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The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism Paperback – May 11, 2006
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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)
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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 alsohas 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 theres a sequel in the offing?
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
Top customer reviews
I vaguely knew that the sisters were reformers in education and that two of them were better known for marrying famous men: Mary to Horace Mann and Sophia to Nathaniel Hawthorne; but having little interest in 19th century American literature, I had less inclination to to read about three sisters who dabbled in reform. The more fool I.
These women are fascinating. And Elizabeth Peabody--the one I knew least about--is the most amazing of all. I felt like such a slacker after reading that Elizabeth taught herself Hebrew and Greek, read through the New Testament three times the summer she was 13, independently anticipating the theology of the Unitarian-Universalists. It was Elizabeth who, as a very young woman, named the Transcendentalists long before they knew they were the Transcendentalists. Her sisters were almost as amazing as she was. They deserve to be remembered.
Marshall does the biographer's turn by giving a chapter each to the sister's mother and grandmother, setting the tone for what would follow. She is to be applauded for writing in a lively manner. I'm not much for biographies, but this one kept my interest to the end. Marshall has a readable, enjoyable style, and she incorporates her subjects' words as often as possible.
I recommend this book to anyone who likes biographies, American history, and especially women's history. And anyone who just likes a good read.
Money was always an issue for the Peabody family, but that seemed to push each of the sisters to excel. Elizabeth had a voracious intellect and her ideas helped inspire the likes of Emerson, Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott. She published their early works, urged them to curb their individualistic philosophies to connect more with others, and has had a lasting impact by promoting the benefits of kindergarten. Mary was a compassionate reformer who married statesman and educator Horace Mann. Sophia, though sickly, was recognized as a talented artist and she married novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne. The book's tone is sympathetic, but honest, and the sisters come to life on the page to such an extent that it made me feel like I know them.