spent his last years futilely attempting to restore a lost reputation. Clare Brandt’s biography is a fine introduction to a brilliant but flawed hero.