Dr. Valenti presents the first biography of Sophia
By Scott Bigelow
Patricia Valenti's newest book on Nathaniel Hawthorne's wife shatters
long-held held beliefs about the author and the woman who profoundly
influenced his life and art.
Dr. Valenti's book, "Sophia Peabody Hawthorne: A Life, Volume
1, 1809-1847," holds the lives of Hawthorne and his wife up to
the light of modern scholarship.
Dr. Valenti has studied Hawthorne and his family for most of her academic
career. In her second book on the first family of American literature,
she offers fresh insight into the private side of the author's life.
An English professor at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke,
Dr. Valenti, is an outstanding scholar and teacher, winning the 2004
UNC Board of Governor's Award for Teaching Excellence. She has been
on the faculty at UNCP since 1984.
Dr. Valenti's first book, "To Myself a Stranger: A Biography of
Rose Hawthorne Lathrope," is about Hawthorne's daughter. As a convert
to Catholicism and originator of the hospice movement, Rose established
herself as one of the most important women of the late 19th century.
Dr. Valenti's work is no mere revision of scholarly truths. It is an
explosion of the historical perception of Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
"She was 32 when they married, so there was this other life that
she lived," Dr. Valenti said. "There are thousands of pages
of letters and journals to draw from."
has never been seriously studied," Dr. Valenti said. "The
only way we knew about her was the way her husband described her."
Sophia Peabody Hawthorne is known almost exclusively in her role as
the wife of Nathaniel, who portrayed her as the fragile, ethereal, infirm
"Dove." The image invented by Nathaniel served his needs but
the reality was very different from fiction.
Dr. Valenti's research reveals an independent, sensuous and daring woman.
Sophia was an accomplished artist before her marriage to Nathaniel,
and she ignited Nathaniel's imagination.
"She changed the way he thought," Dr. Valenti said. "It
was not acknowledged, but people now recognize the marital relationship
and the influence of a wife on her husband. Look at Nancy and Ronald
In "Sophia Peabody Hawthorne," Dr. Valenti places the story
of Sophia's life within its own context, as well as within the context
of her marriage. Dr. Valenti begins the book with parallel biographies
of Sophia and Nathaniel at comparable periods in their lives.
Sophia was born into a progressive home, in which women played strong
roles. She was an ambitious and talented student, who aspired to become
a professional painter.
While an 18-month journey to Cuba was a watershed event in the young
Sophia's life, by comparison, Nathaniel's travels took him as far as
Niagara Falls, Dr. Valenti said.
Nathaniel's early life contrast sharply with the experience of the
worldly woman who became his wife. Those differences resulted in a creative
tension that inspired his best writing during the first years of their
Volume I of Dr. Valenti's biography concludes with the birth of their
second child. The book also offers fresh interpretations of Nathaniel
Hawthorne's fiction, examining it through the filter of Sophia's personality.
Students and scholars of American literature, literary theory, feminism
and cultural history will find much to enrich their understanding of
this woman and the era.
The publication of the first volume coincides with the bicentennial
celebration of Nathaniel Hawthorne's birth on July 4, 2004. Dr. Valenti,
who is a consultant on the Hawthorne Museum in Salem, Mass., will be
on hand for four days of festivities.
Dr. Valenti hopes the second volume will be published on the bicentennial
of Sophia's birth in 2009.The author said her job in the second volume
is to carry the reader to the deaths of Nathaniel and Sophia.
"Sophia Peabody Hawthorne: A Life, Volume 1, 1809-1847"(0-8262-1528-9,
$44.95 cloth) is available at local bookstores or directly from the
University of Missouri Press. Individuals placing orders should include
$4 shipping and handling for the first book and $1 for each additional
book. For further publicity information contact Beth Chandler, University
of Missouri Press, 2910 LeMone Boulevard, Columbia, Mo., 65201.
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