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The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism Hardcover – April 13, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (April 13, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395389925
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395389928
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.4 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #336,374 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Marshall's outstanding debut is a triple biography making clear that Margaret Fuller wasn't the only woman of substance in Transcendentalist circles in 19th-century Massachusetts. The Peabody sisters were bright, gifted, independent and influential; they knew a host of notables, from Abigail Adams to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Oldest sister Elizabeth, who according to Marshall helped start the Transcendentalist movement, ran a school with Bronson Alcott, who named his third daughter in her honor. Mary made a name for herself first as a teacher and writer, and as the wife of educational reformer Horace Mann, who founded Antioch College. Youngest sister Sophia was an artist whose work included illustrations for her husband, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Only Elizabeth, by all accounts the most intellectual of the sisters, never married, though she was in love with both Hawthorne and Mann before either man fell for her sisters—the bonds among the three survived, but they were, in Marshall's words, "prone to covert rivalries and shifting alliances." Marshall has distilled 20 years of research into a book that brings the sisters to life, along with their extended family and friends, and the time in which they matured: a time, Marshall notes, that allowed women to be on a more equal footing than they would enjoy later in the century. The only problem is that her book ends far too soon, covering barely the first half of the sisters' lives, the half the author finds more creative and illuminating. 57 b&w illus. Agent, Katinka Matson.(Apr. 13)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Marshall immersed herself for two decades in every scrap of information available about the Peabody sisters. She has not only recreated their world, but also—has appropriately placed them at the center of many important 19th-century reform movements. No longer will Margaret Fuller reign as the lone woman in Transcendentalist circles. The only point of disagreement among reviewers is whether Marshall should have ended the book when she did; the biography takes us through roughly half of the Peabodys’ lives and careers. Dare we hope there’s a sequel in the offing?

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Customer Reviews

Rarely does a work of non-fiction captivate me so!
C. Clark
I recommend this book to anyone who likes biographies, American history, and especially women's history.
P. Buchanan
Marshall's "The Peabody Sisters" is a wonderful dip into 19th-century life.
Corinne H. Smith

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Corinne H. Smith VINE VOICE on June 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Not since 1950 and Louise Hall Tharp's book "The Peabody Sisters of Salem" has any author tackled the daunting task of writing a collective biography of these women. It's almost difficult to believe that Tharp and Marshall used some of the same personal letters as source material. For this new offering is the masterpiece, a Rolls Royce to Tharp's tricycle. No wonder it took decades to assemble and complete.

Though the sisters had three younger brothers, the accomplishments of the men pale in comparison with those of the women. Elizabeth (1804-1887) was a teacher, writer, publisher, and encouraging friend (and never more than that) to many of the Transcendentalists and their crew. Mary (1806-1887) was the beautiful one, another teacher, who set her sights early on snagging Horace Mann as a spouse (and eventually succeeded). Sophia (1809-1871) was the invalid artist who found her creative dream partner in husband Nathaniel Hawthorne. All were inspired by the example set by their mother, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody (1778-1853), whose liberal and feminist ideals are in retrospect more suggestive of the late 20th century, and not of her own time. The Peabodys were not among the financially elite Bay-Staters, but they seemed to have their fingers on the pulse of the commonwealth and on the trends of the country.

Framed at beginning and end by Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1842 wedding, this volume is one of the most detailed narrative chronicles of familial correspondence you're apt to read in your lifetime. It's never tedious, simply all-encompassing. The very words of the individuals themselves are so revealing, so personal. We can tap into their emotions of the moment: their joys, sorrows, angers, jealousies, misunderstandings, and hopes.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By H. Cassell on June 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Oxen-like in size, this is a delight of a historical biography. The Peabody sisters are three extraordinary women well worth getting to know, which you will, intimately, in Megan Marshall's fantastic portrait of Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia.

Particularly with Elizabeth, the eldest and most influential, Murphy goes into such detail that it's as if the two were best friends. Innumerable letters and journal entries are quoted tirelessly (it inspires one to keep better record of one's own life), and you will be amazed at how thoughtful and brilliant Elizabeth was. The company she kept is a who's who of Boston's elite: tutored by Ralph Waldo Emerson, befriended by a famous Boston minister who used their discussions faithfully as the basis for his popular sermons, and personal friend of a Harvard University president who allowed her to peruse his bookshelf whenever she wanted--and all this before age twenty! Next is beautiful Mary, who learned early on to use her looks to her advantage, though unable to penetrate her older sister's shadow; and Sophia, the youngest, a notable artist who was crippled by headaches for much of her life, but was stronger than anyone gave her credit for. Mary eventually married Horace Mann, Sophia became Mrs. Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Elizabeth never married, though it was she who befriended Mann and Hawthorne before either of her sisters knew the men. The book focuses mainly on the sisters' lives pre-marriages and their academic achievements and contributions to the Romantic Movement, not the family drama, though there is a decent enough helping of the latter that no one will feel cheated out of a good story.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By John Grover on September 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
When you think of that somewhat hazy designation "The New England Transcendentalists," I'll bet the first legendary figure that automatically springs to mind is Ralph Waldo Emerson. It could just as easily be Thoreau, Hawthorne, Alcott, or another half dozen men of the time and place. Do the names Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody resonate with you, as well? They didn't for me until I read Megan Marshall's 2005 biography The Peabody Sisters. Marshall's narrative is the result of a monumental undertaking: spanning two decades and a continent, her tireless search for primary sources unearthed thousands of pages of journals and letters cached across the country in small-town libraries, universities, and private homes. She set out to read every word written by the sisters, and also studied the papers of their associates and pored over the many books the Peabodys say influenced them in their formative years. From this morass of material, Marshall marshaled (I couldn't resist) a group biography which not only discloses the early lives of the sisters in intimate detail, but paints a picture of the events, beliefs, prejudices, and social mores of that turbulent time in American history.

This is not the typical biography that follows its subjects to the grave. Marshall tells a coming-of-age story that ties the girls' spiritual struggles, attempts to define themselves, and strivings for self-development to those of the young nation. For the most part resisting the present-day temptation to posit all sorts of unconscious motivations, Marshall allows the sisters to speak directly for themselves. With a graceful economy of phrasing, she weaves together disparate threads from journal entries and correspondences to craft an intensely personal biography.
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