Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

The starting point of The Peabody Sisters of Salem is December, 1833, when Sophia and Mary Peabody were leaving Boston on a ship bound for Cuba. Louise Hall Tharp chooses this as her introductory scene to characterize her primary subjects. Sophia was the fragile invalid whose health was the reason for the trip. Mary was the quiet, secretly suffering sister going along as Sophia’s protector. Elizabeth Peabody, the oldest and wisest sister, stayed behind to manage their family’s affairs. Also characterized by this scene are Mrs. Elizabeth Peabody, their mother, and Dr. Nathaniel Peabody, their father.

Tharp then uses five chapters to trace the Peabodys’ family history. Mrs. Peabody was a teacher, one of the few respectable occupations for ladies of her time. Mr. Peabody was also a teacher until shortly after his marriage, when his wife decided that it would be better for him to be a doctor. She was never happy, however, with his decision to go into dentistry. Nevertheless, the seeds of education were firmly planted in Peabody soil. At the age of sixteen, Elizabeth took over the running of her mother’s school, and Mary also taught; Sophia was a student in their school. For Elizabeth and Mary, this activity began an association with education that lasted for the rest of their lives.

Bringing readers back to the beginning point of her story, Tharp then documents that Sophia was doomed by her mother to the life of an invalid....

(The entire section is 505 words.)