The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism

The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism

Megan Marshall

Language: English

Pages: 624

ISBN: 0618711694

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody were in many ways our American Brontes. The story of these remarkable sisters — and their central role in shaping the thinking of their day — has never before been fully told. Twenty years in the making, Megan Marshall's monumental biograpy brings the era of creative ferment known as American Romanticism to new life. Elizabeth, the oldest sister, was a mind-on-fire thinker. A powerful influence on the great writers of the era — Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau among them — she also published some of their earliest works. It was Elizabeth who prodded these newly minted Transcendentalists away from Emerson's individualism and toward a greater connection to others. Mary was a determined and passionate reformer who finally found her soul mate in the great educator Horace Mann. The frail Sophia was a painter who won the admiration of the preeminent society artists of the day. She married Nathaniel Hawthorne — but not before Hawthorne threw the delicate dynamics among the sisters into disarray. Marshall focuses on the moment when the Peabody sisters made their indelible mark on history. Her unprecedented research into these lives uncovered thousands of letters never read before as well as other previously unmined original sources. The Peabody Sisters casts new light on a legendary American era. Its publication is destined to become an event in American biography.

This book is highly recommended for students and reading groups interested in American history, American literature, and women's studies. It is a wonderful look into 19th-century life.

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position as governess, to imagine being swept out to sea and becoming one with the surging ocean. But when the Reverend Channing “came down to the rocks where I stood stockingless” and offered to take Mary to see the open ocean, she eagerly accepted. He drove her by wagon across the island to a rocky promontory. There it began to rain, and “he took me under his arm & we went out upon that beautiful point. . . . The waves were . . . oh so beautiful! dashing up among the rocks & breaking . . .&

Mann confided in Mary his worry that he might not know how to speak to children. But Mary found herself in “a sort of little ecstacy” as she saw Horace Mann take an “electrifying part” in the meeting and enthrall his young audience with a retelling of Krummacher’s fable of “The Little Dove,” a story that Mary herself had translated for him from the original German. The man sitting next to Mary attested that Mann had the same effect in the Massachusetts legislature: “he was the man that always

herself now, could she play with any of these men, if not wife? Could she still even count all three of them as friends? She feared that both Hawthorne and Mann were drifting away from her as confidants. Did they mistake her devotion to them for unrequited love—or, perhaps worse still, flattery, when she meant only to help them realize their own genius and bring it forward? In fact, she viewed all three men as “imperfect & undeveloped,” even as she revered them. “Does the becoming interest the

from a little over 60,000 to nearly 100,000. Transience was the norm. Despite the overall growth in population, only two in every five residents of Boston in 1830 were likely to remain in the city for the next ten years. The most stable portion of the population was the wealthy, the prospective clients for the sisters’ school. New England was fast becoming a region of class disparity, particularly in its cities. In Boston in 1833, the richest 4 percent of the population controlled 59 percent of

that Sophia Peabody and Nathaniel Hawthorne planned to marry, had been fraught with tensions. Sophia’s friend and mentor Margaret Fuller had written a peculiarly brief note of congratulations, closing with the ambiguous excuse that “great occasions of bliss, of bane—tell their own story, and we would not, by unnecessary words, come limping after the true sense.” Of bane? Was Fuller jealous as well? For Nathaniel Hawthorne himself, Fuller’s feelings were strong and undivided: “If ever I saw a man

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