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Beyond the Garden Gate

The Life of Celia Laighton Thaxter

Norma H. Mandel

Celia Laighton Thaxter was an author, painter, gardener, and one of the most popular New England poets of the late nineteenth century. Her nonfiction works, An Island Garden and Among the Isles of Shoals, continue to engage readers; “her prose,” Smithsonian Magazine has said, “has a timeless quality that makes delightful reading today.” Much of Thaxter’s writing was inspired by the Isles of Shoals, an isolated cluster of islands off the coast of New Hampshire, where she was raised and spent much of her life. As a result, she is often thought to have lived a circumscribed existence, but as Norma Mandel demonstrates in this new biography, Thaxter was an active participant in Boston’s vibrant cultural life. Her close friends included Sarah Orne Jewett, John Greenleaf Whittier, and James and Annie Fields, and she moved in a literary circle that included such figures as Hawthorne, Emerson, Longfellow, and Holmes. Thaxter was also the hostess of a vibrant summer salon on Appledore Island where artists Childe Hassam and William Morris Hunt and musicians Julius Eichberg and William Mason were among the frequent visitors. Drawing on previously unexamined letters and family papers as well as Thaxter’s own writings and other sources, Mandel not only reveals new details about the author’s life but also places her in a broader literary and cultural context. From Thaxter’s isolated childhood and early marriage, to her embrace of the Aesthetic Movement and her fascination with spiritualism, to her lifelong struggle to secure a steady income and care for a disabled child, Mandel offers the most comprehensive biography yet written about a writer whose books about the natural world continue to resonate.

Cover Image of Beyond the Garden Gate: The Life of Celia Laighton Thaxter
Cloth: $22.95
ISBN-13: 9781584652977
Pages: 192 | Size: 6 in. x 9 in.
Date Published: July 1, 2004
Screenshot-2023-10-11-at-16.51.58

“Beyond the Garden Gate pulls back the parlor drapes on a life lived fully and courageously.”

Concord Monitor

Reviews

  • Beyond the Garden Gate is compelling reading . . . in fact I couldn't put the book down once I started it.

    Hortus: A Gardening Journal
  • More than 100 years after her death, Celia Thaxter remains one of New Hampshire's premier literary and artistic figures . . . Mandel's wide knowledge of the music, art and literature of Thaxter's times, her extensive research into primary sources, her clear affinity and admiration for Thaxter herself and, of course, the fact that Thaxter led an extraordinary life makes this an extraordinarily readable biography . . . Beyond the Garden Gate pulls back the parlor drapes on a life lived fully and courageously.

    Concord Monitor
  • This groundbreaking book places Thaxter within the context of her time, and shows how she was active in the cultural life of Boston where she interacted with Emerson, Longfellow, and other leading figures.

    BellaOnline's Floral Design

About the Author

NORMA MANDEL is a lecturer in the Education Program at Barnard College and was a contributor to One Woman’s Work: The Visual Art of Celia Laighton Thaxter. She received a Ph.D. in English from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

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