Marshall’s Peabody Sisters, belatedly reviewed

Yesterday the online discussion group of Scholars of the History of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) published a review by Anne C. Rose of Megan Marshall’s book The Peabody Sisters, as well as a response by Marshall herself. The Peabody Sisters was published two years ago, and as it happens, I wrote a review of it at the time, which, like my review of Grodzins’s biography of Theodore Parker, was killed. But if it isn’t too late for SHEAR to publish a review, it isn’t too late for this blog to.

Herewith, then, is my review of Marshall’s The Peabody Sisters. Be warned that, as with Grodzins’s Parker, this is more a review-essay than a review, and it’s probably too long to read without printing out.

ELIZABETH PALMER PEABODY WAS DOWDY. In 1819, when she was young and still marriageable, her mother reminded her that "neatness is a duty." But Elizabeth confessed to her younger sister Mary in 1834 that "I do not feel able to promise that you will ever see me more than barely tidy." After she gave up on marriage, she seems to have let herself go to seed. The essayist and abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who admired her greatly, found her touring Switzerland in 1867 with her eyeglasses on her chin and a nightgown peeping out from under her day clothes. Henry James Sr. thought she looked "dissolute," and Henry James Jr. elaborated the adjective into a metaphor in his 1885 novel The Bostonians, where he caricatured her as Miss Birdseye, a spinster philanthropist whose face "looked as if it had been soaked, blurred, and made vague by exposure to some slow dissolvent." [Click for more]