Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Book Review: The House of Hawthorne

I was first introduced to Erika Robuck a few years ago when I stumbled across a copy of Hemingway's Girl at the library. I found the story enthralling and finished it in a day. It did not take me long to read all of Robuck's other novels that had been published up until that point and then I began pre-ordering her novels each year. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, so it is no surprise that I would enjoy Robuck's novels; however, what makes me love them is that she chooses to writer about people who are associated with famous writers....writers whom I adore and teach in school. So far, Robuck has written about those associated with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, so when she announced her newest novel, I was really excited to see what would she come up with about Nathaniel Hawthorne. 

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Let me start by saying that prior to reading The House of Hawthorne, I knew next to nothing about Nathaniel Hawthorne and his life. While I teach The Scarlet Letter and various short stories to my 11th graders each year, my knowledge beyond his writing is minimal. The House of Hawthorne, rather than focusing on the more well-known author, focuses primarily on his wife Sophia.

Sophia is a young, sickly woman, who spends part of her early years in Cuba in order to have some time to recuperate in a tropical climate. Cuba changes Sophia'a life. The exotic atmosphere and environment inspire her as an artist. She feels her first attraction to a man and gives up all thoughts of remaining unmarried and dedicated to her art. She also encounters the horrors of slavery, something that stays with her throughout her life.

Upon returning from Cuba, she meets Nathaniel Hawthorne and the two immediately become enamored with one another.

The love between Nathaniel and Sophia is intense and is evident in their letters and other artifacts used to recreate their story; however, there is more to the novel than just a love story. The reader is able to live through Nathaniel Hawthorne's struggles of trying to make a living as a writing right alongside him. There are mentions of the Hawthorne's lives and friendships with Henry David Thoreau, the Emersons, and the Alcotts; the impact of the fighting in the colonies and how that directly influenced the family as they settled in England; and the tragedies and hardships of simply living during that time period. 

It is evident that Robuck did an immense amount of research and the result is a story that is not only believable, but exciting about two well-known literary and historical figures. Overall, I give The House of Hawthorne an 8.5 out of 10, as there were a few slower-paced parts of the novel. For the most part, though, I found the novel to be incredibly well-written and engaging.

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