TO MYSELF A STRANGER by Patricia Dunlavy Valenti


A Biography of Rose Hawthorne Lathrop
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 At age 44, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, third child of Nathaniel Hawthorne, left her husband and a minor writing career to become a nun and care for poor people dying of cancer in an age that considered the disease to be communicable. Already the subject of three religious biographies, Valenti's book claims to offer Rose a secular and cultural setting and makes an attempt to account for her evolution. Born in 1851, Rose gained a sense of strangeness from her odd relations with her siblings and parents, their constantly moving about from Massachusetts to England, Rome, Germany, their illnesses, losses, and quarrels, until finally, orphaned at age 20, she married the talented and devoted writer. George Lathrop, who adored her, encouraged her to write, and helped to edit her father's letters. It was his manuscripts--the questions of who owned them and what was to be done with them--that alienated her from her siblings in her adult life, isolating her from her family during the terrible loss of her child at age five to diphtheria and the severe emotional collapse that followed. Attracted to the social mission of the Roman Catholic Church and its ``feminization'' in the Victorian period, she converted in 1891, along with her husband, then inexplicably sought a forbidden divorce. Rose left her husband , who later died ill and alone, and founded a community on the Lower East Side of New York called Servants for Relief of Incurable Cancer, offering shelter to patients she solicited through newspaper ads with funds from her high-minded friends and from the sale of her father's memoirs. Valenti (Communicative Arts/Pembroke State) brings little insight, depth, or understanding to this fascinating personality, mysteriously driven to live out the pathology of her father's gothic tales. Her own revealing poetry and stories deserve more than the superficial commentary Valenti offers. The story of Rose- -indeed the posthumous life of Hawthorne himself--is yet to be meaningfully told.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1991
ISBN: 0-8071-1612-2
Page count: 248pp
Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1991