"Coming to Europe," coming to authorship: Sophia Hawthorne and her Notes in England and Italy.
Despite these facts, Sophia Hawthorne is seldom thought of or treated as an author. Indeed, her entrance into the public world of print is a part of her story that is usually forgotten, ignored, or dismissed, for it co-exists only uneasily with accepted views of Hawthorne as the quintessential Victorian woman, content to live her life within the confines of nineteenth-century gender codes. In his famous 1884 biography of his parents, Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, Julian Hawthorne drew the outlines of a life from which few have departed. "She lived for her husband," Julian writes of his mother, and when he gives an account of Sophia's considerable literary activities after Nathaniel's death, which included both the editing of her husband's journals and the publication of her own book, Julian mentions only her editorial work. In one of the latest revisionings of the Hawthorne family, Dearest Beloved: The Hawthornes and the Making of the Middle-Class Family, T. Walter Herbert goes further than previous biogr aphers in recognizing Hawthorne as a complex woman (and he does mention Notes), but he ultimately endorses established opinion when he contends that Hawthorne "pioneered a convention of womanhood that obliged her to deploy her creative power vicariously, through Nathaniel. Among women who have sought to fulfill themselves through the achievements of a man, few have succeeded better than Sophia" (38). Nina Baym concurs in "Again and Again, the Scribbling Women," writing that Sophia "had given up whatever public ambition she might have had in exchange for drawing her life's meaning from Hawthorne's life" (24). And Luanne Jenkins Hurst, in an examination of Sophia's contributions to Nathaniel's career, foregrounds a line from a Sophia Hawthorne letter--"If I could help my husband in his labors, I feel that that would be the chief employ of my life"--but fails to note two cases of true literary influence: Nathaniel's use of Sophia's journal-writing as a source for "Edward Randolph's Portrait" and "Drowne's Wooden Image" (Hall).
I argue that the standard, accepted picture of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne is but a half-truth. Certainly, she embraced her life as wife to America's "great romancer" and mother of three children. Indeed, as we have seen, she herself helped foster the impression that these roles, with their requisite subordination of self, brought her total fulfillment ("If I could help my husband in his labors ..."). However, the publication of her book testifies to quite another impulse--the impulse to speak with her own voice, to tell her own story, to claim authority and authorship for herself. As Mary Kelley notes in Private Woman, Public Stage, entering "the public realm," for a woman, was "a testing of the limits imposed upon a woman's life, and it suggested the will or the desire on the woman's part to test or resist those limits, It suggested a new assertion of a woman's being ..." (125). I contend that the publication of Notes was just such a "new assertion" for Sophia Hawthorne, that it was a triumph of her will to cr eate and a telling transgression of her culture's gender codes.
Like women before and after her, Hawthorne's coming to authorship was characterized by ambivalence and struggles not just with "cultural constraints" but also "between herself and herself" (Gilbert and Gubar 17)--the artistic self that desired expression, and the socialized self that had internalized its culture's dictums and valuations of women. Indeed, Hawthorne's 1869 book venture was not the first but rather the third time Hawthorne had been presented with the opportunity to publish. Her famous sister Elizabeth Peabody had urged her to "go public" with letters she wrote from Cuba, 1833-35, and both Elizabeth and James T. Fields, Nathaniel Hawthorne's editor and partner in the powerful Ticknor and Fields publishing house, approached Hawthorne on the subject of her English letters and Italian journals in 1859. She refused all proposals. Sophia and Nathaniel responded to Fields's 1859 proposition in separate letters but with one voice. Nathaniel declared that Fields was "quite right in wanting Mrs. Hawthorne for contributress; ... I have never read anything so good as some of her narrative and descriptive epistles to her friends; but I doubt whether she would find sufficient inspiration in writing directly for the public" (18: 203). (2) The letter echoes another written some two years earlier to William Ticknor, in which Nathaniel proclaims, "Mrs. Hawthorne altogether excels me as a writer of travels. Her descriptions are the most perfect pictures that ever were put on paper" (18: 63). Sophia's response to Fields's 1859 request was more adamant than her husband's. "I am very sorry indeed," she writes,
that you should ask me to do any thing for you which I cannot possibly do. I assure you most earnestly that nothing less urgent and terrible than the immediate danger of starvation for my husband and children would induce me to put myself into a magazine or a pair of book covers. You forget that Mr Hawthorne is the Belleslettres portion of my being, and besides that I have a repugnance to female authoresses in general, I have far more distaste for myself as a female authoress in particular. (18: 202)
The passage is rich and suggestive. When she denotes "Mr Hawthorne" as "the Belleslettres portion" of her being, Sophia Hawthorne simultaneously lays claim to and displaces a "self" that is literary and productive/creative. Yet the statement is literally inaccurate, for throughout her life Hawthorne was an avid letter writer and journal keeper: some fifteen hundred of her letters and portions of at least nineteen diaries and journals, dating from 1829-1871, are housed in various collections today. Hawthorne also constructs an intriguing physical/sexual metaphor when she refers to authorship as "putting [her] self into a pair of book covers," voicing the vulnerability, discomfort, even shame she would feel in coming before the public. The most disturbing line in the passage, though, is certainly the expression of what can only be called loathing--Hawthorne uses the word "repugnance"--for other women and that part of her self that might aspire to or attempt authorship.
However, a letter by Sophia Hawthorne to her sister Elizabeth Peabody about the 1859 proposal sounds a very different note indeed, speaks another part of Hawthorne's divided self, and articulates the desire upon which she would act almost ten years later. Unlike the Hawthomes' letters to Fields, this missive portrays the couple in conflict and suggests that the united front they presented outside the family circle was just that a front. "I see," Hawthorne writes,
that it is my plain duty not to argue the matter any further with Mr. Hawthorne. I perceive what his cool reason prescribes for him....You know I have to postpone all my own possibilities in the way of art. But I have always had a vast fund of patience and devoutly believe I shall have a scope and field for all I can do in another world, if not in this....Oh there is often so much richer a return for giving up than having--that to have seems to me far the lesser boon. (3)
This passage contains no hint of the "distaste" for female authoresses or artists that Hawthorne professed in her letter to Fields. Instead, even as it endorses the nineteenth-century ideals of "true womanhood"--duty, subservience, and self-sacrifice--that worked to keep women confined in the home and the domestic, it refers overtly to Hawthorne's artistic "possibilities," and it writes an afterlife in which dreams and ambitions are realized.
It seems clear, then, that despite the praise Nathaniel often had for his wife's writing, when it came to publication, he enforced his society's restrictive gender codes. (4) Indeed, the rather casual tone of Nathaniel's November 28, 1859, remark to Fields--"I doubt whether she would find sufficient inspiration in writing for the public"--is belied in a letter penned one day later to Francis Bennoch:
Mrs. Hawthorne had a note from Fields, yesterday, requesting her to become a contributor to the Atlantic Monthly! I don't know whether I can tolerate a literary rival at bed and board; there would probably be a new chapter in the "Quarrels of Authors?' However, I make myself at ease on that score, as she positively refuses to be famous, and contents herself with being the best wife and mother in the world. (18:204)
The exclamation point at the end of the first sentence communicates the level of Nathaniel's agitation. His figuring of Sophia Hawthorne, author, as a rival "at bed" is even more telling, suggesting that for Nathaniel, a publishing wife was an emasculating threat. (5) Nor was this the first time Nathaniel had considered the possibility, or inscribed it in sexual terms. In 1856, he wrote to his wife about a new issue of the Little Pilgrim, Grace Greenwood's magazine for children:
In Grace Greenwood's last "Little Pilgrim," there is a description of her new baby !!! ...I wonder she did not think it necessary to be brought to bed in public, or, at least, in presence of a committee of the subscribers. My dearest, I cannot enough thank God, that, with a higher and deeper intellect than any other woman, thou hast never--forgive me the bare ideal--never prostituted thyself to the public....It does seem to me to deprive women of all delicacy; it has pretty much such an effect on them as it would to walk abroad through the streets, physically stark naked. (17: 456)
How was it, then, that Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, a woman who had throughout her life practiced the art of writing but who had never crossed the threshold into the public realm--how or why was it that in 1869 she did just that? Certainly, the factors leading to this moment were many and various, including the financial problems Hawthorne and her children experienced after Nathaniel's death in 1864. In this respect, Sophia's 1859 letter to Fields was all too prescient. Yet we can also note that in penning the phrase, "nothing less terrible and urgent than immediate starvation ... would induce me to put myself into a magazine or a pair of book covers," Hawthorne was leaving herself an opening, constructing the conditions under which she would find publication permissible; she was, in essence, allowing for the possibility. Indeed, for many nineteenth-century women, entering the literary marketplace was easier when it was done under the banner of home and family--it was, to borrow a phrase from Dennis Porter, to " conflate the opposition, to make a duty of desire" (11). Mary Kelley remarks on this fact in her study of those nineteenth-century American writing women she terms "literary domestics." "From their literary income," Kelley notes,
[these women] supported or contributed to the support of themselves and their families, yet felt compelled to justify that support on the basis of domestic need. ... [T]heir need to rationalize [their actions] in domestic terms underlined the fact that they were women of the home who simultaneously came to assume the male roles of public figure, economic provider, and creator of culture. They became hybrids, a new breed, or ... literary domestics. (xi, 111)
Sophia Peabody Hawthorne was one of this "new breed."
Some scholars believe that financial need alone motivated Sophia Hawthorne to publish Notes. Mary Suzanne Schriber contends that "only the dire financial straits that pertained in 1869 when she gathered together her Notes could drive Sophia Hawthorne to publish" (Writing Home 122-23). Thomas Woodson likewise maintains, in the "Historical Commentary" to the Centenary edition of The English Notebooks, 1853-1856, that "for Sophia, the eventual publication of her letters ... was much more an act of economic necessity than the expression of a 'literary rivalry' of any kind. Her final emergence as what her husband might have called a 'female scribbler' occurred for the same reasons and at the same time as her editing of his notebook" (Woodson 733-34). I disagree with this argument for several reasons. First, indications are that by 1868-69, the severe financial problems that beset Hawthorne after her husband's death--and that seem to have been most acute in 1866-67(6)--were diminishing. Hawthorne's editing began to bring in money in i866, when the American Notebooks appeared in twelve installments in the Atlantic Monthly, for which Sophia was paid one hundred dollars each. When Passages from the American Notebooks appeared in late 1868, Hawthorne received at least five hundred dollars from the English publishers alone (Simpson 694). That same year, Hawthorne moved her family to Dresden, Germany, where Julian planned to enroll in the famous Dresden Realschule, or Polytechnic, to study engineering (Bassan 45), and where Hawthorne believed the family could live more economically. Early entries in Hawthorne's 1869 Dresden journal show careful and precise accounting of financial outlays, such as the following record for January 7 (cited in thaler, groschen, and pfennig):
gave [Julian] for entrance fee [to the Mathematical Institute] 2t. 00g. 00p I gave Joanna for food 1. 00. 00. Rose for buttons 13. 3. Hooks 3. 4 Candle glasses 10. 55. 10.
Entries like this one, though, become scarce as the months pass, suggesting that Hawthorne was less careful with and less anxious about money. Records of piano lessons for Rose and German lessons for Julian; of ceilings being white-washed and walls papered; and of tickets purchased to symphony and opera performances indicate that the family was not living on a shoe-string.
Additionally, the timeline of Hawthorne's editorial and authorial work itself argues that Notes was more than just a financial enterprise for its author and that Hawthorne did harbor authorial ambitions. As I have noted, Passages from the American Notebooks, the first of the three sets of Nathaniel's journals that Hawthorne edited and published, appeared in late 1868. As early as December 1867, Hawthorne had also begun work on the English Notebooks (Woodson 736-37), but in 1869 she laid them aside and turned to a new project and one that was wholly her own. From January to May of that year, she records in her journal that she is steadily working on the manuscript for Notes; it was published later the same year. In June 1869, she returned to Nathaniel's English Notebooks, re-reading copy written earlier, making additional revisions, and transcribing another volume of the Notebooks that she found "after I thought I had done all." (7) Passages from the English Notebooks was published in England and the United St ates in 1870; Passages from the French and Italian Notebooks followed in 1871-72. The question the timeline poses is this: with the English Notebooks almost complete and the French and Italian Notebooks awaiting her attention as well, why would Hawthorne interrupt her editorial work to produce her own book, if money was her sole concern? If the image of Sophia Hawthorne, author, was indeed as "repugnant" to her as she had once claimed, why not save her own letters and journals until she had absolutely no other options, or at least until she had published all of her husband's notebooks? I believe the answer is that Hawthorne was motivated by more than money; that she did, in fact, long to be recognized not just as an editor/preserver of her husband's writing and creations, but as a creator and a word-crafter herself Notably, too, the impulse that produced Notes was not a lone one. On June 26, 1869, Hawthorne records in her journal that she is reviewing her "Cuba Journal"--those letters from Cuba that Elizabeth Peabody had encouraged her to bring out some thirty years earlier--to determine if they are fit to publish. Although she decided they would not do--"There is so much about people in them," (8) she writes--it is interesting to speculate that Hawthorne might have published again, had she not died in 1871. And, finally, we must add that even if Hawthorne did publish primarily to fill an empty pocketbook, she is certainly not the first or only woman or man to do so, nor does the fact negate Hawthorne's achievement or the historical and literary value of her text.
Another element in Hawthorne's life that helped pave the way for her eventual appearance in print was the exceptionally strong tradition of writing in her family of origin. In fact, every member of the Peabody family who survived early adulthood became a published author. Hawthorne's mother, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, published original poetry in a local newspaper early in her life (Bailey 553); brought out a textbook entitled Sabbath Lessons: or, An Abstract of Sacred History in i8io; and authored a children's version of Spenser, Holiness: The Legend of St. George, in 1836--accomplishments all the more notable because they occurred so early in the century. (9) Dr. Nathaniel Peabody, Sophia's father, authored The Art of Preserving Teeth (1828), and her only surviving brother, Nathaniel, wrote a history of the family that appeared in Grandmother Tyler's Book (1925). Mary Peabody Mann, the youngest of the three Peabody sisters, published with her older sister Elizabeth Moral Culture of Infancy and Kindergarten G uide (1863); co-edited with Elizabeth the Kindergarten Messenger (1873-75); wrote a three-volume biography of her husband, Life and Works of Horace Mann (1865-68); and two decades later published a novel entitled Juanita: A Romance of Real Life in Cuba Fifty Years Ago (1887).
The most important of Sophia Hawthorne's familial influences, though, was likely her older sister, Elizabeth. A pioneering educator, member of the Transcendentalist group, publisher, and book-seller, Elizabeth was also an author many times over. Key to History: First Steps to the Study of History (1832), Record of a School (1835), Aesthetic Papers (1849), Reminiscences of Reverend William Ellery Channing, D. D. (1880), and Last Evening with Allston (1886) are some of the works that issued from her pen. When Elizabeth enlisted Sophia's help on her second record of Bronson Alcott's experimental Temple School, Conversations with Children on the Gospels (1836), she likely provided Sophia with her first experience producing a text. As I have noted, it was also Elizabeth who encouraged Sophia to publish both her Cuba letters in the 183os and her European travel writings in 1859. Sophia testified to Elizabeth's importance in her life and her development as a writer when she dedicated her one published work not to he r famous husband, nor to her children, but "To Elizabeth P. Peabody, by her Sister, S. H' Elizabeth was, for Sophia Hawthorne, "a female precursor who ... [proved] by example that a revolt against patriarchal literary authority [was] possible" (Gilbert and Gubar 49).
Hawthorne's experiences with writing and, particularly, the business of publishing continued during her marriage to Nathaniel. It was not uncommon for Sophia to correspond with Nathaniel's publishers for him, and she regularly read--or heard Nathaniel read--his manuscripts before he sent them off for publication. In the case of at least one novel--The House of the Seven Gales--Sophia read proof sheets as they came back from the printer, (10) and, as the editors of the Centenary Edition Marble Faun have shown, with this the last of Nathaniel's novels, Sophia served as a kind of copy-editor, clarifying hard-to-read passages in the fair copy, systematizing pagination, and marking and making factual and stylistic changes, many of which her husband adopted. (11)
Another stage of what we could call Sophia Hawthorne's "inadvertent, unstructured apprenticeship" in writing--the "only type there could have been for a woman' Mary Kelley maintains (122)--began after her husband's death, when she edited Nathaniel's notebooks for publication. Probably no single other fact of Sophia Hawthorne's life is as well-known, or as excoriated. The criticism began when Randall Stewart discovered, upon gaining access to Nathaniel's original manuscript journals, that language in the published Notebooks had been changed, and passages in the manuscript had been inked out, even excised. His treatment of Sophia in his Introduction to The American Notebooks (1932) was scathing. He branded Sophia the "bowdlerizer" of Nathaniel's journals, condemning what he termed the "prudishness or false delicacy" that led to the changing of words like "bellies" to "paunches," and "dung" to "excrement," and "the artificial taste and cultivation" that led to the substitution of "ill" for "sick" and "drinking" for "swilling" (xv, xvi). He charged that "the published version [of the journals] seriously misrepresents [Hawthorne's] character and literary genius" (xiii).
Much less well-known, unfortunately, are Stewart's later findings, based upon his study of the correspondence between Sophia Hawthorne and James Fields while Hawthorne was at work on the Notebooks. That correspondence, Stewart wrote, threw "new light on Mrs. Hawthorne's editing and the extent of her responsibility in the early editions of Hawthorne's journals," revealing that "Fields exerted an important influence upon her editorial work." And he concluded that "[i]f [Hawthorne] had had an entirely freehand, her editions would doubtless have been less unfaithful to the originals" ("Editing" 314-15). Although Stewart still found Hawthorne guilty' of what he terms "editorial sins," he also noted that in some cases it was Sophia who argued strongly for the retention of Nathaniel's original words. In one instance, for example, Sophia went to bat for Nathaniel's use of the words "dreadful earnest," crossing swords with the proofreader, Mr. Nichols, in the process:
The expression "dreadful earnest" is the one Mr. Hawthorne uses with great force--far more force it has than "dreadfully earnest." He uses the word earnest as a noun--and the epithet dreadful as meaning full of dread--not in the hacknied way. In this I disagree with Mr. Nichols. It must remain I think" dreadful earnest"--unless we undertake to improve Mr. Hawthorne's English, which I think cannot well be done, for he used words very thoughtfully and conscientiously. (qtd. in "Editing" 305)
At another time, Hawthorne wrote Fields that "I often am obliged to fight about moods of verbs--about which Mr. Hawthorne was very nice--.... These happy words are a peculiarity and specialty of Mr. Hawthorne's style, and must always be retained" (qtd. in "Editing" 314). Hawthorne also realized, with the instincts of an artist herself, the value of Nathaniel's journals. "My first idea," she once wrote Fields. "was that the journals were very rapid sketches--mere outlines, cartoons of the great pictures he meant to paint fully out"; at another time she compared them to the "pen and ink and pencil sketches of the pictures of the old masters, in the contemplation of which we come so very near the creative soul of the artist" (qtd. in Stewart, "Editing" 300. 301). Stewart concludes that Hawthorne spotted the "germ of Pearl," the "first idea of the grand Procession of Life," and seems to have been in favor of printing the journal account of a young woman's drowning, which Nathaniel drew upon for his rendering of Z enobia's death in The Blithedale Romance ("Editing" 302, 309, 311).
Subsequent editors of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Notebooks agree with Stewart's later assessment. In his balanced treatment of the subject, Claude M. Simpson notes the "gentility and propriety [that] motivated [Sophia] consistently" in her editorial changes, but maintains as well that "in effect, [Fields] taught her how to edit according to contemporary standards" (685-86). Thomas Woodson observes, too, Sophia's penchant for suppressing "references to tobacco and alcoholic beverages, accounts of sexual actions and bodily functions," and names of living persons, but allows that many of her alterations were those "any copy editor would make" (738-41).
What I argue for here is that, whatever we may think of Hawthorne's editorial principles, work on her husband's notebooks and journals gave her valuable first-hand experience in all that was involved in transforming private writings into a published book: from selection of material to grammatical dean-ups, from the discipline of copying to experience dealing with publishers and proofreaders. It was, you might say, a dress rehearsal, for immediately after she finished editing the American Notebooks, she began work on her own. In her 1869 journal, Hawthorne records that on January 3 she "wrote Preface to the 2d Ed. of [Nathaniel Hawthorne's] Am Notes"; on January 14 she put a bundle of manuscript into the mail; and on January15 she "copied [the] cathedral letters [the name by which she designated her letters written from England, and which make up the first section of Notes] all PM till 12 at night." (12) Moving from Nathaniel's manuscripts to her own, she hardly missed a beat. Copying and editing her letters a nd journals as she had her husband's, Hawthorne this time produced a text that would bear her name. Her sureness of purpose reveals the confidence, gained through experience, with which she approached this new task. Her "apprenticeship" was complete.
An additional factor in Hawthorne's coming to authorship, I believe, was the influence of Europe itself. For it was within the "foreign" contexts of England and Italy that she composed the works she would later publish; and it was in Dresden, Germany, where she moved with her children in 1868, four years after her husband's death, that she revised her letters and journals to produce Notes. (13) As William W. Stowe writes in Going Abroad: European Travel in Nineteenth-Century American Culture, "Americans ... used Europe as a setting for personal liberation and the fulfillment of desire," as a stage for independent self-definition, for establishing personal relations with culture and society that did not necessarily fit the conventional patterns prescribed by hometown and family standards" (xii, 5). One of the most famous examples of a nineteenth-century American woman artist who used Europe as a means of escaping the confining cultural patterns of her native land, and of exploring, even re-making herself, was transcendentalist writer Margaret Fuller. Several other notable American women were part of the expatriate artists' community in Rome while the Hawthornes were there, such as Harriet Hosmer, Maria Lander, Edmonia Lewis, and Margaret Foley. In fact, as William H. Gerdts notes, the United States alone, among other nations, "knew a collective feminine presence" of artists in Italy in the mid-nineteenth century (69). For Sophia Hawthorne as for these other women, Europe was a site for re-creating or re-visioning the self and for fulfilling forbidden desires. As she wrote her letters and journals during her initial European tour (1853-1860), she also wrote a self that was empowered--by virtue of her experiences and adventures--to "[claim] the authority of a writer and guide," to act as teacher and interpreter (Stowe 12). When she returned to Europe in 1868 and set about preparing her manuscript for publication, another desire was enacted, another self fashioned, and in 1869 she presented herself to the world as So phia Hawthorne, author.
So how does Hawthorne write herself in the pages of Notes? What kind of persona does she create against the backdrop of Europe? She is an American woman with democratic principles who nevertheless betrays class-consciousness and a desire for importance when she notes that she and her family regularly stay in first-rate accommodations. She is wife to an American writer acclaimed abroad as well as at home, whose status ensures the family extraordinary treatment. Although Nathaniel is most often referred to in the text as "Papa," we are yet sure to know his identity, for on the title page of Notes our author identifies herself as "Mrs. Nathaniel Hawthorne." She is also the mother of three children, referred to in the text by the initial letters of their first names--U. (Una), J. (Julian), and R. (Rose, or "baby")--and she extols the role. In describing one picture of the holy family, by Francia, Hawthorne muses on Mary as mother: "Mary's face is extremely beautiful, matronly, pure and intellectual... as if her e xperience were deep and wide. It is a MOTHER, with a perfect sense of all a mother s responsibilities" (209). She is educated and literary, quoting readily from a host of authors such as Wordsworth, Burns, Byron, Scott, Herbert, Smollett, Dante, and Virgil. And she aligns herself especially, and not surprisingly, with the Romantic tradition when she devotes chapters of her book to Newstead Abbey, home of George Gordon, Lord Byron, and pilgrimages through Burns's and Sir Walter Scott's country.
With a quick wit, a ready pen, and an eye for detail and description, as her husband so often noted, Hawthorne gives us characterizations worthy of a novelist and metaphors both apt and clever in the pages of Notes. One elderly caretaker encountered at Bolton Priory in England is described as a "bundle of wrinkles, held together by a velvet jacket and small-clothes [sic], [who] rested on his spade, and gazed at me out of his queer little eyes, but spoke never a word. He resembled one of the gothic gurgoyles [sic] which are carved on the cloisters and at the springing of the arches of cathedrals" (17). A cabman in York has "a face exactly like dough just beginning to become bread, still quite white" (23); and the shop of an antiquarian collector is, Hawthorne tells us, "about as big as one division of a walnut" (56). Skillful representations of dialect add to some portraits. In Scotland, after touring Inversnaid, Hawthorne writes that "it was all in harmony to hear the Scotch dialect and accent on every side. Mothers calling out to their bairns 'Take care, noo! Sit doon or ye'll fa". 'Dinna put the roup in her mou, it's nae gude' and so on" (169).
Often, too, of course, Hawthorne is tour guide and historian. The following passage, recounting a visit to the mausoleum of celebrated Scottish Romantic poet, Robert Burns, is exemplary in its blend of description, subjective response, and objective fact:
[The mausoleum] is round, with a dome, and formerly was open to the air.... The sculpture is by Turnerelli, in very high relief. Burns stands with the plough, and Scotland's Muse hovers in the air, about to wrap him in her mantle.... [T]he face is said to be a perfect likeness. The figure is stout and well made, and the head large and compact, with clustering hair, large eyes and mouth, and the whole expression pleasant.... He died on the 22d of July, 1796, when but thirty-seven years old, sixty-one years ago; and in 1815.... his coffin was removed to its present abiding place.... (125)
Perhaps more than anything else, though, Sophia Hawthorne sees herself and inscribes herself within her text as an artist and an art connoisseur. For, in fact, Hawthorne was an artist. She had studied with Washington Allston, Thomas Doughty, and Chester Harding, some of the most prominent figures in the nineteenth-century American art world; had exhibited her paintings professionally in the 1830s; and had commanded, at one time, up to fifty dollars apiece for her fine, reputedly flawless copies (Valenti n27 p. 18; 6). (14) Like other American artists, she had dreamed of touring Europe and seeing the masterpieces she had long admired, studied, and, in not a few cases, copied. As she wrote when she visited the Pitti Palace in Florence, "To-day I saw Michel Angelo's Three Fates; and I needed more than one pair of eyes to gaze, for I had all my life wished to see it" (360). The Preface to Notes announces Hawthorne's predilection, the purpose of her work, and the design that helps unify a book composed of letters written from England and Scotland and journals kept in Italy, penned over a period of years. "1f", she writes, Notes "will aid any one in the least to enjoy, as I have enjoyed, the illustrious works of the Great Masters in Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting, I shall be well repaid for the pain it has cost me to appear before the public". The structure of Notes bears out the emphasis in the Preface: while the Hawthorne family lived in England for over five years, "our old home" occupies only 117 pages of Hawthorne's text, with a trip to Scotland receiving an additional seventy-seven pages. Italy, however, the great land of art, where the Hawthornes sojourned for one year and four months, receives 352 pages, and of those 352, Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance, occupies 163.
In Writing Home, Mary Schriber also identifies art as the dominant concern of Hawthorne's text and finds that Hawthorne most fully "lives in those passages in Notes that record visits to galleries and critiques of art" (117). Schriber and I disagree fundamentally, however, in our readings of the book. Schriber believes that Notes is an example of autobiographical "self-destruction" and that in it, Hawthorne attempts to portray herself as her culture's ideal of Woman and "erase those aspects of herself that are other" (93, 109). One of those "other" selves, according to Schriber, is Hawthorne as artist, who is compellingly articulate" in the "several stunning descriptions of art works that punctuate her account" (117). As I point out, though, Notes is predominantly given over to descriptions of art, and there are far more than "several stunning accounts" in its pages. I argue, in opposition to Schriber, that Notes is rather a testament to and expression of Hawthorne's creative spirit, and that in its pages, So phia Hawthorne--wife, mother, and nineteenth-century woman-figures herself as well as artist and writer.
In Part I, "Notes in England," great architectural works take the stage. York Minster, Lincoln and Peterboro Cathedrals, and St. Botolph's Church each head up a chapter; indeed, as I have mentioned, in her 1869 journal Hawthorne customarily refers to the letters that make up this section as her "Cathedral letters." Hawthorne's account of her visit to Peterboro Cathedral is characteristic:
After dinner we took a walk. Peterboro is a very small town gathered in front of its glorious minster....As we entered the Close, the world seemed shut out, as it always does inside these monastic retreats ... upon me the effect of the three vast arches of the western facade was more sublime and magnificent than that of any architecture I have yet seen in England....I did not know before what a grand power lay in a lofty curve, and words can never convey an idea of it. The first impression was that those arches had more to do with heaven than earth. Though the line returns again to the same level from which it rises, yet it seems to have been transfigured as it soared and sang in its circuit. They are the emblem of a saint's soul, whose visible form still exists. He stands on the earth, but his spirit has ascended into another world, and remains there, in truth, though he is yet with us in mortal guise. They are an image of endless aspiration in constant rest....(71-72)
Here as elsewhere in Notes, Hawthorne, a true aesthete, is inspired to beautiful prose by the beauty she beholds. The "lofty curve" becomes an "emblem" and an "image" of earthly aspiration and of the human spirit that, like an arch, would soar heavenward, only to return (during this life) again to earth. The power of the form transmutes it into something that is almost alive, that "soars" and "sings." And its paradoxical nature-although it is fixed and static, it seems, as the eye follows the curve of the line, to be motion itself-represents to Hawthorne the marriage of other opposites: heaven and earth, aspiration and rest.
Artist and interpreter, Hawthorne turns instructor and art historian in succeeding paragraphs on the Cathedral:
[F]rom the Lady-chapel, all along the aisles to the west front, on the walls beneath the windows, are the intersected arches, which first suggested the pointed arch. I took great pains to draw you some of them, to show you the transition steps from Norman to the early English or pointed style. The Norman arch is a perfect semicircle, heavy and massive. Doors, windows, and arches were all rounded, and the pillars were very thick, and the sculptured ornaments bold and rude. By degrees the style was enriched with zigzag adornments and the chevron; and then came the intersected arch. (76-77)
This passage retains many qualities of the original letter, written to Hawthorne's oldest child Una, (15_ such as the use of the familiar "you," which creates a sense of immediacy and intimacy and carries the audience of Notes into the scene. Hawthorne also refers to a sketch that accompanies her explanation of the Norman, the early English, and the intersected arches. It was her habit, observable in some of her earliest preserved letters and journals, to accompany her writing with sketches, and it was her habit as well to take a sketchbook with her while she toured, at once practicing her artistic skills and capturing, in images as well as words, for herself and others, the sights and scenes of Europe.
Hawthorne's emphasis on art is only intensified in the Italian portion of Notes. Many accounts of individual works occupy two to three pages of printed text, like the description of Guido Reni's Archangel Michael slaying the dragon, a portion of which is quoted below. I include lengthy passages of text here because Notes is not readily available, having long been out of print, and because it is important to an understanding of what Hawthorne aspired to do, and what she succeeded in doing, as a result of her unique combination of gifts. With the knowledge of a working artist and the skill of a practiced writer, Hawthorne captures and recreates in words some of the world's greatest masterpieces. Notable in the following passage are the care with which Hawthorne denominates color--the corselet is sapphire," not blue, the mantle is "crimson," not red; the frequency of figurative language, especially simile and metaphor; and the coherence and completeness of the description:
The armory of heaven seems to have been exhausted to furnish forth the splendor of his array. His corselet is of sapphire, and identical with the curves and lines of the glorious form. A crimson mantle floats around him, like the red band in the rainbow let loose for his adornment, a symbol of his flaming love; and from his brow waves backward light spirals of pale gold hair. The sandals are bound upon his feet with lacings of azure and gold, and fastened high with large rubies that burn like fire. How can any one describe the aerial tread of those angelic feet? The left one is planted upon the head of the dragon, who looks up at the seraphic vision with the face (it is said) of [Pope] Innocent Tenth, an evil-eyed old demon, and now powerless beneath the ethereal touch. The right foot rests upon a rock, with as little effect of weight as the alighting of a bird upon a tree. It is the insubstantial yet immutable firmness of divine power.... One hand, the left, holds the chain with which the dragon is to be bou nd, and which already secures him. The right is uplifted, grasping a sword, in act to strike. The glitter and flash of the inevitable stroke dazzle as it descends. Outspread wings of pencil-color, just the hue of the shaded side of a cloud near the moon, hold poised this celestial Leader of the Hosts of God. The downcast white lids, with dark lashes, the untroubled brow, the curves of the closed lips, without disdain or pride, but tender and sweet, though resolute without effort, show the messenger of Our Father. What endless worlds of meaning are evolved from this master-piece. A perfect work is a unit of Truth, and all truth is one. (277-78)
"Outspread wings of pencil-color, just the hue of the shaded side of a cloud near the moon"--certainly only an artist could conceive such a color-description, but only a writer with an artist's sensibility could translate a seen object so completely into a "word picture." Indeed, Hawthorne's word pictures sometimes move into the realm of pure poetry, as in the following description of the famous Campanile, or bell-tower, in Florence, designed by Giotto Di Bondone:
Giotto must have diffused his spirit through the stones and lines. One of its bells sang out as we passed--a deep, round, liquid sound.... It was music, dropped through water.... It was as if the great dome itself had roiled from the soul of its artist, a pure globe of melody, and dropped singing into the sea of space. (341)
Another sustained passage of highly imaginative prose is found in Hawthorne's description of the famous--one might say notorious--portrait of Beatrice Cenci, which also figures prominently in her husband's last novel, The Marble Faun. As T. Walter Herbert notes, "The Cenci" was "a central icon of the AngloAmerican fascination" with Rome, and "the Hawthornes were among those who found it endlessly absorbing" (219). Believed in the nineteenth-century to be the work of Guido Reni, the painting portrays the woman at the center of a sensational and tragic tale. Allegedly the victim of an incestuous relationship perpetrated by her step-father, Beatrice Cenci was later convicted of conspiring in his murder and was executed. Hawthorne takes the portrait as her text and reads there a story of innocence overcome, yet somehow untainted, by evil. Beatrice's is a woe surpassing words as "she passes to her doom":
At last, at last! ...And now we sat down before Beatrice Cenci! ... Never from any human countenance looked out such ruin of hope, joy, and life; but there is unconsciousness still, as if she did not comprehend how or why she is crushed and lost. The white, smooth brow is a throne of infantine, angelic purity; without a visible cloud or a furrow of pain, yet a wild, endless despair hovers over it. The lovely eyes, with no red nor swollen lids, seem to have shed rivers of crystal tears that have left no stain--no more than a deluge of rain stains the adamantine arch of heaven. It is plain that the fountains are exhausted, and she can no longer obtain any solace from this outlet of grief. The delicate, oval cheeks are not flushed nor livid, but marble-pale, unaffected by the torrents that have bathed them, as if it were too hard an agony to be softened by tears. The mouth is unspeakably affecting. The rose-bud lips, sweet and tender, are parted slightly, yet with no cry, nor power to utter a word. Long-past wor ds is the misery that has banished smiles forever from the blooming flower of her mouth. Night is gathering in her eyes, and the perfect face is turning to stone with this weight of voiceless agony. She is a spotless lily of Eden, trailed over by a serpent, and unable to understand the desecration, yet struck with a fatal blight. Her gaze into the eyes of all human kind, as she passes to her doom, is pathetic beyond any possibility of describing. One must see that backward look to have the least idea of its power, or to know how Guido [Reni] has been able to express...a sorrow that has destroyed hope, and baffles the comprehension of its victim. (212-14)
While it was as an artist that she saw herself, Hawthorne also was a writer, as she reveals over and over again in the pages of her manuscript, in her skillful portraits of people and lands and in her masterful descriptions and interpretations of art and architecture. But not until 1869--a full ten years after she wrote the last of her European journals--was Hawthorne ready to re-envision herself as a professional writer, a publicly known and recognized author. In late 1868, as I have noted, Hawthorne made the bold decision to move her family to Dresden, Germany. The move was opposed by many Hawthorne family friends, (16) and it has been viewed by modern tellers of the Hawthorne tale as "a final flight" (Tharp 314), a "venture as ill conceived and pathetic as Clifford's train ride in The House of the Seven Gables" (Miller 524-25). But perhaps it was something else--perhaps it was a strike for freedom. In Haunted Journeys: Desire and Transgression in European Travel Writing, Dennis Porter writes that
at one level, most forms of travel at least cater to desire: they seem to promise or allow us to fantasize the satisfaction of drives that for one reason or another is denied us at home. As a result, not only is travel typically fueled by desire, it also embodies powerfully transgressive impulses. If, as anthropologists have long since taught us, borders of all kinds are perceived as dangerous as well as exciting places, and are associated with taboos, this is no less true of territorial borders, of tribal or national frontiers. (9)
Indeed, perhaps some of the resistance to Hawthorne's decision arose from an awareness of its implications: she was moving out of her "cultural confinement within domestic and local boundaries and ... into national and international spaces, seizing for [herself] the freedom of movement that has been the historical prerogative of the male" (Schriber, Introduction xvi). Freedom of movement; freedom of mind: Hawthorne was transgressing borders "psychological and geographical" (Schriber, Introduction xvi). Almost immediately after her arrival in Dresden, she began work on her forthcoming book. Hawthorne had entered a "new realm of being" (Kelley 125)--she had become Sophia Hawthorne, author.
Thus, I believe, Europe played a major role in Sophia Hawthorne's transformation from private writer to public author. In England and Italy in the 1850s, Hawthorne defined herself as an artist among artists, but also, importantly, as an artist who wrote. Art critic and connoisseur, she was simultaneously the teller of her own travels, the narrator of her own tale. Returning to Europe in 1868, Hawthorne cast herself in another role--that of professional Writer. Possessed of a purpose--to "aid anyone in the least to enjoy ... the illustrious works of the Great Masters," as she writes in her Preface--motivated by need, and fueled by desire, Hawthorne summoned the courage and the will to transgress external and internal boundaries and risk what she called "the pain it cost me to appear before the Public" (Preface, Notes). In coming to Europe, Sophia Hawthorne had come into herself.
I wish to thank the Henry W. and Albert Berg Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lennox and Tilden Foundations, for permission to quote from manuscript letters and journals by Sophia Peabody Hawthorne in their collections.
(1.) Some of the American women who preceded Hawthorne into print were Fanny Hall, Rambles in Europe (1836); Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Letters from Abroad to Kindred at Home (1841); Lydia Sigourney, Pleasant Memories of Pleasant Lands (1842); Margaret Fuller, Letters from Europe (1846-50); Caroline Kirkland, Holidays Abroad; or Europe from the West(1849); and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands (1854). See Harold F. Smith, American Travellers Abroad: A Bibliography of Accounts Published Before 1900.
(2.) All references to Nathaniel Hawthorne's fiction, letters, and journals, and certain of Sophia Hawthorne's letters, are to the Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and are cited by volume and page number in the text.
(3.) Letter to Elizabeth Peabody , Henry W. and Albert Berg Collection, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations, hereafter referred to as B-NYPL.
(4.) Mary Schriber concurs. See Writing Home 120-23.
(5.) Indeed, this attitude may have extended to any woman in his family, for Rose Hawthorne records an incident in which Hawthorne commanded her, while she was still quite young, "'Never let me hear of your writing stories! I forbid you to write them!"' See Lathrop 422-23.
(6.) See Randall Stewart, "Mrs. Hawthorne's Financial Difficulties," especially pages 45-52.
(7.) Holograph journal, Dresden, Germany, 1869, B-NYPL.
(8.) Holograph journal, Dresden, Germany, 1869, B-NYPL.
(9.) Hawthorne's mother, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, also testifies to the personal cost of taking up the pen in a letter quoted by Bruce A. Ronda in the Introduction to a collection of daughter Elizabeth Palmer Peabody's letters. "I mean to do all I can to keep peace," Peabody writes, "and have determined never to write anything again, excepting letters, and as few of them as possible; never to touch a book, except upon the Sabbath, and to devote every moment to work of some kind. I am convinced that my attempts to write poetry have gained me more ill will than any actions of my life" (p).
(10.) Hawthorne's entry for "Sunday [February] 9th" in her 1851 journal reads, "Two proofs came of House of Seven Gables--I read them with pert interest. There never was such perfection of style."
(11.) See Introduction to the Centenary Edition of The Marble Faun (Simpson xxv) and "Textual Introduction" of the same volume (Bowers 1xv and 1xv-1xx).
(12.) Holograph journal, Dresden, Germany, 1869, B-NYPL.
(13.) Mary Schriber also notes the "impact of European travel on an American woman" in her discussion of Hawthorne's Notes (Writing Home 123). She does not, however, comment at any length on Hawthorne's return to Europe in 1868.
(14.) Several examples of Hawthorne's work survive today: an illustration by Sophia serves as the frontispiece for a special edition of Nathaniel's "The Gentle Boy," published in 1837; a drawing of Horace Mann can be found in Mary Peabody Mann's biography of her husband; a copy of Chester Harding's portrait of Washington Allston hangs in the Massachusetts Historical Society; a bas-relief of Charles Emerson, probably executed by Hawthorne after Charles's death for her friend and Charles's fiancee, Elizabeth Hoar, is in the Emerson House in Concord, Massachusetts; and two oil paintings are housed in the Peabody Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts.
(15.) See pages 722-34 of the "Historical Commentary," volume 21 of the Centenary Edition of Hawthorne's works. Una and the couple's youngest child, Rose, remained with a nurse during three 1857 excursions taken by Nathaniel, Sophia, and Julian. The letters that make up Parts I and II of Notes, "Notes in England" and "Notes in Scotland," were written during that time. As the editors remark, letters were always, in the Peabody family, a semi-public performance; Sophia likely knew at the time she wrote these letters that they would find their way to her sister Elizabeth, and thence to other family members and friends. She may thus have had several audiences in mind when she composed them (see 21: 729).
(16.) Louise Hall Tharp records that both General Franklin Pierce and George Hillard, the Hawthorne's attorney, opposed the plan (314).
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Bowers, Fredson. Textual Introduction. The Marble Faun. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. William Charvat, et al. Vol. 4. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1968. xlv-cxxxii.
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Hawthorne, Sophia Peabody. Holograph Journal. Lenox, Massachusetts, December 26, 1850[March] 14 . Henry W. and Albert Berg Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations (B-NYPL).
-----. Holograph JournaL Dresden, Germany, January 3, 1869-December 31, 1869. B-NYPL.
-----. Letter to Elizabeth Peabody . B-NYPL.
-----. Notes in England and Italy. New York: G. P. Putnam & Son, 1869.
Herbert, T. Walter. Dearest Beloved: The Hawthornes and the Making of the Middle-Class Family. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.
Hurst, Luanne Jenkins. "The Chief Employ of Her Life: Sophia Peabody Hawthorne's Contribution to Her Husband's Career." Hawthorne and Women: Engendering and Expanding the Hawthorne Tradition. Ed. John Idol, Jr., and Melinda Ponder. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1999.45-54.
Kelley, Mary. Private Woman, Public Stage: Literary Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford UP, 1984.
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Miller, Edwin Haviland. Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1991.
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Ronda, Bruce A. Introduction. Letters of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody. By Elizabeth Peabody. Ed. Bruce Ronda. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1984. 1-46.
Schriber, Mary Suzanne. Introduction. Telling Travels: Selected Writings by Nineteenth-Century American Women Abroad. Ed. Mary Suzanne Schriber. DeKalb: Northern Illinois UP, 1995. xi-xxxi.
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Simpson, Claude M. Historical Commentary. The American Notebooks. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. Claude M. Simpson. Vol. 8. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1972. 677-98.
-----. Introduction. The Marble Faun. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. William Charvat, et al. Vol. 4. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1968. xix-xliv.
Smith, Harold F. American Travellers Abroad: A Bibliography' of Accounts Published Before 1900. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1969.
Stewart, Randall. "Editing Hawthorne's Notebooks: Selections from Mrs. Hawthorne's Letters to Mr. and Mrs. Fields, 1864-1868." More Books, Bulletin of the Boston Public Library Sept. 1945.
-----. Introduction. The American Notebooks. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. Randall Stewart. New Haven: Yale UP, 1932.
-----. "Mrs. Hawthorne's Financial Difficulties: Selections from Her Letters to James T. Fields, 1865-1868." More Books, Bulletin of the Boston Public Library, Feb.1946.
Stowe, William W. Going Abroad: European Travel in Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1994.
Tharp, Louise Hall. The Peabody Sisters of Salem. Boston: Little, Brown, 1950.
Valenti, Patricia Dunlavy. "Sophia Peabody Hawthorne: A Study of Artistic Influence." Studies in the American Renaissance (1990): 1-19.
Woodson, Thomas. Historical Commentary. The English Notebooks, 1853 -1856. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. Thomas Woodson and Bill Ellis. Vol. 21. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1997, 709-48.
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|Author:||Hall, Julie E.|
|Publication:||Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2002|
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