A Bride's Passage: Susan Hathorn's Year Under Sail

Catherine Petroski, Author
Catherine Petroski, Author Northeastern University Press $45 (304p) ISBN 978-1-55553-298-7
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-1-55553-297-0
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In the archives of 19th-century maritime voyaging, it is not uncommon to find wives (even children) accompanying the captains of whaling ships on what were almost inevitably long and arduous journeys. It was rarer to find the captain's wife aboard a merchant vessel. Luckily, one of those merchant wives was Susan Hathorn, a woman who the novelist and short story writer Petroski (Gravity and Other Stories) describes as ""by nature, circumstance, and education simultaneously typical and atypical of her time."" Hathorn was also a fine diarist, having matriculated at Mount Holyoke Seminary, where journal-keeping was required. In 1855 she maintained a record of her first year of marriage and her travels from Philadelphia to Savannah to the Caribbean, across the Atlantic to Liverpool and home to Maine barely in time to prepare for the birth of the child her husband would never see. Using that diary, Petroski has created a scholarly, well-documented work that is also very lively, in large part because Hathorn herself is spunky and literate and has a spontaneous sense of adventure. She spent much of her year on board her husband's 101-foot, three-masted bark, sewing, embroidering, pressing clothes with an iron carried from the galley and reading contemporary novels to her husband in the evening. She also reported on the social happenings in each port, her expenses, the day's longitude and latitude-often taking the sightings herself and recording them in the ship's log. Petroski has written a compelling contribution to maritime literature and the lives of Victorian-age women that will appeal to historians as well as the curious reader. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Feb.)
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