Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The House of Hawthorne

Title:  The House of Hawthorne
Author:  Erika Robuck
Publication Information:  NAL. 2015. 416 pages.
ISBN:  0451418913 / 978-0451418913

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In the second-floor start room where we never go, someone has wound the music box."

Favorite Quote:  "Man's accidents are God's purposes."

The House of Hawthorne is built on the strength, sacrifice, and love of one woman. Say the name Nathaniel Hawthorne, and a renowned author comes to mind. Say the name Sophia Peabody Hawthorne and what comes to mind? Although an author and artist in her own right, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne is now most known for being Nathaniel Hawthorne's wife, if she is known at all.

Before reading this book, I knew nothing about Nathaniel Hawthorne's life or marriage. This book fictionalizes his marriage - a relationship that lasted almost 30 years. "Our love is a work of art. It is the great masterpiece of my life because it has been rendered over decades. It has been made of blood and tears and love and laughter and despair and a million tiny moments that in isolation seemed small, but as a part of this vast canvas convey a depth of feeling as has never been seen before and might never be seen again.

Unlike their described life which seems to center around Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne plays a supporting role in this book. This is Sophia's story and her perspective. It briefly presents her childhood, her life changing experiences in Cuba, and her return home. She meets Hawthorne through her sister, and the attraction is instant. From that point, Sophia's life is about caring for and enabling Hawthorne to achieve what he did:

  • "Try as I might I cannot image my Apollo slopping or ironing. He was made to write - not the engage in physical toil."
  • "I so often restrain my frustration for his sake..."
  • "He is so easily frustrated by the minute of life."
  • "I wish to be home, reassuring my husband with my touch."

Sophia Peabody is the one who held the Hawthorne household and, most likely, the man himself together through their life. Their married life included joys - love, children, publication of Hawthorne's works - and sorrows - death, illness, poverty. As a friend and a later critic warns, "...For you do not want to end up the little marker at the side of the grand headstone, where future writers and readers will lay their offerings, only honoring the man published and not the woman who supported and even made his work possible." That is indeed the epithet for Sophia as depicted in this book; in the pull between her artistic endeavors and her home, she chose home and family.

Sophia's thoughts almost always are of protecting Hawthorne. What is less clear is whether she was happy and whether he returned her caring in the same way. What makes this book such a marvelous read is that Sophia's caring is so very clearly exhibited. Yet, I find myself seeking to understand her emotions and thoughts for herself, in particular her struggle between home and art. That is much less clear, but the clues are there - in her comments about her art, in her memories of Cuba, and in the one instance in which she feels unable to offer him comfort. Did she ever regret her choice? Did she ever resent her husband for all her sacrifices? Did she ever question his inability to provide for them at many times in their lives? He loved her, but did he care for her in the way and with the ferocity with which she cared for him?

This book is a love story but seems a very real one - not the stuff of fairy tales but the stuff of life. Where love is not always balanced. Where sacrifices are made and are often unspoken. For all her time in the shadows, this is Sophia's time to shine.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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