I received a review copy
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…
Sophia Peabody was an infirmed child who suffered severe migraines whenever she created art, which was her gift. With the exception of the winter she spent convalescing in Cuba, Sophia passed most of her early life secluded in the family home, under the influence of morphine. Sophia meets Nathaniel Hawthorne when her sister Elizabeth, who has a flirtatious relationship with the elusive writer, brings him home one day. However, once Sophia steps into the family parlor, Elizabeth’s chances of love with Mr. Hawthorne are lost. The connection between Nathaniel and Sophia is intense from the moment they set eyes on each other.
Nathanial fears that his mother and sisters will feel threatened by their relationship, but after a lengthy courtship, the two marry. They settle in Concord, MA, where they become part of a prestigious literary social group that includes Henry Thoreau, Louisa Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Ellery Channing. The beginning of their marriage is blissful and passionate – almost like a romance novel. After experiencing a tragic miscarriage, Sophia gives birth to three children. The family lives like vagabonds, moving from Concord to Salem and back before embarking to Europe, where they lived for many years, before returning home to Massachusetts.
In the last few years, I’ve enjoyed a number of historical fiction novels about literary greats, but was a bit nervous about this one. Hawthorne is the author of The Scarlett Letter and many of his writings, which are considered to be “dark romanticism,” were inspired by the puritans of the 1600s. How exciting could his life be? Although I’ve toured his home in Concord, visited the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, and paid my respects to his grave, I still knew very little about his personal life.
Robuck writes with lyrical prose and easily transports the reader back in time with her narrative. Her descriptions of the setting produces images of life in the 19th century, yet her intimate characterization of and dialogue between Nathanial and Sophia brings them to life in way that enabled me to relate to them as if they lived right next door. Throughout their marriage they had to deal with family strife, money troubles, heath concerns, addiction, professional jealousy, a country at war, and political disagreements with family and friends. All modern world problems.
As with any historical fiction, the reader may wonder which aspects of the story are true and which are made up. Interestingly, with this novel I didn’t indulge in too many what-ifs and felt little compulsion to do additional research. The author told their story so eloquently and succinctly, that I’m satisfied. I don’t want to risk the chance that any additional knowledge of the couple will disillusion the respect I developed for both characters. I enjoyed Nathanial and Sophia immensely and the only thing I wish I could change is the number of years they had together.