As a biography, Gaeddert’s book does not present thoroughly detailed lives of her subjects. She does cover the whole range of their personal histories, but her primary focus is on the transforming power of love in their lives. This notion is a romantic one, but it nevertheless seems to hold true in this case. Both Hawthorne and Peabody had relatives who would have preferred them to stay the way they were—Hawthorne a recluse and Peabody an invalid—but their mutual attraction and their ensuing love and devotion overcame obstacles and allowed them to become significant people of the world.
Through her use of family histories, especially in the first two chapters, Gaeddert gives young readers a good sense and appreciation of the social and cultural history of this period in New England. The book is not intended to capture fully the golden age of American literature, but readers can recognize the magic of the era that produced Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850), Melville’s Moby Dick (1851), and Thoreau’s Walden (1854).
The author produces an accurate portrait of Hawthorne based on standard resource books, as well as on journals and letters. Students of Hawthorne can recognize the family roots of eccentricity, the social reticence, the occasional self-indulgence, and the determination to produce literature of first quality. Also shown by Gaeddert are Hawthorne’s roles as beau, lover, husband, and family man; it is evident that his wife and children were high priorities in Hawthorne’s life. He wanted to be a great writer, but it was just as...
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A New England Love Story was a Literary Guild Selection for Young Adults. It can be an important book for these readers because The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables (1851) are often read at the high-school level, and many of Hawthorne’s short stories, such as “Young Goodman Brown,” “The Minister’s Black Veil,” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” are widely anthologized. Gaeddert’s book reveals the human life behind these monumental works in American literature. Also, by intertwining these two lives, readers are made aware of how American literature and thinking were influenced during this period in New England. Hawthorne’s work overshadows the achievements of his wife’s family, but Gaeddert’s book does provide an appreciation of the role that the Peabodys played in the cultural history of the time. Their importance to education in America is undeniable.
Gaeddert takes information from some standard secondary sources to give readers a brief overview of the life and times of Sophia Peabody and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Beyond that, however, she gleans details from such primary sources as their letters and journals to capture the romance of their lives. The principal motivation of the book seems to be to show the power of love and, in this case, its effect on American literary history. Through the glimpse that Gaeddert gives of Hawthorne and New England history, young readers could be motivated to learn even more about the writer and the period.