The House of Hawthorne
By Erika Robuck
Author’s Website: erikarobuck.com
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Jeanie
From Erika Robuck, bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl, comes a brilliant new novel about a literary couple. The unlikely marriage between Nathaniel Hawthorne, the celebrated novelist, and Sophia Peabody, the invalid artist, was a true union of passion and intellect.…
Beset by crippling headaches from a young age and endowed with a talent for drawing, Sophia is discouraged by her well-known New England family from pursuing a woman’s traditional roles. But from their first meeting, Nathaniel and Sophia begin an intense romantic relationship that despite many setbacks leads to their marriage. Together, they will cross continents, raise children, and experience all the beauty and tragedy of an exceptional partnership. Sophia’s vivid journals and her masterful paintings kindle a fire in Nathaniel, inspiring his writing. But their children’s needs and the death of loved ones steal Sophia’s energy and time for her art, fueling in her a perennial tug-of-war between fulfilling her domestic duties and pursuing her own desires.
Spanning the years from the 1830s to the Civil War, and moving from Massachusetts to England, Portugal, and Italy, The House of Hawthorne explores the tension within a famous marriage of two soulful, strong-willed people, each devoted to the other but also driven by a powerful need to explore the far reaches of their creative impulses. It is the story of a forgotten woman in history, who inspired one of the greatest writers of American literature… (from Goodreads)
She was his Dove. From the early days of their courtship through decades of marriage, Nathaniel Hawthorne called Sophia his “Dove”. The House of Hawthorne is a very well- written, interesting novel, amhistorical fiction about the woman behind the man, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne. I knew very little about the Hawthornes prior to reading this, so this book has been very enlightening.
Sophia’s father was a doctor, and her mother a forward-thinking woman who encouraged her daughters to be educated and to not look at marriage as a goal. She even suggested that Sophia and her sister Elizabeth not marry as it would take them from their artistic pursuits.
Sophia was an artist from a young age, learning how to paint with oils, sketch, and sculpt. Whether she painted, drew, or worked in clay, however, the limits of her health were pressed and she suffered from terrible, debilitating headaches. Sophy went to Cuba with her sister Mary for 1 ½ years, staying with friends on a plantation where they saw the horrors of slavery, including the separation of families and terrible beatings, and Sophia had her first and only friendship with a man other than her brothers and Mr. Hawthorne.
Sophia’s sister Elizabeth had met Nathaniel Hawthorne first, but after seeing Sophia, he was besotted with her. They felt complete only after they met and when they spent time together, and planned to be married. Their courtship was very long, the wedding put off so that Nathaniel would know he could provide a good living for her, and to minimize the hurt to his mother and sisters who had looked to him to take care of them since his father died. Even after they married, only one of his two sisters was willing to try to become friends with Sophia.
Nathaniel and Sophia cherish solitude from the exhausting conversations of the world. Other women are almost all portrayed as individualists who are willing to forego some of the traditional pursuits of marriage or teaching to education and following – or leading – causes. It must have been an incredibly exciting time to be a writer in our country, in spite of the inadequate payments! The Hawthornes were closely acquainted with some of the finest minds in American literary history, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to name a few. These well-known writers are included, overall, as we have learned about them. To read of one having dinner with Emerson, or Thoreau planting in another’s garden is, to this reader, amazing, seeing how many people are brought to life in this novel.
The characters are complete as necessary to this story, with Nathaniel and Sophia being the most thoroughly portrayed.
The story begins near the end of the Civil War as Sophy rides with Nathaniel, in failing health, when he goes to spend time with a friend. Throughout the ride and Sophia’s lone return home, she relives events from their life, their marriage, their journeys. We see her go back to the 1830’s and work forward as Sophia remembers with detail meeting and falling in love with Nathaniel Hawthorne. She often felt like a vagabond as they and their children travelled from place to place in Europe and New England, always returning to Concord, Mass. This is a love story that bears telling, at times tragic and other times humorous. The points of view of 1864 and the prior years are well-defined so the reader is always aware of the time frames.
I highly recommend The House of Hawthorne to adults of all ages as well as teens; this is a very well-written book in which we learn about Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Dove. It is about a love so great that one could forego her artistic pursuits to give herself fully to being a wife to the man who completed her and a mother to their children. Those who appreciate 19th-century American Literature, learning about the challenges of artists and writers in earlier generations, and specifically the Hawthornes and their amazing romance and lives together will be so thoroughly absorbed that when they set down the pages and come back to the present, they will be startled to be in this century. That’s how inviting this author’s writing is.