Elizabeth Manning Hawthorne: A Life in Letters

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9780817314989: Elizabeth Manning Hawthorne: A Life in Letters
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An annotated selection of unpublished letters by Nathaniel Hawthorne's sister.

Retrieved from seven different libraries, this corpus of letters was preserved by the Manning family chiefly for their value as records of Nathaniel Hawthorne's life and work; but they ironically also illuminate the life and mind of a fascinating correspondent and citizen of New England with incisive views and commentaries on her contemporaries, her role as a woman writer, Boston and Salem literary culture, and family life in mid-19th-century America.

This book illuminates Elizabeth's early life; the trauma caused for sister and brother by the death of their father; her and her brother's education; and the tensions the two children experienced when they moved in with their mother's family, the welthier Mannings, instead of the poorer though socially more venerable Hawthornes, following their father's death.  The letters portray Elizabeth's constrained relationship with Nathaniel's wife Sofia Peabody and counter Sophia's portrayal of her sister-in-law as a recluse, oddity, and "queer scribbler."

These 118 letters also reveal Elizabeth Hawthorne's tremendous gifts as a thinker, correspondent, and essayist, her interest in astronomy, a lifelong drive toward self-edification in many fields, and her extraordinary relationship with Nathaniel.  As a sibling and a fellow author, they were sometimes lovingly codependent and sometimes competitive.  Finally, her writing reveals the larger worlds of politics, war, the literary landscape, class, family life, and the freedoms and constraints of a woman's role, all by a heretofore understudied figure.

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About the Author:

Cecile Anne de Rocher is Assistant Professor of English at Dalton State College in Georgia and a 2004 Governor's Teaching Fellow.

Review:

"The portrait of Elizabeth that emerges is an unusual picture of a single and independent (sometimes irreverent) middle-class woman whose interests revolve around literature and politics.  Her everyday reporting of uneventful incidents is just as enlightening as her commentary of the Civil War or political unrest in Germany.  In fact, she seems to invigorate the mundane or quotidian with the same spirit and tone that Hawthorne used to combine the unusual and the commonplace."-- Monika Elbert, author of Separate Spheres No More:  Gender Convergence in American Literature,1830-1930

"Nathaniel Hawthorne and his older sister, Elizabeth, were, in their early years, reading companions and discussants of things literary. Their uncle, Robert Manning, sent Nathaniel, but not Elizabeth, to college. The Elizabeth who emerges from this collection of 118 of 288 surviving letters is an independent, beautiful, intelligent, observant, self-educated, loving, acerbic, prejudiced, and lonely woman who refused to do housework, lived out the 19th century as a boarder, read with a discerning eye, and took long walks. Her letters are worth reading not only because they reveal many details of Nathaniel's early life but also because they include critical comments on W. M. Thackeray, George Eliot, and W. D. Howells; make references to the Civil War and politics; and depict 19th-century life in the US. This volume nicely complements Patricia Dunlavy Valenti's Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, a Life: Vol. 1: 1809-1847 (CH, Dec'04, 42-2082), which discusses how Sophia was making more money from her art than Nathaniel was from his stories when they married, and details Sophia's renunciation of her beloved career at her husband's insistence.  Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers."
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