The last of the Summer Reads

Title: House of Hawthorne by Erika RobuckPublisher: NAL/Penguin. 402 p. May 2015

Genre: biographical historical fiction, literary fiction

4 stars narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal


Robuck is the bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl as well as several other novels : Fallen Beauty (poetess Edna St Vincent Millay, 2014), Call me Zelda (2013), Receive me Falling (2009). Each of her books is well researched, and her writing style is appropriate for the subject period. She is a member of the Hawthorne Society, Hemingway Society, Edna St Vincent Millay Society and the Historical Novel Society.

Story Line:

Evident from the title, this is the story of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia Peabody. The story is told primarily from her perspective as a fictionalized memoir (b1809-d1871). She is looking back on a rather tumultuous life from the 1830s to the Civil War. She was the invalid of the famous intellectual/artistic Peabody sisters, with crippling headaches but she became a powerful muse, inspiring he always financially struggling Hawthorne. But she was also a gifted amateur artist in her own right (painter and illustrator, as well as author of her journals) and married life was both a grand passion and a burden. She gives up so much for his happiness, yet knows more joy than her childhood allowed her to dream. There are timeless gender questions of identity and self expression. There is an interesting look at the 19th century intellectual class with romanticism, transcendentalism, women’s independence/social reform. She outlived Hawthorne by 7 years, was buried in London, reburied in Sleepy Hollow next to her husband (2006).

There are lovely glimpses of Thoreau, Melville, Emerson, Fuller and others as well as interesting travel details of life in England, Portugal, Italy and New England. Having read Marshall and Capper, I found her writing style rather emotional and idealistic. But I enjoyed the charming period prose, in this first book I have read of hers. It won’t be the last as I already have Hemingway’s Girl and am intrigued by Fallen Beauty.

The Rochester Public Library has both book and audio version.

Read On:

Lynn Cullen Mrs Poe

Naomi Wood Mrs Hemingway

Paula McLain The Paris Wife

Elizabeth Berg The Dream Lover

Nathaniel Hawthorne House of Seven Gables, Twice Told Tales, Scarlet Letter

NF: Megan Marshall The Peabody Sisters Charles Capper Margaret Fuller


He has fought the coils and stain of the black weave of his forefathers. Even changing the spelling of his surname.

Nathaniel’s need for elevation inspired the tower of the third floor of our home The Wayside…. The only home we have ever owned…the dear rooms have embraced our family…now hosts a stubborn ghost. 

The courtship letters, the marriage journal, the sketches and pressed flowers brought back from the places we traveled….artifacts from our past that are calling to me, urging me to look for something that I do not know is missing.

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

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