On July 28, 1851, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wife Sophia and daughters Una and Rose left their house in Western Massachusetts to visit relatives near Boston. Hawthorne and his five-year-old son Julian stayed behind. How father and son got along over the next three weeks is the subject of this tender and funny extract from Hawthorne’s notebooks.
“At about six o’clock I looked over the edge of my bed and saw that Julian was awake, peeping sideways at me.” Each day starts early and is mostly given over to swimming and skipping stones, berry-picking and subduing armies of thistles. There are lots of questions (“It really does seem as if he has baited me with more questions, references, and observations, than mortal father ought to be expected to endure”), a visit to a Shaker community, domestic crises concerning a pet rabbit, and some poignant moments of loneliness (“I went to bed at about nine and longed for Phoebe”). And one evening Mr. Herman Melville comes by to enjoy a late-night discussion of eternity over cigars.
With an introduction by Paul Auster that paints a beautifully observed, intimate picture of the Hawthornes at home, this little-known, true-life story by a great American writer emerges from obscurity to shine a delightful light upon family life—then and now.
Until Twain, no one in American literature other than Hawthorne imagined children. This little account is pure evidence of Hawthorne’s special genius. And Paul Auster’s brilliant introduction tells us how Hawthorne knew what he knew and, more interestingly, why. It is Auster and Hawthorne at their best—precise, highly intelligent, and utterly entranced.
— Russell Banks
In his public writing, Nathaniel Hawthorne can seem austere and a little bloodless. But in this excerpt from Hawthorne’s private notebooks we meet a man who has met his match in his own five-year-old son. While his beloved wife Sophia is away, Hawthorne discovers the amazing range of small events that loom large in their boy’s life: bed-wetting, stomachache, tree-climbing, a bee-sting, the death of a pet. To watch the father cope—bathing the child, managing his hair, coaxing, calming, and cajoling him—is to witness a great writer revealing himself as an adoring father and a good man. Paul Auster’s charming introduction helps to turn Hawthorne from a remote classic into a fresh and contemporary human voice. This is a delightful book.
— Andrew Delbanco
Twenty Days With Julian & Little Bunny by Papa provides a picture of Nathaniel Hawthorne not as the melancholy moralist students of American literature have come to understand, but as a devoted and doting family man, a playful papa. In a lengthy—and charming—introduction to the book, Paul Auster sketches some biographical and historical material about the noted American author that adds perspective to this mid-19th century slice of Hawthorne family life, straight from the pen of Hawthorne himself.
— Evelyn Small, The Washington Post
In the unpretentious little volume, Twenty Days With Julian & Little Bunny by Papa—with an excellent introduction by novelist Paul Auster—the remote author of The Scarlet Letter suddenly springs alive as a doting, often exasperated father trying to cope with his frisky 5-year-old son….[a] charming chronicle of three weeks of answering his son’s endless questions, combing his hair, tending the pet rabbit, putting the boy to bed and collapsing….The prose is limpid, the situations tender.
— Brenda Wineapple, The Los Angeles Times Book Review
The tone…is light, but beguiling, full of the rhythms and satisfactions of domesticity….As with all the titles in the estimable paperback-reissue line at New York Review Books, Twenty Days is introduced with great insight and affection. Paul Auster is the perfect man for the job, since he knows his Hawthorne as few do.
— Rick Moody, Bookforum