The Little Locksmith: A Memoir

By: Katharine Butler Hathaway
Subject Matter: American authors; 20th century; Biography; Pott’s disease; Patients; Women; Maine; Castine
Rating: 5/5

The Little Locksmith

The Little Locksmith is ostensibly a memoir about a young woman who purchases a house.

In reality, it is so.much.more than that.

Katharine Butler Hathaway lived from 1890-1942, and this book was written at the very culmination of her life. It is by no means a new book, but, man, was it a breath of fresh air for me.

Hathaway was a sickly child, bedridden for a decade and eventually deformed to some extent. The act of purchasing a house – a large house far from her family, to boot – was an act of independence and rebellion of the kind an invalid, single, 30-something woman could only have dreamed of in the 1920s.

But that’s not even what’s so impressive about this book. Hathaway has a way with words that is simply astounding. She took my breath away at moments. As the English-major daughter of an architect, this book (much like Invisible Cities) melded seamlessly a love of language and a deep appreciation for physical structure.

Hathaway is frank and flowery at the same time. She expresses thoughts I never even knew I had. She stole my heart from the beginning with this passage:

I had two hideous familiars, two fiendish jailers, who with the sudden onrush of darkness and solitude leapt on me every night and seized me one on each side and would not let me go. These two were two Awful Thoughts which my mind had hit upon in its childish explorings and had been poisoned by and made sick and swollen by… One of the two Awful Thoughts was the endlessness of Space, and the other was the endlessness of Time. Every night… my body trembled and shook with the hideous disaster of having been born into this awful universe, of being forced to exist in the very arms of these two unthinkable things.

Never have I ever had a passage hit so close to home so unexpectedly. She goes on to describe the pain of life “being held at a complete standstill during those heartbreakingly precious years” of young adulthood. She speaks to fears and insecurities we all have, but fears which, because of her condition, she believed only she was experiencing. She drops nuggets of wisdom about self-worth and the writing profession and the power of transformation and nature and the disconnect between parents and their children.

It’s beautiful to feel that connected.

I am so genuinely happy I discovered this gem. I have not been able to shut about it since Chapter 1, and I don’t think I will for a long time to come.

Do yourself a favor and take a little trip to Maine with Katharine. You might learn more about yourself than you could’ve possibly imagined.




If you enjoyed The Little Locksmith, here are some suggestions:

(for other female autobiography)

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

Dimestore by Lee Smith

Moments of Being by Virginia Woolf

The World I Live In by Helen Keller

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir

(for works referenced in  The Little Locksmith)

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The Amazing Marriage by George Meredith

The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White

The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

(for more by Hathaway)

The Journals and Letters of the Little Locksmith by Katharine Butler Hathaway


Coming up:

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

The Inn at Rose Harbor by Debbie Macomber

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *