Celia Laighton Thaxter was an author, painter, gardener, and one of the most popular New England poets of the late nineteenth century. Her nonfiction works, An Island Garden and Among the Isles of Shoals, continue to engage readers; "her prose," Smithsonian Magazine has said, "has a timeless quality that makes delightful reading today."
Much of Thaxter’s writing was inspired by the Isles of Shoals, an isolated cluster of islands off the coast of New Hampshire, where she was raised and spent much of her life. As a result, she is often thought to have lived a circumscribed existence, but as Norma Mandel demonstrates in this new biography, Thaxter was an active participant in Boston’s vibrant cultural life. Her close friends included Sarah Orne Jewett, John Greenleaf Whittier, and James and Annie Fields, and she moved in a literary circle that included such figures as Hawthorne, Emerson, Longfellow, and Holmes. Thaxter was also the hostess of a vibrant summer salon on Appledore Island where artists Childe Hassam and William Morris Hunt and musicians Julius Eichberg and William Mason were among the frequent visitors.
Drawing on previously unexamined letters and family papers as well as Thaxter’s own writings and other sources, Mandel not only reveals new details about the author’s life but also places her in a broader literary and cultural context. From Thaxter’s isolated childhood and early marriage, to her embrace of the Aesthetic Movement and her fascination with spiritualism, to her lifelong struggle to secure a steady income and care for a disabled child, Mandel offers the most comprehensive biography yet written about a writer whose books about the natural world continue to resonate.