The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
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March 18, 2018

Only connect: Elizabeth Peabody and Madame de Staël

      [The books she was reading] raised questions that Elizabeth would have to answer whether  or not she married.  Should she put forward her own genius, or simply cultivate talent in others? Should she leave home to pursue her ambitions, or stay behind with her impoverished family, accepting only the work she could find close at hand? ... Elizabeth would have to decide whether to follow her family wherever her father would take them -- most likely back again to Salem -- or to pursue her own ambitions in a city like Boston that could support them.
      These were questions more often faced  by oldest sons than by daughters in the New England of the 1820s.  For Elizabeth, the decision to leave home would go against every convention of daughterly behavior she'd seen around her as she grew up, All the girls she knew in Salem would stay at home until they married. And those who never married would continue to live with their parents, caring for them in their old age. Yet her relative poverty may have seemed a blessing to her now, when her inmost desire was to further her education, to experiment as a teacher, and, then, perhaps to write. Financial necessity was a good mask for a woman's ambition or even for simple wanderlust. ...

from The Peabody Sisters:  three women who ignited American romanticism
by Megan Marshall

After I read Claire Tomalin's memoir last week, I was longing to read a biography next, and this one has been languishing on my shelves for much too long.  The Peabody sisters -- Elizabeth, Mary and Sophia -- grew up in near Boston in the early 1800s. I haven't gotten far enough into this book to know much about them, except that Elizabeth,  the oldest, became a prominent educator, and Sophia, the youngest, married Nathaniel Hawthorne {though there's a hint that Elizabeth had eyes for him first}.
By the winter of 1822, Elizabeth was reading an author ... suited to her professional dilemma:  Madame de Staël. ...  Bonaparte had banished the writer as an outspoken critic of his regime.  De Stael's uncompromising nature, her politics, her salon and her literary career all captured Elizabeth's imagination.  As she read, Elizabeth was strengthening her resolve to leave home.
As if a biography with ties to Boston wasn't enough to make me happy, this is one of those connections that I love to find when I read. When she was banished from Paris, Madame de Staël lived in Coppet, the town near Geneva where my sister lived for many years (a place she -- MdS, not my sister --  described as "a tomb where you can get mail").  I visited her chateau and read a little about her during one of my visits there.  So it was a treat to meet her again as a figure in the intellectual life of a young, well-read, striving girl, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next {and to finding out more about the love triangle (?) with Mr. Hawthorne}.

Elizabeth Peabody was 17 at the time this passage describes, already teaching school and discussing German philosophy with her friends, but the only pictures of her that I could find were of her as an elderly woman, so we'll just have to look back at her younger self along with her. :)


Anonymous said...

Elizabeth sounds like an interesting woman. I love biographies and most especially of people I know little about before I start!

Terra said...

I enjoy reading memoirs and biographies and to get glimpses of others' lives.

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