A BRIDE'S PASSAGE by Catherine Petroski


Susan Hathorn's Year Under Sail
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 Selections from a year-long diary kept by a newlywed while sailing aboard her husband's merchant bark, evocatively framed with minutely researched background material by Petroski (Gravity and Other Stories, not reviewed). When Susan Hathorn married Jode Hathorn, she exercised her prerogative as a sea captain's wife to ship out with him, on a honeymoon of sorts. Their itinerary took them from their home in Maine to Savannah, Ga., through the Caribbean, to London and Cardiff, then back to Savannah. Hathorn's daybook begins on January 1, 1855, with the boat already at sea, bound for Cuba: ``This begins another new year. What strange things may happen ere its close none now know.'' By the end of the book readers will know, for Hathorn was a careful observer, noting everything from the disposition of her deck seat to the quality of the harbor pilots, the pleasures and repulsions of the ports, and most of all her needlework, for Hathorn is a fiend for embroidery, quilting, crocheting, needlepoint (``I have finished my twelfth shirt--have made four this week''). Petroski takes both snippets and great chunks of the daybook and situates the jottings in the context of the moment: what London was like in 1855, the backgrounds of the people Hathorn met, how maritime commerce was conducted. She even cracks Hathorn's secret code to reveal when she made love to her husband. By August Hathorn was home in Maine, pregnant, and still writing away like mad. The baby has been born, and Jode is back on the high seas, when the diary stops, just like that, as though Hathorn dropped off the face of the earth (though Petroski keeps on digging to give the book, and Hathorn's life, a sense of conclusion). The details, and the transporting power of the quotidian, are what fascinate here. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-55553-298-5
Page count: 320pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1996


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