New York Public Library Digital Version of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne's Cuba Journal

By Valenti, Patricia Dunlavy | Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

New York Public Library Digital Version of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne's Cuba Journal


Valenti, Patricia Dunlavy, Nathaniel Hawthorne Review


On December 20, 1833, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne sailed for Cuba with her sister. During the next eighteen months, Mary Peabody was governess to children on a coffee plantation, and Sophia wrote long, vividly descriptive letters, most of which were addressed to her mother. These letters were bound into three volumes in what came to be known as the Cuba Journal, a manuscript housed in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. Over the years, this manuscript has become increasingly fragile while the number of scholars who wish to read it has increased.

Both this deterioration and this demand prompted Dr. Isaac Gewirtz, Curator of the Berg Collection, to arrange for the Cuba Journal's digitalization, a measure that conserves the manuscript and makes it accessible to the widest possible audience. Thus, as of 2009, exactly two-hundred years after Sophia Peabody Hawthorne's birth, scholars will be able to access and read her Cuba Journal at the New York Public Library web site. The digitized Cuba Journal will be accompanied by a chart which identifies letters by recipient(s) and date, the hand in which the letter is written and the volume and pages on which it is found. The following information will also assist readers.

The Cuba Journal survives with writing in the hands of at least four persons: Sophia Peabody; her sister Mary Peabody; her mother, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody; and her daughter Rose Hawthorne Lathrop. The vast majority of pages are written in Sophia's hand. Letters in the Appendix to Volume I as well as some postscripts to Sophia's letters are in Mary Peabody's hand. In Mrs. Peabody's hand are transcriptions of some of Sophia's letters. While Sophia was still in Cuba, and for over two decades after her return to Salem in June of 1835, the Cuba Journal circulated continually among many family members, friends, and acquaintances. This constant handling undoubtedly hastened the deterioration of some letters, and, possibly for that reason, Mrs. Peabody sought to preserve them through transcription. Occasional notes in the manuscript are in Rose Hawthorne Lathrop's hand, such as the note on the second title page of Volume I and notes on several letters directing the reader to turn to the Appendix. One correction in Volume II, regarding the way sheets are laid in, is probably in Rose's hand. Rose expended considerable effort on the Cuba Journal, transcribing many letters which are now housed in the Green Library of Stanford University. She may have sought to publish the Cuba Journal, or portions of it, after the success of her 1897 publication, Memories of Hawthorne, which was based on many of her mother's letters. Inserting pagination in the Cuba Journal in pencil might have been a step toward its publication. Mrs. Peabody also supplied pagination, in ink, on letters she transcribed as well as on other letters. …

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