The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck
5 of 5 stars on Goodreads
As a writer, wife, and mother, I expected to feel a stronger connection to Sophia Hawthorne – the artist, wife, and mother. Yet, my connection to Nathaniel Hawthorne – the introverted writer and author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables – was just as strong. The House of Hawthorne (2015) was an engaging narrative told by Sophia, opening my eyes to another century, allowing me the opportunity to experience moments with the great literary leaders we’ve read about (The Brownings, Thoreau, Emerson, Melville, and others). Not just that, through her account, I walked along with her, smiled with her, mourned with her, and commiserated with her as she set aside her passion to concentrate on the children and provide the time that Nathaniel needed to feed his muse. I sympathized with her a lot since she had to silence hers. To Nathaniel, it was to lessen the violent headaches her muse would bring against her; to her, it was because she didn’t have that same uninterrupted time to entertain it. Prior to her marriage, Sophia Peabody was a sought-after painter. Her mother had long discouraged her from marriage for fear that she’d have to give up that gift to tend to the needs of her husband and children. Love won and she married Nathaniel. Pieces that she did paint after she married were primarily kept at home for them to enjoy, since to Nathaniel they expressed their passion and love a bit too much to reveal to the public. Unfortunately, for Sophia, it silenced her public work even longer because she didn’t have the time to create much more after that – which, to her, was a detriment to their finances for many years.
This was also a warm and beautiful love story, in spite of the many cold months expressed. They worked through the troubles and they were best friends. She understood his brooding moments and left him to them so he’d either listen to his stories pave their way down to him or simply be. (Unfortunately, in one instance, when she was on a roll with a sketch – after the children were born – he foolheartedly interrupted her causing her anguish, grief, and the risk of losing her thoughts. I cringed since I’ve been there!)
Erika Robuck’s extensive research in their lives through books, photographs, and travel brought Sophia’s families and their era to light for me. There were many poignant moments. We watched them mature well and develop the expected wisdom living brings. The nineteenth-century prose was poetic. It also felt authentic. I enjoy historical fiction and I expect to become a part of that landscape of which I’m reading. In this case, I did, within a very enjoyable story. It also presented me with the curiosity to learn more about the Hawthornes. Some bits of their lives seemed to be assumed knowledge and thankfully through research tools at our fingertips now, I was able to quickly seek out some points such as Nathaniel’s often-mentioned “ancestor”, a judge who sentenced the presumed witches in Salem to be hanged. (It was his great-great-great grandfather, a Judge Hathorne – leading Nathaniel to add the “w” as a means to separate himself and heirs.)
My favorite line – which I informed the author via Twitter: “Company is a burden to those at home in the solitude of their souls”. Sophia spoke those words of her husband who was ill-at-ease in large crowds and overall superficial social settings. I understood it quite well, I must admit.
Highly recommended read for those interested in other writers, history, and historical fiction.
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