Megan Marshall is a biographer whose particular interest is in recovering lives of women on the periphery and making them central. She works with primary documents—letters, journals, commonplace books—as well as with the printed texts these women read and wrote, to recreate their lives and times, working from the inside out.
Her subject while at the Radcliffe Institute will be Elizabeth Hawthorne, the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne’s older sister, a brilliant recluse and her brother’s mentor and muse, who left a record of her life in letters to her family. A determinedly single woman in a society that valued marriage and service to others, Elizabeth Hawthorne was a maverick, advising her niece Una Hawthorne to “consult your own comforts and foreswear self-sacrifice.” Marshall will explore issues of artistic influence, sibling relationships, the single life, and opportunities and constraints for women of literary talent in the historical and cultural contexts of New England during Elizabeth Hawthorne’s lifetime, 1802–1883.
Marshall spent twenty years researching and writing her biography The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography and memoir in 2006 and was awarded the Francis Parkman Prize, the Mark Lynton History Prize, and the Massachusetts Book Award in nonfiction. Her work on The Peabody Sisters was supported by grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities and by her publisher.