Academic journal article Nathaniel Hawthorne Review

Ada Shepard and Her Pocket Sketchbooks, Florence 1858

Academic journal article Nathaniel Hawthorne Review

Ada Shepard and Her Pocket Sketchbooks, Florence 1858

Article excerpt

My Aunt Adeline, granddaughter of Ann Adeline Shepard, died in 1999 at the age of ninety-four. As we had planned, she left me the family archive--letters, journals, diaries, a few photographs, four pocket sketchbooks, and a two-volume, first edition of The Marble Faun, all packed in a tin toy chest from the 1940s. Aunt Addie had told me stories about Ada, as her grandmother was known, and over time I read the letters that she wrote during the two years she spent in Europe with the Hawthorne family. I knew little about The Marble Faun, other than the long-held family belief that Ada was a model for the character of Hilda; I knew nothing about Sophia Hawthorne's "wee sketchbooks" until Megan Marshall suggested that I read the manuscript copy of Sophia's "Journey of Eight days from Rome to Florence, 1858." (S. Hawthorne, "Journey" 338). (1) The story of how twenty-two-year-old Ada Shepard from Dorchester, Massachusetts came to live with the Hawthorne family in Italy has been told many times; Ada's "wee sketchbooks" that recorded her experiences in diminutive, carefully detailed pencil drawings have never been seen outside of the family.

On July 30, 1857, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote to his editor, William Ticknor:

   I have engaged Miss Ada Shepard (a graduate of Mr. Mann's College
   at Antioch) (2) to take charge of my children while we remain on
   the Continent. She is recommended to me in the highest way, as
   respects acquirements and character .... I have tried English
   governesses, and find them ignorant and inefficient. Miss Shepard
   is to receive no salary, but only her expenses .... (18:83-4)

Ada Shepard set sail from New York aboard the steamship Ariel on August 8, 1857, for a yearlong engagement with the Hawthornes. Landing in Le Havre, she went on to Paris and settled in the French language school of M. Fezandie to await the arrival of the Hawthornes. They were detained in England so in October, Ada took the initiative to join the family in Leamington. Anticipating Ada's journey, Sophia Hawthorne remarked in a letter to her sister Mary, "I am glad she feels brave about being alone. I know ladies can travel abroad alone and be treated with perfect respect and care...." (S. Hawthorne, Letter to Mary Mann, 16 July 1857, MS. Berg). Ada had a plan, and more than brave, she was eager and determined to take advantage of the opportunities that she would have, while employed in the Hawthorne family, to study French, Italian, and German in preparation for her return to Antioch College, where she had been offered a position as Professor of Modern Languages.

Ada's letters to her fiance Henry Clay Badger, also a graduate of Antioch, and to her family, during her time with the Hawthornes, have been available to scholars for many years. Norman Holmes Pearson, who oversaw the transcription of the letters for the Collection of American Literature at Yale's Beinecke Library, (3) never saw Ada's sketchbooks. Selected images from the sketchbooks, shown at the Hawthorne Society Symposium in Florence, June 2012, are published here for the first time.

Since the 1940s, scholars have pigeonholed Ada as "the governess," using her correspondence to illuminate her famous employer's European experiences. But Ada was more than a governess. Her education was unusual for the time and her later work as an educator gained the respect of her peers. In the years after publication of The Marble Faun, the assertion that she had been the model for the character of Hilda received considerable attention, so much so that Elizabeth Peabody felt compelled to deny it in a letter to the press (4) (Peabody 372). Hilda and Ada share a similar New England heritage, but to read The Marble Faun in search of Ada Shepard would be unproductive. Study of her correspondence and journals reveals a young woman seeking to reap the benefits of new educational opportunities and embracing the spirit of women's rights ideals while remaining "womanly" as society required. …

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