My review of The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck

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.…

Hardcover, 416 pages
Published May 5th 2015 by NAL
ISBN 0451418913
 Endymion by G.F. Watts, 1891, Watts Gallery

Lift not the painted veil which those who live
By Percy Bysshe Shelley
Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,--behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it--he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.

Nathaniel Hawthorne daguerreotype, 1848                   Sophia Hawthorne (Peabody) 1861

 My musings are interrupted when I behold a dark figure against the white. He is tall, and his top hat makes him seem more so. He walks with a strange, hesitant gait, almost as if he must coerce his feet to do his bidding. An impressive black cloak moves around him, and he looks like he would be more at home in the night than in the brightness of day. When he draws near the house, he pauses and he looks up at my window, the light illuminating his pale face and chestnut hair that is long on his collar. 
Nathaniel Hawthorne.
His eyes meet mine and hold my gaze for what must be only seconds, but when I draw back from the window and note the heat on my brow, it is as if I have been sitting at a fireside for many hours. I drop onto my sewing chair and glance around the room, my little sanctuary. My paints rest gaily on the easel; my artwork leans against walls and furniture; my books lie atop one another on desktops and bureaus. My eyes find a paper sticking out from the volume of Shelley I had been reading, and I reach for it. I know this paper-it is my poem "To the Unknown Yet Known." A voice in my head tells me that my soul knew something that I did not when I wrote of my love, a man of letters I conjured, the shadowy figure of an artist, the only man who would do for a fellow creative like me.

The tone of the novel, 'The House of Hawthorne' was set from the very first page with the appearance of,  Lift Not The Painted Veil by Percy Bysshe Shelley. This is a story of the meeting of two soul mates. Two artistic/creative people; one author and one painter who are attracted to each other soul to soul. It is an inner connection they share more intensely than purely physical attraction.  Throughout the novel, Keats' Endymion is mentioned between Sophia Peabody the soon to be Mrs. Hawthorne and her sisters. Having been published in 1818, both Nathaniel and Sophia would have grown up reading the poem and most likely relating to its soul connection story. 

The House of Hawthorne is written from protagonist, Sophia Peabody's perspective. Mrs. Hawthorne, narrates her love story and life with husband, Nathaniel Hawthorne.  The story begins cleverly with an introduction where an elderly and frail Sophia Peabody looks through her Cuba Journal and remembers a life before she met Nathaniel.

Being a romantic at heart, immediately I found myself recognizing the soul connection creative mentions. The writing style is intelligent and beautiful. Erika Robuck brings both Sophia and Nathaniel to life. It is nineteenth-century Americana at its best. From Salem, Massachusetts and Concord, Massachusetts, the reader begins to understand the personalities of Nathaniel and Sophia. I found myself reading whole chapters out loud. Especially, when Sophia and Nathaniel were meeting, talking together inside candlelit rooms, walking through snowy New England he in a black cloak and she in a warm coat.  

The research is impeccably done. From locations to bringing in real life names of the homes Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne shared together once finally wed. The Old Manse and The Wayside survive today and can be visited. The author, used excerpts from Nathaniel Hawthorne's letters to Sophia. He really did call her, Dove, in letters and when together. She too kept journals throughout their life together. They wed and had three children included in The House of Hawthorne. She outlived her Nathaniel and had her children keep both their journals for prosperity now housed in museums. It reminded me so much of the relationship between Emily and Alfred Tennyson. As Emily preserved Alfred's letters and her journals but that is a different story. It just made me understand Sophia's possible reasons all the more. 

I love how throughout Sophia's dialogues she always called him, Nathaniel. She loved saying his full first name. It may seem repetitive in sentence form in the novel but romantically I understand why she did this. He always just called her Dove

Let's be honest, I could ramble on about this romantic true based story forever but I won't. I can tell you that Erika Robuck did not alter the real life history of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Sophia Peabody to write The House of Hawthorne and for that I applaud her. I am a fan of the author and will read more of her novels. I loved the mention of other nineteenth-century American writers of the day as well. For instance, The Alcotts, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and more. I hope everyone who loves a romance and intelligent writing will give this one a try. I am so happy I did.


Pamela Britley said…
I am hooked! I love Nathaniel Hawthorne and will read this book.
I love your review.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Pamela,
I am glad you liked my review. I hope you really enjoy the novel!
Daniela said…
I'm in awe, thank you for your wonderful review, I'm going and order this book, thank you so much !

I wish you the most wonderful Christmas ever. Treasure your family time.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Daniela,
Thank you so much for reading my review and commenting.
I hope you enjoy the novel as much as I do!