Review: The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck

The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck
Release Date: May 5, 2015
Publisher: NAL
Pages: 416
Source: book provided by NetGalley for review
FictionICON

 

 

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.…

 

Review: The strong, open, honest voice of Sophia Hawthorne, narrates this fascinating historical fiction novel which chronicles the life of Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne from their long courtship all the way up to Nathaniel’s death.

Sophia and Nathaniel feel an instant connection that seemed much deeper than physical attraction or romantic love. They were bonded on an emotional realm, connecting mentally, even spiritually. Each was consumed by their artistic passion, the drive to create that is a part of their very being, a fever that can’t be broken, a dedication others not artistic in nature could not cope with. But, Sophia understood this about Nathaniel because she herself was equal to him in this way.

However, as her mother predicted, the marriage and motherhood doused Sophia’s artistic urges for a time, and she was chided for not being more artistically motivated by those closest to her.

Yet, I thought Sophia was happy in her wedded bliss, her role as a mother, with being a muse to her husband, a support system for him, knowing how to offset his shy avoidance of socializing, to bolster his fragile ego, and see him through dark periods in their lives. It wasn’t until later Sophia began to feel a hole in her life where her art has lain dormant, but life’s hardships kept her from being able to muster the strength or passion required to pick it up again, although she ponders on it from time to time.

This utterly absorbing story told in Sophia’s own voice , reveals a woman quite open in her actions and speech, as she relays her feelings of jealousy, her frustration with Nathaniel’s weaker disposition (something I might not have guessed at), the severe health issues she endured, an admission she enjoyed her dosage of morphine she once took regularly, but ultimately gave up, the shocking deaths of friends and neighbors, and family, the melancholy, financial straights, a somewhat unorthodox family life, loneliness, and the suggestion their eldest daughter, Una, may have suffered from a mental handicap after recovering from a very serious illness, the many travels the couple embarked upon, and most of all her great loyalty and love for her husband, that despite the trials they endured, the natural peaks and valleys of marriage, never, ever wavered.

The book can be quite understated at times, much the same as when Sophia actually published her journals and writings after her husband’s death, and was hurt by the lukewarm response, which was due in large part to a lack of any profound revelations about Hawthorne, Sophia, or their lives together. Not unlike our modern day thirst for scandal or some dark revelations, the public found the writings rather bland. There are times when this novel nearly falls victim to that complaint as well.  However, just when I began to feel mildly bored, the story would reach an “interlude” and the Hawthorne’s would be off on yet another chapter of their lives, once again capturing my attention.

I thought the characterization was very well done. The author does an excellent job of painting a portrait of this woman we seem to have ignored and all but forgotten about throughout history. We are able to grasp an insight into Nathaniel through the eyes of his adoring wife, that is most intimate, and curious.

I found Sophia’s insights touching , lonely, conflicted, loyal, and quite human. She was strong willed, but battled her own demons, doubts, fears, guilt, insecurities, and of course made some really big sacrifices for the life she ultimately chose for better or worse. She was like many women today, struggling to find a balance in her life, to have a marriage, love, children, yet still have an identity of her own and be able to pursue her calling as an artist without having to give up one for the other. This balance is hard for us to find now, but was next to impossible in the mid- 1800’s.  In this respect, Sophia is one of a long line of women who stood in the shadow of their husbands, although she was just as gifted.

Despite the turmoil in her life, I still felt like this was a love story. Nathaniel was devoted to Sophia, even if his pursuits were selfish at times and there were dry periods in the marriage, the result of too many tragedies. However, the two of them were undoubtedly soul mates, connected on a level few couples experience.

Sophia’s story is one that will capture your imagination and will break your heart too, but I found her to be an inspiration as well. This is a compelling and thought provoking novel and I do recommend it, especially to those who enjoy historical fiction.

Favorite Quote: “Still, when I am in society, I feel their need and hopes on me like an actual physical pressure. They have wanted more from me than I am willing to give them, but you know that without my having to day it”- Nathaniel Hawthorne

 

Julie