The Hearth and Eagle

Written by Anya Seton
Review by Jane Kessler

This novel, first published in 1948, was the fourth written by Anya Seton, a popular historical fiction writer who died in 1990, and the author of one of my favorites, Green Darkness.

The Hearth and Eagle is the story of the Honeywood family of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Most of the story takes place in the mid-19th to the early 20th century. Hester Honeywood is the young daughter of Roger, an ineffectual dreamer, and his practical hardworking wife, Susan. Hester, like many young people, longs for a more exciting life beyond the seacoast town where her family runs an inn, the Hearth and Eagle. Hester grows up hearing her father talk about the courage of their ancestor Phebe Honeywood, who established the inn in the seventeenth century to support her family after her husband was paralyzed in an accident. As she grows up, Hester finds true love with Johnnie, a young Marblehead fisherman, and they become engaged. He is killed in the Civil War, the first of many tragedies that Hester must endure. She does eventually marry and move away, but is drawn back to Marblehead after the marriage fails. She marries again and becomes one of Marblehead’s wealthiest citizens. When Hester and her husband lose everything in a fire and are bankrupt, the inn becomes her home, and a refuge. In the end, Hester personifies the courage and resiliency for which New Englanders are noted, and she comes to deeply value her home and her ancestry.

Seton was noted for her research, and she skillfully weaves the events of the time into the story of Hester’s life: the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, the rise and decline of the shoe industry in Marblehead, and Marblehead’s evolution into a summer community for the rich. An excellent read.