Thursday, May 21, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

I’ve never given a whole lot of thought to Nathaniel Hawthorne. In high school, I read The Scarlet Letter. When my kids read it during their high school careers, I thought I should re-read it, but didn’t. Once may be enough. Still, I’m always curious about writers’ backstories. Erika Robuck’s new novel, The House of Hawthorne, grabbed my attention as the love story between Hawthorne and his wife and muse, the artist Sophia Peabody.

Curious to learn more about Hawthorne’s career and this romance (and having enjoyed another Robuck novel, Call Me Zelda), I dove into this one.

Sophia narrates the novel. An old woman looking back on her long, happy, fruitful marriage to Nathaniel, Sophia is reluctantly parting from him. He suffers from a long-standing illness and is about to embark on a journey with an old friend. One senses, along with Sophia, that he might not return. She uses the opportunity to wax nostalgic, taking the reader with her as she revisits the past.

Young Sophia was a talented artist who suffered terribly from migraines. The emotion of her artistic endeavors seemed to be one of the triggers. She came from a large, supportive family. Her mother, in particular, supported her artistic endeavors even to the point of discouraging her from marrying because the burdens of inevitable motherhood, combined with her poor health, would make it impossible for her to pursue her art. The course of her life changes when her sister begins inviting a promising young author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, to call on them. The attraction between Nathaniel and Sophia is immediate and intense. Before long, they are courting in earnest.

Marriage is slow to follow. Hawthorne has family concerns; he supports his mother and sisters emotionally and financially, and believes they will feel abandoned if he weds. Moreover, he is hesitant to marry before he can support a wife.

Love triumphs over such practical concerns. The novel follows their time together, their struggles as a poor young couple, the growth of their family, Hawthorne’s budding career, and Sophia’s conflicting emotions over the abandonment of her own art as she concentrates on home, hearth, and family. Robuck does a wonderful job of taking us through this beautiful relationship, filling it with the details of Hawthorne’s life story.

The House of Hawthorne is a sweet, gentle, romantic story that is completely convincing–these two artistic souls deeply loved one another. There was no conflict between them; they faced their obstacles together. I have a new appreciation now for Hawthorne, and am going to have to add something of his to my TBR pile. A re-read of The Scarlet Letter? Or should I try something different?