The House of Hawthorne

The House of Hawthorne

by Erika Robuck


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The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck

From the bestselling author of Hemingway’s Girl comes a novel that explores the unlikely marriage between celebrated novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne and accomplished artist Sophia Peabody—a forgotten woman in history who inspired one of the greatest writers of American literature.

As a sensitive, artistic young woman, Sophia Peabody is discouraged from pursuing a woman’s traditional roles of marriage and motherhood. But from their first meeting, she and Nathaniel Hawthorne begin an intense romantic partnership. Together, they cross continents, raise children, and experience all the beauty and tragedy of life fully lived. Sophia’s vivid journals and masterful paintings inspire Nathaniel’s writing. But their children’s needs and personal losses fuel a perennial tug-of-war between Sophia’s domestic duties and 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 story of a woman, forgotten by history, who inspired one of the greatest writers of American literature...

Includes a Readers Guide

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451474650
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/03/2016
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 643,991
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Erika Robuck is the national bestselling author of The House of HawthorneFallen Beauty, Call Me Zelda, Hemingway’s Girl, and Receive Me Falling. She 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.

Read an Excerpt

Spring 1864
Concord, Massachusetts

In the second-floor storage room where we never go, someone has wound the music box. Its eerie tinkling peels away the years like a bride’s clothing, inviting the memory of my first night as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wife. As soon as the image enters my mind, it drifts away—delicate, elusive, and almost impossible to grasp, like a butterfly on the banks of Walden Pond. I open the oak door and enter the room, but only silence waits. The music box rests undisturbed on a table beneath a layer of dust.

“Naughty ghost,” I say. “Do not make mischief today, of all days.”

I walk to the window and look down toward the pine path, the well-worn trail between our home and the Alcotts’. There in the dark tangle of evergreens, where breezes whisper down the hill, a retreat of a half hour’s time renews my brooding husband. I have patted the pines’ sturdy trunks, thanking them for giving Nathaniel these moments of peace, and have sensed their replies in the fragrant sighing of their branches. He soon emerges, stooped and white haired. Even years after his swift aging during our difficulties in Italy, it is still jarring to see Nathaniel so altered in appearance. In my mind and heart he is ever my young summer husband.

In spite of my wish to meet him when he comes into the house, a presence in this room seems to insist that I remain here. Could it be one of the women Nathaniel’s ancestors judged for a witch and condemned to hang, or one of our deceased friends or relations? The remembrance of our dead loved ones paralyzes me so that I do not step into the hallway even when I hear Nathaniel’s footfall reach the landing and then climb the narrow stairs to the sky parlor. As we both approach six decades of life, he often tells me that I am his earthly savior—a gift from God to bring light to him, who is so apt to see dark. He has fought the coil and stain of the black weeds of his forefathers, even changing the spelling of his surname, to ascend from the bones they left scattered about Salem graveyards. He is still climbing, trying to rise above them.

Nathaniel’s need for elevation inspired the tower he had erected on the third floor of our home, the Wayside, in Concord, Massachusetts, fashioned after the mossy castle lookout where we once summered in Florence. The Wayside is the only home we have ever owned. It is the place where we finally unpacked all the trunks, where the wall colors have faded around portraits, where the dear rooms have embraced our family. The Wayside creaks and heaves sighs like an old, fat grandmama who has sat vigil for so many years that she has coughed the dust of British soldiers’ boots marching to the commencing battles of the Revolutionary War, has harbored frightened runaway Negroes on their North Star quests, and now hosts this stubborn ghost who enjoys giving us a fright.

I know the secrets in her, this house. There is a floorboard in this room that can be lifted, where a mahogany letterbox holds the papers Nathaniel insisted I cut out and burn from our journals and epistles. I imagine how they must quiver, eager to escape and breathe. Once Nathaniel has left on his journey, perhaps I will go through the artifacts. I should look forward to this airing of my spirit, like pinning clean laundry to the line, but I have a place Nathaniel has inserted into me like a grafting on a tree that says these things should stay private.

The floorboards creak above my head in the sad cadence of the man who haunts his writing space. The room is ten by ten feet, and a trapdoor allows him entrance and solitude, but the tower where he wanted to escape from civilization sticks like a belfry above our house, the tin roof giving no insulation from heat or cold, the windows illuminating his dark silhouette for every neighbor and traveler to see by the light of the astral lamp. The sky parlor was to be his respite, but like all places where Nathaniel thinks he will finally find peace and home, it has disappointed him.

Knowing that Nathaniel will remain upstairs until our carriage to Boston comes, and that our children are away or occupied, I cannot resist the letterbox. I count four planks from the window and reach my finger into the small knot in the wood to pry it loose. A musty smell emerges on a puff of old dust, making me sneeze. I wait to be sure my husband does not come in and worry over my health, which has plagued us so often these years.

When I am convinced he still walks in the tower, I lift the box with the courtship letters, the marriage journal, the sketches, and pressed flowers brought back from the places we traveled. A dried paintbrush holds the residue of a long-ago color—the emerald green of an Italian forest on a canvas I painted for Nathaniel, which he used to hide behind a black veil. The flowers are faded like old tapestries hung too long in the sun, and include a night-blooming cereus from my maiden days in Cuba, a white pond lily from the Concord River, and a red poppy from Florence. Under the flowers is a sketch I drew in the days of fevered, falling-in-love inspiration, of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. One wing is unfurled, welcoming the breath of spring zephyrs into its body. The other is curled and wet, waiting to escape its confinement.

The chime of the parlor’s clock reminds me that we have but an hour before the carriage arrives. I have packed Nathaniel’s belongings, so I may spend time with these artifacts from our past that are calling to me, urging me to look for something that I do not know is missing. I hold on to a small hope that this springtime journey to New Hampshire that Nathaniel will make with his dearest friend, former president Franklin Pierce, might restore my husband’s vitality. I will escort him to Boston by carriage, where he and Franklin will then catch a train north, making stops along the way. I pray that if Nathaniel uses this excursion to reflect on how far he has come, how unlike his ancestors he is, and what a rich and fascinating life of experience he has given us, perhaps he will no longer despair.

A dark eye peers out from under the butterfly sketch, giving me a strange thrill. I drew the son of a plantation owner before I met Nathaniel. It was during the year and a half I spent in Cuba, in my maiden days, when I discovered my capacity for love. In spite of that time of passion and growth, I was injured in my soul from Cuba, and I wonder whether it would have been better if I had never gone. I run my finger over the portrait’s lips, imagining what the planter’s life has been since I left him thirty years ago. My senses are aroused, and I can nearly smell the robust fragrance of Cuban coffee, feel the waxy tropical foliage, hear the melancholy melody brought forth from the planter’s long, dark fingers on the piano keys.

Nathaniel’s cough startles me. I am aware that another man’s likeness is under my hand while my husband stands across the room. Ridiculous though it is, I feel as guilty as if I were caught with a lover. I turn the paper facedown in the letterbox, hoping Nathaniel will not ask about its contents, arrange my face into a smile, and say, “Are you nearly ready, my love?”

He is mid grimace from the pain in his stomach, but upon my address, Nathaniel’s shoulders relax and his lips form a smile. I leave my memories and cross the room to him, wrapping my arms around him. Nathaniel’s coat is damp with sweat, and the heat coming from him frightens me.

“You are feverish,” I say. “You must go to bed. Stay with me.”

“I would like nothing better, my dove,” he says. “But this is a journey I must make.”

“Then let me come with you,” I say, knowing such a wish is impossible. I have asked no one to care for the children, and we haven’t the money for both of us to travel at this time.

“You must stay and keep our children well, and our hearths glowing.”

“For your return,” I say.

He does not answer, but brushes a lock of gray hair from my forehead.

“See that you come back to me,” I say. “I cannot bear this earth long without my companion.”

“Nor I,” he says.

I kiss Nathaniel, and when he pulls away his gaze falls on the box and rests there. I hold my breath, wondering whether he will ask about it, but he grimaces again, his pain appearing to distract him from any questions. He leaves to descend to the first floor and wait for the carriage, and I take one last look at the papers before putting them back into hiding, but the artifacts seem to shiver, to urge, and I am unable to part from them.

What do you want of me? I think. Am I to draw again? To paint? Is it even possible to resurrect the artist in me, whom I have neglected these many years?

Light coming in through the window falls on the Cuba Journal. I turn its pages, and imagine Nathaniel reading it in solitude as a young man, coming to know me safely in print before courting me in the flesh. I wonder which of my words kindled his heart’s fire and his writer’s pen. Was it my acceptance of the possibility of love, or the vivid portraiture of my words that inspired his? Did Nathaniel sense that a woman so open to newness in the society of others could serve as an interpreter of the world for him?

I begin reading and soon lose track of time. It as if the decades dissolve and I am back in that exotic land, immersed in the words of my own hand, in worlds crafted from my writings, that conjure a full palette of scenery, society, passion, and tragedy.

My wordsmith is wary of words, and finds them inadequate because they fail him, but I am more trusting. Burrowed in my journal is the story that wants me to remember that traveling to Cuba allowed me to emerge from my maidenhood to become the woman—the artist—who would wed Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion

1. What did you enjoy most about The House of Hawthorne?

2. What do you find unusual, appealing, and perplexing about Sophia and Nathaniel’s courtship?

3. Do you see their marriage as a practical partnership, as a union of soul mates, or as something else altogether?

4. Why do you think Sophia largely gives up her pursuit of art after marrying Nathaniel? Is her sacrifice still to some extent inevitable for women who have children? What might her life have been like if she hadn’t married him?

5. Talk about the Hawthornes’ many losses of family and friends to ill health and accidents. Discuss how modern medicine has tended to change our own perception of death. What blind spots have we perhaps developed as a result?

6. In what ways might the Hawthornes be considered a modern family? Do you think Sophia and Nathaniel are good parents?

7. In the years leading to the Civil War, Sophia and Nathaniel disagree with many family members over their belief that war should be avoided at all costs, and that slavery will die a natural death over several generations. How might U.S. history have been different if events had gone as the Hawthornes wished?

8. What kind of relationship do you have with the natural world, and how does it compare to Nathaniel’s and Sophia’s? What has been lost and gained in our understanding of nature in the decades since they lived?

9. Of the many artists, writers, and philosophers the Hawthornes get to know, whom do you find the most interesting and why?

10. Has reading the book made you want to read, or reread, Nathaniel’s novels? What do you think of his work?

11. What do you think is more important: the accomplishments we leave behind or a life well lived? How might the two differ? Which do you think Nathaniel and Sophia achieve?

Customer Reviews

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The House of Hawthorne: A Novel 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
CharlotteLynnsReviews More than 1 year ago
Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife lived a very interesting life.   I was enthralled with how they stayed connected to each other through so many trials.  They were rich, poor, separated, living in foreign lands, sick, and so much more yet they managed to keep their love alive and live fulfilling lives together.    I have heard stories of true love before, yet this is a real story of true love.  It is not a live wrapped up in a pretty bow where all is easy and happy.  The House of Hawthorne is a story of real true love.   Nathaniel and Sophia are in physical pain when they are separated, they need each other, live off being with each other.   I loved Sophia.   From the first time she met Nathaniel and knew of her sisters care for him, she tried to do the right thing but the heart knew better.   The pulled between them was undeniable.   As her life moves forward with her family, Sophia puts her own art on hold and raises her family.   This is a typical mother, she has to.   She does it without complaint and understands that her time for art is not over, she is just making a different form of art.  She had a contentment about her that made her a great example for mothers, even in today’s world, of how unselfish you have to be to raise your children and keep your family safe. The timeframe of The House of Hawthorne was of great interest to me.  Not only did I see how life in America was in the 19th century, but I was taken across the ocean to places that I dream of visiting.    Each place that was visited was brought to life with the descriptions of the towns, the buildings, the surroundings, and also the people and their lifestyles.   The details were evident that Erika Robuck did her research.  This is my first novel by Erika Robuck and I cannot wait to read more.  I will recommend this book.
jmccannAZ 6 months ago
This is my favorite of Erika Robuck’s books. Filled with lush descriptions of nature and insightful observations on life, this is not simply a story about a famous author’s wife. This is a sweet love story and an exploration of the ups and downs of life that we all experience – love, loss, friendship, family, jealousy, devotion and conflict, and the constant journey to discover where we belong. If you enjoy intellectual, spiritual, quiet reads, you will be enthralled by THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE.
Tracey_L More than 1 year ago
I came into this without a particular affinity for Nathaniel Hawthorne, and with no prior knowledge of Sophia Peabody, but having read two of Erika Robuck's earlier novels and having been thoroughly enchanted by them, I made certain to guarantee a copy of this one. I was not disappointed; the story of Nathaniel and Sophia is a lovely one, and has given me greater insight into a time that I knew very little of. The writing, as usual, is wonderful, and I found myself transported into the period with little effort. I didn't want the story to end, and can't wait until the book is available for purchase so that I can own a copy to read over again. Brava, and well done! I received an advance copy of this book from Penguin's First to Read program in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Simply wonderful.
Carol33 More than 1 year ago
If you have never read a book by Erika Robuck now is the time to do so. I don't know if she has ever traveled to the many places described. Whether she did or not, her descriptions are amazing and you can visualize the beauty of these places. Erika makes you want to continue reading to see what each character is going to do next. I can't wait for her next book!
Bookworm_Babblings More than 1 year ago
I received a free copy of this novel from Penguin Random House in exchange for my honest review. The House of Hawthorne is a fictional,  yet fascinating, look on the life and romance of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Sophie Peabody.  From the day they met, Sophie and Nathaniel were kindred spirits.  Their love had no bounds.  Even when their daughter Una was sick for months with Roman fever, the family closeness kept them going.  This was a fantastic glimpse into the life of the Hawthornes, as well as several authors from that era. One that I thoroughly enjoyed.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Sophy Peabody is an accomplished artist who suffers from viciously painful headaches, especially after she has exerted great effort in creating a beautiful painting.  She is raised with her sister to believe that great female artists should not marry because marriage is a demanding role that will deplete her of all the energy she will need to grow even greater as an artist, a push and pull tension that Sophy will actually struggle with for years.  On a trip to Cuba where she falls in love, she realizes that she can be passionate and still remain as totally invested in her art as is possible. But she also discovers that people can be so dearly loving and blindly evil; so she flees that beautiful country she had come to love with its lush natural scenes and hospitable families. Upon her return to New England, she meets the dark but sensitive writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne.  The magnetic passion drawing them together is instantaneous and after a delayed wait they marry. They finally settle down into their own home after trying to live at Brook Farm, the Transcendental, agricultural community.  While they agreed with the principals of such a life, they were not up to the hard work of farming.  They are artists who must write and paint.  This is their love story which grows and grows with tender but fierce commitment over the years.   They endure much suffering during their lives, including the family illnesses and deaths and the dreadful American Civil War.  They, however, are privileged to be able to afford to travel to England, Portugal and Italy, all of which they write about.  Sophy is a life force to Nathaniel, whose dark moods have both genetic and historical roots in his ancestor’s perfidious judgment in Salem, Massachusetts during the brutal witch hunt that condemned so many innocent people.   The House of Hawthorne… is remarkable and beautiful historical fiction.  The characters are uniquely drawn and their perspective on art, marriage, parenting, slavery, and more compel the reader’s attention and excitement.  Nothing is predictable and everything is unique for this perceptive and endearing couple who create a beautiful tapestry out of the vicissitudes of life and death!  Highly recommended! 
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Sophia Peabody is a daughter, sister, wife and mother. Many know her husband the famous author - Nathaniel Hawthorne, but many don't know the story behind their introduction and their love story. Through five stories and moments, the reader gets to meet Sophia before she has meet Nathaniel and then as they meet and then into their marriage and old age. I loved this way of story telling. I loved seeing glimpses at moments of their life instead of only a book that focuses on one of these moments. To read about their full story without a huge chunk of a book was nice, I felt like I got a full glimpse of their marriage and life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
amybooksy More than 1 year ago
The House of Hawthorne is a fictionalized account of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Sophia Peabody. I thought it was pretty good. I loved the author's vision of this couple. I thought the book well written and really enjoyed it. 4 stars.
celticmaggie More than 1 year ago
I chose to read this book. It sounded good. I found old friends like Ralph Waldo Emerson. This is the beginning days of hypnotism and Utopia. Nathaniel met Elizabeth first and then fell for her sister Sophia. She and Elizabeth had gone to Cub to try to cure Sophia' s headaches and they run into slavery and torture. I will say this-I thought it was a day read. I had to reread quite a few passages. I hope you don't go by my review as you may love this story. Please enjoy reading this story.