Welcome back to the blog tour for Erika Robuck's The House of Hawthorne!
This is a stunning novel, with beautiful writing and vivid details, which made me feel like I was living out Sophia's life and relationship with Nathaniel alongside her.
While I obviously knew how the book was going to end, I was still so moved by this book, I read it again immediately. Read on for why you should do the same, and why Erika is now one of my new favorite authors.
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published May 5th 2015 by NAL
Through her fictionalized account, Erika Robuck brings Sophia and Nathaniel vividly to life, showing how two quiet, fiercely talented individuals found each other, and formed a life together.
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…
However, I didn't know much about author Nathaniel Hawthorne beyond that, outside of the fact that he had changed his last name at one point from "Hathorne" to "Hawthorne", to separate himself from an ancestor who had participated in the Salem Witch Trials, and that he had been friends with Louisa May Alcott's family.
So when I was given the opportunity to read The House of Hawthorne, I was intrigued. Erika Robuck has written a detailed, vividly imagined account of both the early life of Nathaniel's wife, artist Sophia Peabody, and their eventual courtship and life together. Interweaving remarkable real-world details, and beautiful writing (definitely more on this later!) Robuck pulls us headfirst, into their lifelong romance.
Robuck makes it a point to first introduces us to Sophia and Nathaniel in the golden years of their lives, when Nathaniel is off to an (ill-fated) trip to visit friend Franklin Pierce. As Sophia reluctantly sees her husband off, she reflects on their lives together, beginning at a period in her life right before their initial meeting.
Readers sees how young Sophia, a girl who has traditionally been viewed as weak and ill-healthed because of her artistic skills, begins to blossom after meeting with Nathaniel. Despite also being very quiet and reserved for most his life, Nathaniel absolutely blossoms after being introduced to Sophia via her sister Sophia. The two of them quickly become attached to one another, and find inspiration in each other's presence.
As the story progresses, Robuck carefully shows us the ups and downs of Sophia and Nathaniel's relationship, tacitly emphasizing the idea of how talented, gifted women have often (willingly) stood by celebrated men throughout history, often at the expense of their own legacies. There's also a beautifully subtle emphasis on the idea that a woman in Sophia's position gets to see the insecurities and obstacles behind a beloved, highly-regarded public face, and how it's a tribute to her personal conviction, that she lovingly and relentlessly supports him.
The dissection of the anatomy of Nathaniel and Sophia's relationship is illustrated by beautiful writing - Robuck has a gift for vividly bringing their thoughts to life in elegantly crafted sentences. When Sophia reflects on Nathaniel's writing, sentences like:
"...He is able to capture some sacred truth about solitude and how it corruptis, though it is inescapable and even desirable. His musings on generational sin are also intriguing, and his strength lies in his pathos..."
Show the true art and beauty of their relationship.
Outside of Sophia and Nathaniel, the book is further elevated by Robuck's interweaving of the historical details of the period. The Hawthornes worked with and socialized with some of the true intellectual giants of the period - e.g. Nathaniel was acquainted with both acclaimed writers and groups like the Transcedentalists - and all of these details show us how remarkable their lives must have truly been.
While this book is a fictionalized account of the Hawthornes, there's no doubt that Robuck has undoubtedly captured the absolute love and devotion that Sophia and Nathaniel must have felt for each other. Readers will undoubtedly feel immersed when experiencing their joys and truimphs, while also learn from the depths of Robuck's detailed, exquisite writing.
I fully recommend this book for all fans of historical fiction - this book will captivate you. For the YA fans who read my book, I also strongly, strongly recommend this book if you're a fan of books like Sharon Biggs Waller's A Mad Wicked Folly.
About the author:
Erika Robuck is a contributor to the fiction blog Writer Unboxed, and she maintains her own blog, Muse. She is a member of the Hawthorne Society, the Hemingway Society, the Historical Novel Society, and the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society. She lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with her husband and three sons. She is the author of Receive Me Falling, Hemingway’s Girl, Call Me Zelda and Fallen Beauty.