Academic journal article Nathaniel Hawthorne Review

Transnational Crossings: Sophia Hawthorne's Authorial Persona from the "Cuba Journal" to Notes in England and Italy

Academic journal article Nathaniel Hawthorne Review

Transnational Crossings: Sophia Hawthorne's Authorial Persona from the "Cuba Journal" to Notes in England and Italy

Article excerpt

Sophia Peabody Hawthorne is increasingly recognized today not as the oft-maligned editor of her famous husband's personal notebooks but as a literary author in her own right. This recognition arises from growing scholarly attention paid both to the hand-bound collection of her letters from Cuba, 1833 to 1835, known as the "Cuba Journal," and to her 1869 Notes in England and Italy, a published edition of her letters and journals written during the Hawthorne family's travels and residence in Great Britain and Europe from 1853 to 1860. Recent criticism of the "Cuba Journal" has focused on Sophia's influence on her husband's works, her problematic representation of slavery and slaves, and her "imperial gaze" on Cuba. The comparatively few published critical works on Notes in England and Italy have categorized it as an autobiographical "self-immolation" and, conversely, as evidence of Sophia's emergence as an author who finally came "into herself." (1) In this essay, I extend this body of critical work: juxtaposing Sophia's authorial ethos in the "Cuba Journal" and in Notes in England and Italy, I examine these texts through a transnational lens.

In comparing the quasi-public text to the published book, I focus on how Sophia's authorship is enabled by the "foreign" locations where she initially composed her works, locales--such as Cuba, England, and Italy--with significant geopolitical and cultural relevance for her nineteenth-century American readers. When the young, unmarried Sophia Peabody traveled to Cuba, the island was not only a favorite site for Americans with health problems (especially tuberculosis), but it was also perceived by the United States as a possible colonial acquisition because of its slave economy and commercial value. Great Britain and Italy, on the other hand, were destinations that offered cultural capital. By the time the Hawthorne family traveled and lived abroad in the 1850s, these European locations had become almost culturally required sites of travel for many Americans.

My interest in Sophia's texts, however, is not just in their function as autobiographical travelogues that reveal intimate details about the Hawthorne family's life, but also as exemplars of what I call "transnational crossings" in literary terms. I use this phrase to refer to texts composed outside national boundaries by American authors writing about "foreign" places, but that were later circulated and consumed both within and beyond national borders, simultaneously transcending and reaffirming such boundaries. Sophia's texts belong to the nineteenth-century canon of transnational literature because they participate in the "multidirectional flows of people, ideas, and goods and the social, political, linguistic, cultural, and economic crossroads generated in the process" (Fishkin 22). In tracing the development of Sophia's authorial persona, I argue that the transnational crossroads of its emergence and development, and the cultural discourses that define "Americanness" in her texts, are integral elements of their literary significance. Specifically, Sophia's transnational crossings were articulated through assertions of female power and influence, such as her Americanization of "queenliness" and her identification with and refashioning of the biblical Eve. Later in her life, Sophia represented herself as part of an American-centered literary aristocracy whose power and influence made actual aristocratic blood irrelevant. In this way, Sophia further developed the notion of American preeminence by placing U.S. authors--specifically her husband--on par with, if not above, British literary masters themselves.

A Cuban Eden

In the 1830s, years before she married Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sophia Amelia Peabody was thrust into authorship when her older sister, Elizabeth, bound and circulated the letters the former had sent home from Cuba. At the time, when her letters became known as the "Cuba Journal," Sophia reprimanded Elizabeth for allowing outsiders to read the homemade manuscript, noting in a letter dated December 1, 1834, that she did "not like at all that my journal should be made such public property of--I think Betty is VERY naughty to send it round in the way she does--just as if it were a published book--It is really a great cross to bear--I feel as if the nation were feeling my pulse" (470). …

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