Monday, June 26

Rest in Peace

This morning following a brief memorial service, Sophia Amelia Peabody Hawthorne’s remains were interred in the Hawthorne family plot at Sleep Hollow Cemetery in Concord. For the past 135 years, the remains of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s widow and those of their firstborn daughter, Una, had lain in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery. After Hawthorne’s death in 1864, Sophia took their three children and moved to England where she died six years later.

Sophia Peabody (1809 – 1871) was one of three sisters who are probably best known from The Peabody Sisters of Salem, written by Louise Hall Tharp in 1950. The family belonged to 19th-century New England’s cultural and literary elite. Sophia’s older sister Mary (1807 – 1887) married educator Horace Mann. The eldest of the three, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (1804 – 1894) was a champion of reform and was well known for her involvement in the Transcendentalist movement and early Feminism.

I first learned about Sophia Peabody Hawthorne during my days as a tour guide at The House of the Seven Gables in Salem. Although she never lived in the house, her portrait (shown above) hung in an upstairs bedrooms (it probably still does) named for Phoebe, the main female heroin in Hawthorne’s book. When the frail Sophia met the brooding young author in 1837, a passionate romance ensued. They were married five years later and moved to Concord where their social circle included Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the family of Bronson Alcott. It has been said that when Hawthorne wrote The House of the Seven Gables, he based the character of Phoebe on his beloved Sophia.

Before he began courting Sophia, Hawthorne often visited his aunt who lived in the ancient many-gabled house (which at the time was missing some of the seven since a few gables had been removed some decades earlier). His visits inspired him to write his famous romance in 1851. Don’t call it a novel. Hawthorne was careful in his preface to designate his work a romance: “the book may be read strictly as a romance, having a great deal more to do with the clouds overhead than with any portion of the actual soil of the County of Essex,” he admonished.

Notwithstanding Hawthorne’s disclaimer, Caroline Emmerton, who was a female reformer in the tradition of the 19th-century Peabody sisters, was hoping to capitalize on the association with Hawthorne when she purchased the old house in 1908. She restored it to its 17th-century grandeur (or her version of it) and opened it as a museum a few years later. She used the proceeds to finance her settlement house work with the area’s working class immigrant community. The Gables’ long term association with Hawthorne was heightened in the 1950s when the museum’s trustees purchased Hawthorne’s birthplace, which was subsequently moved to the site.

I have very fond memories of the summers I spent as a tour guide at the Gables. It was there that I met my good friend Kate. Even though I thought she was a troublemaker, and she thought I was a nerd (I was), it was kismet that we would become great friends. Such was the magic of The House of the Seven Gables.

4 Comments:

Blogger kate m said...

This is better than returning relics to Constantinople (well, almost)! Dean, I had no idea that Sophia and Una were in London all these years. I wonder who made the decision to return them to new England... Thanks for such an interesting post script to our H7G days.

10:20 AM  
Blogger kate m said...

Dean was an adorable geek! I knew he was afraid of me, but I could smell his inner "aman" spirit even then, and I knew that there was hope for us all...
He actually looked almost the same as a H7G tourguide as he does today, confirming my hypothesis that Dean will age well (mah'sallah).

10:25 AM  
Blogger Jody said...

I had no idea Sophia was in London either. I read The Peabody Sisters of Salem a number of years ago and I feel like this is all closing a big circle for me. Time to make another trip to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetary...

12:17 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

I had a wonderful dinner at the House of the Seven Gables one evening. The food was from Sophia's cookbook. The carrot soup was particularly yummy.

12:49 PM  

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