Read The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism by Megan Marshall Online


Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody were in many ways our American Brontes. The story of these remarkable sisters — and their central role in shaping the thinking of their day — has never before been fully told. Twenty years in the making, Megan Marshall's monumental biograpy brings the era of creative ferment known as American Romanticism to new life. Elizabeth, the oldesElizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody were in many ways our American Brontes. The story of these remarkable sisters — and their central role in shaping the thinking of their day — has never before been fully told. Twenty years in the making, Megan Marshall's monumental biograpy brings the era of creative ferment known as American Romanticism to new life. Elizabeth, the oldest sister, was a mind-on-fire thinker. A powerful influence on the great writers of the era — Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau among them — she also published some of their earliest works. It was Elizabeth who prodded these newly minted Transcendentalists away from Emerson's individualism and toward a greater connection to others. Mary was a determined and passionate reformer who finally found her soul mate in the great educator Horace Mann. The frail Sophia was a painter who won the admiration of the preeminent society artists of the day. She married Nathaniel Hawthorne — but not before Hawthorne threw the delicate dynamics among the sisters into disarray. Marshall focuses on the moment when the Peabody sisters made their indelible mark on history. Her unprecedented research into these lives uncovered thousands of letters never read before as well as other previously unmined original sources. The Peabody Sisters casts new light on a legendary American era. Its publication is destined to become an event in American biography. This book is highly recommended for students and reading groups interested in American history, American literature, and women's studies. It is a wonderful look into 19th-century life....

Title : The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780618711697
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 624 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism Reviews

  • Jennifer Wixson
    2019-03-01 03:54

    Love, love this book. As a woman I grew up learning his-story, and The Peabody Sisters (a must-read gift from a friend) tells the female side of the Transcendental movement in 19th century America. If you love Ralph Waldo Emerson and/or Nathaniel Hawthorne you need to read what Megan Marshall has to say about the inspiration and encouragement these important men of letters received from Elizabeth, Mary and Sophia Peabody.Elizabeth, the precocious elder sister, became an author, publisher and religious reformer, perhaps the 1st in America to coin the term "transcendental" (borrowed from the English poet Wordsworth). Sophia, the youngest sister, despite a life of illness possible caused by mercury poisoning as a child, became a celebrated artist. Marshall claims that both Elizabeth and Sophia (at different times) were engaged to Elizabeth's prodigy Hawthorne -- Sophia ended up marrying him. Mary Peabody, the middle sister, a teacher and writer in her own right, became the head supporter and wife of legendary school reformer Horace Mann, a long-time friend of older sister Elizabeth.The minutiae of her-story in this book is incredible, and makes the reader feel as though she was living vicariously in Salem, Boston, Concord -- perhaps as a close friend of the Peabody family (close enough so that you can see Henry David Thoreau planting beans and squash in the garden of the Old Manse in Concord, preparing for the arrival of the newly married Hawthornes). The end-notes are fabulous and photos perfectly placed, adding a personal and poignant connection to the tale. The Peabody Sisters is 5-stars for me, even though the book seems to end abruptly and certainly before I was ready for it to end. Perhaps Megan Marshall has a follow-up planned. I hope so. The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American RomanticismJanuary 30, 2018I downgraded my rating on this book from 5-stars to 4-stars because I recently stumbled upon the book, The Peabody Sisters of Salem by Louise Hall Tharp, which was obviously the basis upon which Megan Marshall built her book. There are so many similarities between the two books that it appears to me as though Ms. Marshall has simply updated Ms. Tharp's book, giving it a more modern feminist slant. I actually enjoyed Ms. Tharp's book better and knowing now that she did most of the heavy lifting (i.e. the research work) makes me want to shout, "Hurrah for you, Ms. Tharp!" It's probable that Megan Marshall gave Ms. Tharp credit someplace in her book; however, in my opinion she certainly didn't get the credit she deserves.

  • Louise
    2019-03-24 09:54

    It's sad to envision the everyday unfairness faced by these three enterprising women. Megan Marshall describes how Elizabeth assesses if it is appropriate for a woman to establish a bookstore, how Sophia accepts that she will never see Italy because she is not married and how Mary quietly waits, waits and waits... in disguised desperation for the man she loves. Elizabeth suffers whispering campaigns, digs on her appearance and from loneliness as her sisters find true love with the men for whom she provides the entre.The Peabody women not only contend with a social structure which accepts unfairness to women, these family breadwinners face the downward mobility of their time. They compete with male teachers and artists who have an education from which females are excluded. The sisters' access to the synergy of a network is compromised by the mores of the time which destroys reputations for the least sign of familiarity with men who comprise the network. The progressive men in Elizabeth's circle may give her support, but it is always qualified. While she could not succeed without these men, Bronson Alcott being the most egregious example, each takes more than he gives.The 3 Peabody brothers are not just lackluster but also irresponsible towards the family. The one who survives to middle age might just be the "Joe Six Pack" of his day. An appraisal of family dynamics considering communication patterns, paternal (lack of) nurturing and birth order would be interesting.Elizabeth is clearly the star of the show. She is the one to whom the modern world can more closely relate. She dominates the biography as she probably dominated the lives of her siblings, a dominance both used and resented by her sisters. She is remarkably alone.The ideas that Elizabeth and her transcendentalist friends proposed are now mainstream. Like all who are ahead of their time, they were met with both skepticism and outright hostility. I was struck by how the break from Calvinist self abnegation was the opening for what we call today, self-esteem. While I often wonder how Washington, Adams and Jefferson could relate to today's world, Elizabeth as presented by Marshall, would be more at home now than then.For research and documentation, this is a 5 star book. I give it 4 because there are times when the documentation gets in the way of the prose making it too academic for the general reader. Also, the book abruptly ends. In a short chapter called "Epilogue May 1, 1843" the sisters' next 40+ years are summed up. I hope there is a volume 2. I'd like to know more of the sisters as the Civil War develops and unfolds.Interesting that this was a runner up for the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. Prize winners in 2008 and 2007 are Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father and The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher respectively. Is it that this period of history has captured the reading and reviewing audience or has it captured the best writers of our times?

  • Susan
    2019-03-24 07:05

    A combined biography of Elizabeth, Mary and Sophia Peabody. Sophia married Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mary married Horace Mann (educator). I really enjoyed it; it had a fun combination of literary info and gossip. It was a good way to tell a biography. I even read all the notes. I know a few things about the 19th c. and boring dead white males. It's nice to be reaffirmed in my belief that behind every one of them is a once vibrant dead white woman.I did not know that Eliz. Peabody was such an intellectual. I find it not surprising at all to learn that R. Waldo Emerson lifted her ideas for his sermons (I never have liked him) and also William Ellery Channing. I was also not aware of her own ideas about transcendetalism and how foresighted and on the cutting edge she was.The stuff about Hawthorne was great. I love that he romanced both Elizabeth and Sophia and could not entirely give up on E.P. because she was good for his career. Looks like she was good for the careers of lots of people. It's too bad Poe didn't set up shop in Boston or Salem; she could have found him a job or patrons as she did for Hawthorne.Very readable. I recommend it.

  • Barbara
    2019-03-20 09:08

    I really enjoyed reading this biography of the three Peabody sisters. Because I've been a fan of the Transcendentalists for years, I knew a little about them, but this large book explored their lives and ideas in detail. Great writing, thorough research, and some wonderful illustrations made the book a delight. Besides the sisters themselves, there was plenty here about Thoreau, Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, and others in their circle.

  • Emily Rosenbaum
    2019-03-08 05:03

    If you’re not an American Studies scholar, you’ve likely never heard of the Peabody sisters. Even if you are an American Studies scholar, there’s a good chance you just know of Sophia Peabody as the woman who married Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mary Peabody as the woman who became Horace Mann’s second wife. The Peabody Sisters, by Megan Marshall, seeks to change all that, discussing three women who were at the forefront of intellectual, religious, and educational movements. The sisters were born to a formerly prominent Massachusetts family after the family had already its fortune and sunk a few rungs in respectability. There had already been a scandal involving playwright Royall Tyler, the parlor was shabby, and the girls’ mother, Eliza, was running a school to try to make ends meet. Making ends meet would be a running theme throughout the girls’ lives while their father and brothers seemed to flub one commercial venture after another. Elizabeth was the first to open a school, although Mary would eventually be the more involved in educational reform. The Peabody sisters came of age in a time when women of brilliance were constrained by social norms. Elizabeth, especially, had difficulty finding outlets for her incredible intelligence, and so she became the intellectual helpmeet of an impressive array of men: Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mann, and Willian Ellery Channing, to name a few. Marshall offers ample evidence that Elizabeth Peabody most likely surpassed several of these men in intellectual capacity, but they rose to prominence while she was relegated to the role of female second-fiddle. Then there’s Sophia Peabody, who has so often been portrayed by historians as a neurasthenic invalid who Nathaniel Hawthorne saddled himself with. That she was a talented artist denied opportunities due to her sex never seems to be all that important. Marshall makes a strong case that Sophia Peabody’s medical problems probably had a biological basis in the medication she was given – both as a child and as an adult – in addition to the psychological forces at work on her artistic mind. Marshall beautifully walks the line between excellent research and sensible analysis. The book is quite readable and engaging, yet she never reaches beyond fact to make the narrative more compelling, as was the case in The Tin Ticket. I felt convinced because all of Marshall’s analysis was well-grounded in her research and fully documented. This book does much to fill out the picture of American Romanticism with some of the most important women who have been shunted to the sidelines of history. It’s long, very long, but I didn’t begrudge Marshall the months of nighttime reading it took because it was incredibly well-written and interesting. I put down the Steve Jobs biography to read this book. It was a far, far better use of my time.

  • Ginny
    2019-03-24 11:57

    A fascinating, very readable biography about three women I had known almost nothing about until I decided to read this book after it was suggested on a quilting blog. Barbara Brackman, a prominent designer of reproduction quilting fabrics, recently released a new line called "The Old Cambridge Turnpike." In her blog, she spoke of the remarkable number of prominent intellectuals who lived along the turnpike in the days when Transcendentalism was beginning to flower. The Peabody Sisters were just a few of the brilliant, creative individuals who were caught up in this "Flowering of New England." I'm very happy to have learned about them, and look forward to reading more about them in the future. This is a perfect book to read during Women's History Month.

  • Cindi
    2019-03-15 11:10

    I preordered this book and picked it up from the book store the minute it arrived. I even paid full price. I loved it. Loved it. The Peabody sisters were fascinating women and led amazing lives. Marshall tells their story beautifully.

  • Candace
    2019-03-16 05:44

    This was super enjoyable, easy to read, and I learned so much from it. Such an interesting and famous cast of characters are in this book!!! However, the sisters steal the show as intended. I was very inspired by Elizabeth, she was definitely something special in my opinion.

  • Marigold
    2019-03-06 08:46

    This is a fascinating "her-story" of Elizabeth, Mary and Sophia Peabody, who were born into a genteel but poor family in the 19th century. Megan Marshall spent 20 years researching and writing this book, and it shows--it's a great book! Drawing from letters, journals and writings of their contemporaries, the sisters and their social circle come to life as you read. Elizabeth was a brilliant and multi-lingual intellectual who was never afraid to get involved in conversation with the highest minds of her time; she drew into her circle men of extraordinary learning such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Horace Mann, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott and William Ellery Channing. She was a writer, teacher and editor. In fact she supplied material for many of these men, who, in keeping with their times, took from her more than they gave. It stings a bit to find out that some of the great American Romanticists may have drawn (or even less politely, stolen) their ideas from a woman I hadn't heard of until this year! Mary was the just slightly less brilliant sister, a writer and great teacher. Mary fell in love with Horace Mann - who started off as a very close friend of Elizabeth's - and hid that love for 10 years, before finally getting to marry him. She & her husband were educational reformers, & Mary was a supporter of the anti-slavery movement and the rights of Native Americans. Sophia was the artist of the family - a natural at drawing and painting, a sculptor, and a highly talented copyist of major works of art. She was taught by her sister Elizabeth so she read and spoke languages including Latin, Greek, Hebrew and French. Sophia was an invalid for much of her early life until marriage, suffering from extreme migraines and nervous complaints, which may have stemmed from early treatments administered by her father, a dentist, which included dosing with mercury. As with Horace Mann and Mary Peabody, Sophia was introduced to Nathaniel Hawthorne by Elizabeth, who was friends with him first. Elizabeth appears to have been a woman men were attracted to because of her brilliance and wit, her understanding and fearlessness, her ambition and drive - but they didn't want to marry her, maybe because of the same qualities! Sophia and Hawthorne fell in love and after several years were married. I was struck by so many things while reading this. It must have been an amazing time to be a woman and an intellectual woman, in New England - where brilliant conversation among both sexes was encouraged and nurtured, as long as certain boundaries were observed. At the same time, the struggle to earn a living - particularly for an unmarried woman - constantly overshadowed life. People moved around a great deal, and were often dependent on friends who could offer lodging. Can't make a living in Boston? Move to Salem. Salem no good? Move to Maine. Maine is bad? Move back to Boston. All that moving back & forth must have been exhausting! And though women were relatively free to pursue the life of the mind in this time and place, they didn't have access to the kind of education men had. Elizabeth was largely self-taught. And, marriage was still expected and without doubt the best way to establish some financial security - so the pressure on all the sisters must have been enormous, but Elizabeth never married & Mary & Sophia did so much later than many women of their peer group. And finally, what was it like to have such an exceptional mind - as Elizabeth had - and find that men still patronized you, took your ideas for themselves, and then asked your help in publishing their works?! I wonder if Elizabeth secretly despised any of the men who were supposed to be her friends. I would have liked to read more about the sisters' lives after Mary & Sophia married. I know they lived through the Civil War & that would, I'm sure, be interesting to learn about. Maybe there will be a sequel!

  • Charity
    2019-03-12 08:45

    Megan Marshall basically lived with the Peabody sisters while writing this book (as much as someone can live with a trio of sisters who've been dead for more than 100 years), and it shows in her writing. She delved into their correspondence, their personal journals, their friends' letters to other friends about the sisters, news stories, census reports. And then she took all of this and turned it into the compelling story of three sisters at the center of a huge philosophical shift that took place in New England in the first half of the nineteenth century.What's really interesting to me was how big an influence the Peabody women had on the men whose names are usually associated with the period: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Horace Mann, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Theodore Parker, William Ellery Channing. I wasn't exactly surprised by this---I'd already read Megan Marshall's biography of Margaret Fuller---but it's still jarring to see just how easily otherwise enlightened men could brush off the accomplishments and intellectual lives of the women around them, and how readily so many women accepted their limited role in society. I heard on the news today about some story of poor judgment (at best) on the part of a public figure in Boston, and the commentator said, "Why are we not taking to the streets about this?" I have the same feeling when I read about the Peabody sisters. Why aren't the women studying with Elizabeth Peabody and meeting in her book shop rising up and throwing off the restrictive roles their society has handed them? I can speculate about the reasons---all very good ones, too---but it still doesn't quite make sense to me how the granddaughters of those who fought to make the United States into an independent country didn't fight more dramatically on behalf of their own independence.The other thing that I found interesting was the negative impression I was left with of Emerson, Mann, and Hawthorne. They so obviously used the intelligent women around them, toyed with their affections, pitted sister against sister, and still the sisters defended these men and fought amongst themselves (in a very genteel, epistolary, nineteenth-century way, but it was fighting nonetheless). It's just another reminder, I guess, that although men are placed on pedestals by the writers of history, they are still human beings. Once again, not surprising, just disappointing.In addition to being an intimate story of the sisters as individuals and of their sisterhood, this is also an excellent history of the Unitarian church. I've often wondered how we got from Calvinism to Unitarian Universalism in fewer than three centuries, and this book helped me make sense of it for the first time. It also sheds light on some of the ongoing friction points within the denomination.

  • Kerry
    2019-03-25 08:13

    Finished this book and Kris, Jen, Meg and I had a very successful first book club meeting about it! This book was ultimately a very intimate and fascinating look at Boston area America during the birth of Transcendentalism and women's role in that birth. These three women, each with a distinct personality, did so much with their lives in a time when women usually only did one thing (get married and have babies) that it puts us modern women to shame. And what a circle they were involved in: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Horace Mann, William Ellery Channing, Theodore Parker, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, Thoreau, Emerson - they were there for it all! If you have any interest in this time period whatsoever I highly recommend this book!

  • Annemarie Donahue
    2019-02-24 11:45

    I was lucky enough to meet this author when she came for a photo shoot at the Old Manse, where I was working at the time. She is a brilliant woman, a passionate research, and a beautiful author. We are so lucky she worked as long and as hard as she did to create this book.Three sisters, Elizabeth the eldest would become the mother of kindergartens and a reformer of public education, Mary who would marry Charles Mann and assist him in driving the improvement of American curriculum, and the youngest, Sophia who would marry Nathaniel Hawthorne, father of American Gothic Literature. Neither of these men, Hawthorne nor Mann would be who they were without their phenomenal wives and their driven sister Elizabeth. Possibly, America wouldn't be what it is today without them either.

  • Elizabeth Raabe
    2019-03-24 09:01

    A brilliant, bittersweet read. It was maddening reading about the limitations placed on [intelligent] women during the early part of the 19th century, yet I loved learning how Eliza Peabody encouraged her daughters to be independent and satisfy their intellectual curiosity and how they--especially Elizabeth, the eldest--went about doing that. How I would have loved to attend one of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody's discussion groups or one of Margaret Fuller's Conversations meetings! (I also enjoyed Marshall's biography of Margaret Fuller and recommend it.) I must get back to Boston and visit some of the Peabody sisters' old haunts.

  • Kim
    2019-02-26 09:10

    I expected this to be a book of facts and not much fun to read. Perhaps the length of the book took me to that assumption. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and some of the "private" details of the sisters' lives that the author intertwined in the book. It is not the exact style of Doris Kearns Goodwin but similar in that the author did sew facts and a story together. I am thankful for the family tree, and wish there were more pictures and drawings. A map of the places in Boston and Salem mentioned in the book would have been helpful.

  • Christine Beverly
    2019-03-07 08:51

    This was an exceptionally readable non-fiction accounting of a family of sisters I can't believe I never heard of. They stand in the background of America's literary and philosophical giants--Nathaniel Hawthorne, Horace Mann, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Each woman establishes herself in a different sphere, leaving influences in education, art, and philosophy. Despite the length and research, the story of each sister moves smoothly from one to another--the narration draws the reader into the events of their lives. Really fabulous book!

  • Victoria Weinstein
    2019-03-04 09:13

    What a wonderful book about the remarkable Peabody sisters. Megan Marshall is a terrific writer; I know it's a cliche to say so, but she brings these historical figures to life and makes them real and accessible to us. Mid-19th century Boston was a very rich environment for literary and artistic types, and the Peabody sisters were at the center of it all. Juicy fun, a fast read, and you can feel virtuous for brushing up on your American history while you enjoy yourself.

  • Kirk
    2019-03-15 05:00

    This is a reread for a bookclub. When I first read it in 2006 or 07,I probably would given it a 4.5. Perhaps I'm a far less patient reader, as it seems 3.5-3.75 might be more in order. Had to use a page count goal to keep reading forward.Very dry in spots. The last 75 pages, however, shined! That might be because of......:)

  • Sally
    2019-03-20 09:13

    Louisa May Alcott lead me here. I knew little of anything of these sisters, and now I know a lot more about the Unitarians and Transcendentalists too. Interesting reading!

  • Susan Stuber
    2019-03-12 11:54

    This is an interesting read for sure, but with a lot of repetition (especially about one of the sisters recurrent headaches) and much too much unnecessary, tedious detail.

  • Nancy
    2019-03-10 09:12

    On hold for now. I was only 1/3 of the way through before I had to return it to the library. Was enjoying it very much, though, and will definitely pick it up again.

  • Ange
    2019-03-22 08:56

    [Reader Beware: Although this book is based on actual historic people and places, you may consider what I write below a spoiler].What I liked best about this book was that I learned so much about the Peabody Sisters (Elizabeth, Mary and Sophia) and their influence on New England, American Romanticism, Transcendentalism and education. In the 1800's, the Greater Boston area was home to some of the most cultured and brilliant minds, from Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Dorothea Dix, Margaret Fuller and so on. Another great lesson was learning about how capable the women were, and free to explore in a time where most women were mainly concerned with needlepoint and marriage prospects. The author did a great job of connecting dates and places through actual letters and journals from the subjects themselves. However, I detracted a star because the story just abruptly ends when the ladies are in their mid-to-late thirties and the years from then until their deaths are greatly glossed over. Was it just that the author didn't have material of importance to end properly with or was there a looming deadline to finish in a hurry?

  • Bill
    2019-03-11 11:11

    Sometimes less is more. This weighty tome covers the youthful years of the Peabody sisters of Massachusetts. Sophia married Nathaniel Hawthorne. I found it contained too much information on three minor 19th century authors. This is the writer's attempts I suppose to elevate their status in the literary world. Perhaps she is right and they should be elevated but I have never read anything by the three women so I cannot judge. She mentions at the beginning of the book a light biography was written in the 1950's. This is the book I should have read.

  • Jeri
    2019-03-15 07:08

    Compelling read of three of the most influential sisters you never heard of. I HAD heard of Sophia Peabody, but only through my love of Hawthorne. Her ground-breaking older sister, a key figure in the transcendalist movement, second only to Margaret Fuller, and a woman who almost single-handedly started the kingergarten movement in the States, remains a shadowy historical figure. Such is the lot of women, less now than then, to be the power behind greatness, seldom greatness itself. Or rather, they may be great, but who remembers?

  • Sarah Holbrook
    2019-03-15 03:52

    One of the best biographies I've read. As a former teacher, it was interesting to learn about the innovative practices Elizabeth and Mary used in their classrooms, things we still try to do today. I had never heard of the Peabody sisters, but they were supportive of many brilliant minds in the 1800's including Hawthorne, Emerson and Horace Mann. The three sisters also paved the way for women to become leaders in the 20th century. It was full of interesting facts and very readable.

  • Karen Sweeney
    2019-03-22 10:14

    The amount of research that went into this wonderful book is amazing. The author spent 20 years immersing herself in the lives of three fascinating women who lived alongside and contributed to the success of folks like Hawthorne, Mann, Howe, Emerson, etc. To live as a woman of ideas back then was difficult, even heartbreaking. But this makes their successes even greater. Highly recommended!

  • Nancy Mastro
    2019-02-25 05:52

    I loved this book. Each of the three sisters are fascinating in their own right, and Marshall does a superb job giving each her due. It is rich with history and highlighting many other interesting men and women of their time,making if more than just about the Peabody sisters. I look forward to reading this again one day.

  • Kathleenmanley
    2019-03-22 06:59

    Learned so much about the Boston/Salem/Concord area of the early 1800s and these 3 accomplished women. Always interesting how much some things change and others stay the same!

  • Danielle Moretti-Langholtz
    2019-03-21 04:54

    This is an exhaustively research work of the highest order. I'm still musing on the lives of these three sister and other women of the era. While these three sisters were extraordinarily gifted, the restrictions on their lives---lack of equal opportunity in education being one---makes me grateful for the life I live. Kudos to the effort of the author Megan Marshall for making me aware of these women.

  • Randi
    2019-03-17 07:59

    Gave up. Too dense for me

  • Cam Mannino
    2019-03-25 10:06

    Others have already done a fine job of describing the substance of this fine book about the remarkable Peabody sisters and their impact on Emerson, Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott, Horace Mann, and other transcendentalists of the early Romantic period in American history. I just have a few stray observations. I found myself, as others have, drawn to and most sympathetic to Elizabeth, the eldest - a brilliant, self-taught, ambitious woman with big ideas and big dreams that she never stops trying to fulfill. Like many strong women, she could be interfering and controlling and her over-the-top idealism led her in some strange directions. But the other reviewers are right that she was the sister farthest ahead of her time - a feminist of the first water, just like her equally admirable if more oppressed mother. She challenged not only the accepted role of women - living alone, owning a bookstore and publishing house, being unconcerned about her appearance, being surprisingly familiar, even in some ways intimate, with the brilliant men who admired but did not love her - but she also contributed to new thinking in religion and education, promoting radical new ideas one after the next - all while loyally supporting her family financially and emotionally time after time.Mary, the middle sister, seemed most "normal" to me - equally brilliant, I think, but a romantic with a small "r," looking for love and a relationship as well as opportunities to learn and teach. Like Elizabeth, she was remarkably accomplished (they both could read in several languages, for example) but Mary's perceptions regarding slavery, for instance, show her to be more attuned to the suffering of others than her sisters. Her devotion to the man she eventually married, Horace Mann, is remarkable and more than a bit mysterious to me. He was brilliant, but guilt-ridden by the death of his somewhat neglected first wife and consequently grieved excessively for many, many years before it occurred to him to love Mary in return. Sophia, the artist and youngest, was just incredibly annoying to me. Yes, the author hypothesizes that her hypochondriac "illnesses" were attributable to a mercury cure given to her by her hapless father, an incompetent doctor and later an incompetent pharmacist. But Sophia clearly gets ill every time anything is expected of her that she doesn't feel like doing and then heals remarkably quickly when she gets what she wants. She doesn't summon the courage to fully develop her artistic ability, despite amazing support from her sisters, her mother and others outside the family, because she's apparently too afraid of failure. She lacks her sisters' tenacity and courage. When she's exposed to slavery at a rest home in Cuba, she enjoys the attention of the suffering servants around her, unlike her sister Mary who is appalled by their living conditions and treatment. I felt sorry for Nathaniel Hawthorne when he married her, although I imagine his romantic nature made him see her through rose-colored glasses for years afterward. Perhaps, however, she only suffers in comparison to her two strong sisters who find doors repeatedly closed to them and find ways through those doors despite all obstacles.The transcendentalist men came off rather poorly in this book, I thought. I've never had much time for the silliness of Bronson Alcott, but Emerson too seems remarkably oblivious to practicalities and at the same time, depressingly conventional in his treatment of his very bright wife and in his stultifying advice to Elizabeth about her appearance. Hawthorne plays with the affections of two sisters, seemingly using Elizabeth for comfort and the practical help she can provide (she promotes his books and finds him employment, after all!) until he falls for Sophia. I know, I know, they were men of their time - but these women were not of their time and the difference is striking. I knew from the introduction that the book would only trace these women's young lives until Sophia's marriage so the sudden ending was not a surprise to me. But I too am curious as to how things worked out once their lives separated and will have to see what I can learn in other ways. I read the book quickly, looking forward to it each day as I picked it up. Rarely have I found biography so engaging. It left me, as did Jill Lepore's book about Franklin's sister Jane, The Book of Ages, with a vivid picture of the strength, wit, tenacity and painfully restricted lives of bright women in early America. A remarkable book.