A New England Love Story Analysis
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 important that he was able to provide for his family.
For Peabody, Gaeddert emphasizes her inner strength and zest for living, although these qualities were both unrecognized and suppressed by her mother and sisters. Her mother especially would have preferred that she remain a fragile invalid. Yet Peabody thrived away from home and declared quite frankly her independence from her mother after marrying Hawthorne. She is then shown as a devoted wife who was aware of her husband’s role in American literary history. Although Peabody has been criticized for too much tampering with Hawthorne’s journals for their publication, Gaeddert sympathizes with her desire to show her husband in the most favorable light.
One theme that runs through A New England Love Story is the constant worry over financial matters that plagues even famous, well-respected writers of this period. Some, such as Emerson, were well-off, and some, such as Thoreau, did not require much, but Hawthorne and Peabody needed more income than his writing alone could provide. They never suffered abject poverty, but they also never escaped the worry and concern about money matters. Even after Hawthorne died, Peabody had financial problems and eventually moved her family to Europe so that they could live more cheaply. She died and was buried in London, far from her husband’s grave in Concord, Massachusetts.
Another theme that Gaeddert emphasizes is that, despite financial and occasional familial obstacles, the love shared by Hawthorne and Peabody was more than adequate to overcome whatever faced them. It was this love that brought them both out into the world and allowed them to establish themselves. They received and gratefully accepted help from friends, such as when Hawthorne was given political positions so that he would have a regular income, but ultimately they depended on their unreserved devotion to each other.
A New England Love Story was written specifically for young readers. This touching, real-life love story has appeal in and of itself, but also appealing is the fact that readers receive a glimpse of the period and personages of the American Renaissance, when American literature came to full bloom. Gaeddert demonstrates good research techniques and at the same time writes with a style appropriate to her audience. For some tastes, there may be too many direct passages from letters or journals used, but overall the book captures and sustains interest throughout.