May 10, 2012 by Reader's Connection
From Sherry Utterback, Central Library: Much of what we know–or think we know–about authors, songwriters and performers is based upon their work. Even though our heads tell us that we don’t know them at all, it can be difficult to locate anything to convince our hearts otherwise. Using Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of the book being reviewed here, as an example, you would think that he was the most dour, Puritanical man in the world.
Based upon my remembrance of American Literature class, his books, namely The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, were filled with judgmental, narrow-minded people who enjoyed inflicting pain on others, and themselves committed sins every bit as bad as those whom they so willingly condemned.
In my imagination, Nathaniel Hawthorne was a crabby old man a la Ebenezer Scrooge, who lived and worked in a creepy attic (most probably in the house of the seven gables), who reviewed his work at the end of the day crying out to no one “No, no! It is still too cheerful! It has to be more depressing! These people are still too nice to each other! The house isn’t forbidding enough! No!”
So it was that when going through the 813s, I found Twenty Days With Julian and Little Bunny by Papa, and got the image of Hawthorne as Ebenezer firmly thrust out of my mind.
Today, we use the term “househusband” casually to describe a man who runs the house while his wife works outside the home. During the summer of 1851, Nathaniel Hawthorne was a househusband of sorts when his wife went to the Boston area with their two daughters to visit her relatives. Hawthorne began the diary on the first night to record the household events during her absence, and along the way creates a record of his love for his little boy and his delight in discovering new bits of the “little man” on a daily basis. He has a responsibility unique to his time, a man caring for his son’s every need and desire as well as the running of the family home.
He dutifully records his struggles “frizzing” Julian’s hair with a stick, what he ate every day, any illness or discomfort that the boy experienced and what steps he took to relieve it. Interspersed with these reports, Hawthorne records the games and activities that the two enjoyed together, everything from Herman Melville’s dropping by for an evening to battles with the local dragons, which were really thistles, to caring for Julian’s pet rabbit who is named at different times Springs, Hindlegs, and simply Bunny. Hawthorne’s devotion to his wife Phoebe is also in the diary, and several times he states how he misses her and their two daughters.
Twenty Days With Julian and Little Bunny by Papa, is a delightful read on many levels, not least of which is the chance to get your own misconceptions of Nathaniel Hawthorne washed away and replaced with something (or is it someone) far more appealing.
On The Nathaniel Hawthorne Audio Collection Twenty Days With Julian and Little Bunny by Papa is read by author Paul Auster.