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Title: The House of HawthorneSpring Book Review Button
Author: Erika Robuck
ISBN: 9780451418913
No. of Pages: 416
Genre: Historical Fiction
Origins: New American Library
Release Date: 5 May 2015

Synopsis:

“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…”

Thoughts on the Novel: There is no doubt Ms. Robuck can write. Her descriptions are divine. She utilizes her meticulous research with care and skill. She seamlessly blends fact with fiction to create a realistic glimpse into lives long past. She so thoroughly immerses readers into the historical period of the novel that it takes a second or two for readers to remember the present. She brings history alive in a way that makes it not only interesting but approachable, and she does it with lovely storytelling.

Sophia Hawthorne makes for an interesting heroine. Thanks to unusually modern-thinking parents, she is not only raised to be an independent thinker, but her mother even goes so far as to instill in Sophy the idea that marriage would stifle her artistic career and therefore should be avoided. In the 1830s, this is a shocking piece of advice for any woman. One sees this enlightened upbringing in all of Sophy’s discussions, for she is highly educated, well-spoken, outspoken and unashamed of her career and ideas.

Unfortunately, the rest of The House of Hawthorne becomes nothing more than a very bright and talented woman succumbing to the pressures and duties of marriage and motherhood. Sophia does not lose her identity as a painter so much as she firmly adopts the role of wife, mother, caretaker, financial planner, housekeeper, and overall cheerleader. There is much talk by her loved ones about her continuation of her painting, as in they do not want her to halt her career in any fashion. Similarly, there is also a lot of talk by Sophy justifying why she has set aside her paint tubes and canvases. No one has a good solution, and this well-trod conundrum women have faced and will continue to do so provides an excellent opportunity for discussion regarding the rightness or wrongness of Sophia’s decisions.

That Nathaniel and Sophia loved each other body and soul is indisputable. However, there is a repetitiveness to The House of Hawthorne that quickly grows tiresome and, frankly, rather boring. The pattern of their life together is set almost from their first meeting, and while their passion is delightful to see, there is a haze of doubt that overshadows their interactions. This is because Hawthorne was diligent about destroying personal letters, journals and the like. One would like to think Ms. Robuck perfectly captures their relationship, but the fact that there are not many original documents with which to draw insight make one feel that the depths of their intimacy and their connection are purely wishful thinking on the part of the author.

The House of Hawthorne is a beautifully-told story about a couple that just is not that interesting. The Hawthorne marriage is loving and truly special in that regard but normal in the roles each person adopts. There are millions of stories of women giving up or setting aside their lifelong dreams to become a wife and a mother, and Sophia’s story is no different. She just happens to have married one of the U.S.’s more prominent authors of all time and gave up a lucrative career as a painter to do so.

The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck

BOTTOM LINE: Lovely writing but not the best choice of subject matter and not her best book.

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