This is the first full-length biography of Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, one of the three notable Peabody sisters of Salem, Massachusetts, and sister-in-law of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Horace Mann. In elegant prose it traces the intricate private life and extraordinary career of one of nineteenth-century America's most important Transcendental writers and educational reformers. Yet Peabody has also been one of the most scandalously neglected and caricatured female intellectuals in American history.
Bruce Ronda has recaptured Peabody from anecdotal history and even blue-stocking portrayals in film--most recently by Jessica Tandy in Henry James's The Bostonians. Peabody was a reformer devoted to education in the broadest, and yet most practical, senses. She saw the classroom as mediating between the needs of the individual and the claims of society. She taught in her own private schools and was an assistant in Bronson Alcott's Temple School. In her contacts with Ralph Waldo Emerson's Transcendental circle in the 1830s, and as publisher of the famous Dial and other imprints, she took a mediating position once more, claiming the need for historical knowledge to balance the movement's stress on individual intuition. She championed antislavery, European liberal revolutions, Spiritualism, and, in her last years, the Paiute Indians. She was, as Theodore Parker described her, the Boswell of her age.
In Ronda's sensitive narrative, Peabody finally comes alive as the fascinating Romantic intellectual and educational reformer that she was.
With Ronda's superb biography, we are given the most comprehensive analysis yet undertaken of her life, thought, and influence...We are left with a rich intricate portrait of a complex personality, a woman best understood as a 'practical intellectual.' Moreover, A Reformer on Her Own Terms takes up the lives and times closest to Peabody, creating, in many ways, a biography of the Peabody family. Ronda is at his best when illustrating the connection between belief and behavior or the Aristotelian notion of praxis. He is insightful as well when analyzing faith and religion and in understanding the integral part Unitarianism played in Peabody's life and actions.
Bruce Ronda's biography of the eccentric Elizabeth Palmer Peabody atypically devotes almost more time to Peabody's circle of intimates than it does to Peabody herself. By doing so, Ronda places Peabody in her time and place and effectively illustrates how powerful social, historical, and cultural forces shaped his subject. In fact, what makes this biography so appealing is the nature of those myriad forces which Ronda explores admirably Ronda's careful mining of Peabody's correspondences and the papers of her contemporaries provides intimate details about these individuals Ronda's 'insider's' glimpse into the transcendentalist movement is captivating and the part of his larger depiction of the role of religion and philosophy in the lives of the educated, white, middle class Ronda's focus was Peabody's own struggle with faith and theology, especially the role played by emotion, but the result is an absorbing account of the struggles within and between the adherents of the various philosophical positions played in the lives of early nineteenth-century men and women, a phenomenon sometimes difficult for contemporary readers to grasp.
- 416 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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