What Can You Learn From A Historical Novel?

“Good writers,” says the author, “write the kind of history good historians can’t or don’t write”

What if many of a so-called Fact were little better than a Fiction?” asked Carlyle. It is a question most historians normally don’t brood over, although the more philosophical among them have never doubted that history always was and will be, in the words of Carl Becker, “a foreshortened and incomplete representative of reality.” To say this, he added, lessens neither its value nor its dignity. Read more »

Three Sisters Who Showed The Way

Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody managed to extend the boundaries that cramped the lives of nineteenth-century women. Elizabeth introduced the kindergarten movement to America, Mary developed a new philosophy of mothering that we now take for granted, and Sophia was liberated from invalidism by her passionate love for her husband.

Other men,” Ralph Waldo Emerson told an admiring crowd in Boston’s Odeon Theater toward the end of 1845, “are lenses through which we read our own minds.” The eminent philosopher then went on to tell his audience of the importance in their lives of “Representative Men,” such as Plato, Shakespeare, Napoleon, and Goethe. “These men correct the delirium of the animal spirits, make us considerate, and engage us to new aims and powers,” Emerson concluded. “Thus we feed on genius....” Read more »

The Maypole Of Merry Mount

Had Thomas Morton raised his maypole anywhere but next door to the Pilgrims, history and legend probably would have no record of him, his town, or his “lascivious” revels

TIME : Summer, 1628. PLACE : Merry Mount, a small coastal settlement on the edge of the Massachusetts wilderness. “Pilgrim” Plymouth lies somewhat to the south; “Puritan” Boston will not be founded for another two years. ACTION : A group of young revelers, Englishmen and Indians together, dance around a lofty maypole. There is food and drink aplenty; jollity reigns.Read more »

Ten Books That Shaped The American Character

Walden is here, of course; but so too is Fanny Farmer’s first cookbook

America is not a nation of readers, yet books have had a deep and lasting effect on its national life. By comparison with the Russians, whose thirst for books—especially contraband books—is legendary, we pay them scant attention; Walker Percy once dolefully estimated that the hard-core audience for serious literature in this country of two hundred and thirty million is perhaps one or two million, and he probably was not far off.Read more »

Thoreau’s Vacation

EARLY IN THE afternoon of the last day of August 1839, Henry David Thoreau and his brother John put a homemade dory in the Concord River, not far above the bridge where the Minutemen had fired on British troops sixty-four years before. They traveled light. For food they took melons and potatoes grown in their own garden and a few other provisions. For shelter they had a tent, also made at home, and for warmth a pair of buffalo skins.Read more »

Melville Meets Hawthorne

HOW A CHAMPAGNE PICNIC ON MONUMENT MOUNTAIN LED TO A PROFOUND REVISION OF Moby Dick —AND DISENCHANTMENT

A little group of American men of affairs and letters met along with their ladies on the morning of August 5, 1850, to hike up Monument Mountain, one of the more prominent features of the landscape surrounding Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The intention was purely social, and socially the day proved a smashing success, leading five of the ten hikers to record the event in letters, journals, articles, and books. For two of them, however, the climb was the beginning of one of the strangest episodes in the history of American literature.Read more »

148 Charles Street

The Literary Lights Were Always Bright at

Everyone wanted to be invited to 148 Charles Street, where Charles Dickens mixed the punch and taught the guests parlor games, John Greenleaf Whittier and Harriet Beecher Stowe vied in telling ghost stories, and Nathaniel Hawthorne paced the bedroom floor one unhappy night in the final miserable year of his life.Read more »

A Season In Utopia

At Brook Farm a handful of gentle Bostonians launched a noble but short-lived experiment in communal living.

In the first week of April, 1841, some eight or ten thoughtful, cultivated Bostonians bundled their possessions, their children, and themselves into country-going carriages and drove eight miles to a pleasant, roomy homestead in West Roxbury. Their destination, then known as the Ellis Farm, was later to be called Brook Farm, a name they made famous as the most literary—and, in ways, the least fortunate—of American Utopias. This small band, led by Mr. and Mrs.Read more »

The Hawthornes In Paradise

Nathaniel was poor and sunk in his solitude; Sophia seemed a hopeless invalid, but a late-flower love gave them at last“a perfect Eden”

There are only a few great love stories in American fiction, and there are fewer still in the lives of famous American writers. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote one of the greatest, The Scarlet Letter . He also lived a story that deserves to be retold—with all the new knowledge we can bring to bear on it—as long as there are lovers in New England; it was his courtship and conquest of Sophia Peabody.

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