Promoting, supporting and encouraging the study of the United States since 1955

British Association for American Studies


David Timms, Nathaniel Hawthorne


David Timms, Nathaniel Hawthorne

BAAS Pamphlet No. 17 (First Published 1989)

ISBN: 0 946488 07 X
  1. Hawthorne in His Time
  2. The Tales
  3. The Scarlet Letter
  4. The Marble Faun
  5. Hawthorne In Our Time
  6. Guide to Further Reading
  7. Notes
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1. Hawthorne in His Time


From several points of view, Hawthorne occupies a unique place in American literary history. In a now famous review of Mosses from an Old Manse, ‘Hawthorne and his Mosses’, written while he was trying to finish Moby-Dick, Melville made a bold bid to claim major status for a man who was soon to become his friend, by comparing him with Shakespeare.[1] While I would not be drawn into a debate about literary league tables, what certainly can be said is that Hawthorne occupies a position in American literary culture analogous to Shakespeare’s in Britain. Shakespeare was born on St. George’s day; Hawthorne, like Yankee Doodle Dandy, on the Fourth of July. Professor Schoenbaum has shown how Shakespeare’s image has varied in relation to the life and times of the biographer.[2] The same is true of Hawthorne. He has been the perfect Victorian gentleman created by his son in Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Wife (1885) and his wife in her editions of the ‘passages’ from his notebooks (Sophia Hawthorne altered the word ‘bottom’ to ‘seat’ even when the bottom in question was that of a chair). To the cosmopolitan Henry James in Hawthorne (1879) he was a bewildered provincial. He was a Rebellious Puritan in 1927 but A Modest Man in 1940. In Randall Stewart’s Nathaniel Hawthorne (1948), published in the anxious early days of the Cold War, he was a family man, concerned about his domestic and civic responsibilities, distinctly not un-American. I am distorting a little, of course, in the interests of a good story; but the broad outline of the pattern is there.[3]


Hawthorne was the first native author in America to be thought of as ‘classic’. The earliest of the works that stake his claim to major status dates from the early 1830s, when he was, in the words of one of his own prefaces, ‘the obscurest man of letters in America’,[4] but by 1843 he was able to write to his friend Bridge ‘nobody’s scribblings seem to be more acceptable to the public than mine’. (XVI 688) His long fictions, produced in the 1850s, were widely reviewed in America and in Britain; one review, possibly written by George Eliot, calling The Blithedale Romance ‘the finest production of genius in either hemisphere, for this quarter at least … ‘. [5] The first twenty years after his death in 1864 saw the publication of three ‘Collected’ editions of his works, and there was a market for anything that came from his pen, for his wife and son continued for some years to bring out journals and notebook material further and further removed from a state that can have been intended for publication.

According to Richard Brodhead, for his literary descendants Hawthorne achieved and preserved an almost talismanic force. Brodhead comments that the experience of first reading Hawthorne is a repeated trope in literary autobiographies of nineteenth century figures.[6] The case of Henry James is well known, who records the experience of reading all Hawthorne’s works straight through, ‘in one sweet draught’, in the summer of the older writer’s death.[7] Less well known and far less likely is the case of the naturalist Hamlin Garland, who recalls reading Hawthorne for the first time and finding in him a literary touchstone against which he could judge all other literature, and even people, for he records that a girlfriend’s not liking his new enthusiasm finished the romance.[8]

But this sketch of Hawthorne’s standing does not sufficiently recognise the fact that for all his classic’ status Hawthorne’s was very much a succes destime: he was never a popular author in the sense of having best-sellers, except perhaps in the ease of The Scarlet Letter, which owing to its subject — matter was a suces de scandale. His career as a whole is instructive about the conditions of professional authorship in nineteenth century America. Though, as I note above, Hawthorne found himself in considerable demand by 1843, he goes, on to say in the same letter ‘I find it a tough match to gain a respectable support by my pen’. (XV, 688) J. Donald Crowley in his, excellent Hawthorne: the Critical Heritage says that the total income from Mosses From an Old Manse for 1851 and 1852 was $150. Sophia Hawthorne’ saved a similar sum from the income from her decorative work.[9] It gave the Hawthornes some financial leeway after the writers notorious expulsion from his job in the Salem Custom House: in effect, it gave him the time to write The Scarlet Letter. These figures might be compared with the $30,000 Hawthorne saved from the income from his Consular appointment in Liverpool between 1853 and 1857. ‘Dollars damn me’,[10] Melville said to Hawthorne himself in a different context, and Hawthorne must have known exactly what his friend meant: he took a succession of public appointments that did not so much eke out the income he earned from his writing as vice versa.

Some solutions have been offered to the paradox that Hawthorne was successful but not popular. Jane Tompkins in her controversial Sensational Designs suggests that his contemporaneous reputation was largely achieved because the American literary establishment ‘in the late forties and early fifties, a small group of men, well-known to each other personally, focused on Boston, acted as a kind of literary freemasonry to puff each other’s reputations’. She points, for instance, to an influential review of Twice-Told Tales by Longfellow, whom Hawthorne had known at Bowdoin College.[11] More persuasive than the conspiracy theory is Richard Brodhead’s account of the marketing expertise of Hawthorne’s publisher, James Fields, who ‘established “literature” as a market category with Hawthorne one of the brand leaders, marketed specifically as a classic’.[12] It is surely significant too that Hawthorne’s ‘classic’ status should have been established and consolidated in the 1850s at a time when chronic sectional conflict was becoming acute. New England’s endeavour to elevate an author who so insistently uses the setting and history of his own region is perhaps linked to the rivalry generated by the ‘King Cotton’ prosperity of the South. It is analogous to nineteenth-century Britain’s wish to claim cultural superiority as its economic and political child looked more and more parental.


But, in fact, in many respects Hawthorne was out of step with his time. If Harriet Beecher Stowe may be taken to be representative of that ‘damned mob of scribbling women’[13] about whom Hawthorne complained to his publisher (as she was certainly the most successful in terms of public impact) it is clear that what Hawthorne was writing was in general against the grain of public taste. The American public wanted tales of adventure like Cooper’s or Dana’s; local colour that appealed to the regional interest like the works of John Pendleton Kennedy or Augustus Baldwin Longstreet; thinly- or even undisguised tracts like those of Susan Warner or Timothy Shay Arthur’s Ten Nights in a Bar-Room; or books that managed to combine all three, like, triumphantly, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Hawthorne himself noticed this ruefully in a late letter to Fields: “My own opinion is, that I am not really a popular writer, and that what popularity I have gained is chiefly accidental, and owing to other causes than my own kind or degree of merit”.[14] Nina Baym in The Shape of Hawthorne’s Career claims that Hawthorne was trying to find his audience, and changed his style in successive books to suit what he believed (wrongly, it seems) to have been public taste.[15]

But this surely does not explain the attitude Hawthorne adopts in his introductions, where, in seeking to explain the precise nature of his works, and in particular in his repeated attempts to establish the special status of the romance as opposed to the novel, he is clearly recognising that, far from being in the main line of public taste, his fictions are precisely what they are not used to.

Hawthorne was also out of step with the majority of his literary peers. The intellectual fashion of his day in New England was Transcendentalism, but despite his involvement in the Brook Farm experiment Hawthorne was no Emersonian optimist. A mind for which sin and evil were such potent presences could hardly have been consonant with one for which evil was merely the privation of good, as cold is the privation of heat; and in fact Hawthorne satirized Transcendentalism directly in his pastiche of The Pilgrim’s Progress for the nineteenth century, ‘The Celestial Railroad’. ‘Giant Transcendentalist’ has usurped the cavern of Pope and Pagan in Hawthorne’s Valley of the Shadow of Death, and there he lurks, waiting to seize unwary travellers and fatten them up for his table with large meals of ‘smoke, mist, moonshine, raw potatoes, and saw-dust’. (326) It took a Melville to notice that Hawthorne was one of those who say ‘No – in thunder’,[16] though it seems obvious to us today.

Just as important, perhaps, Hawthorne differed with his Transcendentalist contemporaries on the proper content of literature. Emerson in ‘The American Scholar’ called for an indigenous literature that would reject the remote, and instead deal with ‘the meal in the firkin, the milk in the pan’.[17] Thoreau and Whitman in their different ways would be able to take his advice. But while Hawthorne used the materials of the American past in his fiction, he spelt out very clearly that as far as he was concerned ‘no author, without a trial, can conceive of the difficulty of writing a romance about a country where there is no shadow, no antiquity, no mystery, no picturesque and gloomy ‘wrong, nor anything but a commonplace prosperity, in broad and simple daylight, as is happily the case with my dear native land’. (IV, 3)

Hawthorne also disagreed with the Trancendalists over the basic materials that constitute literature: words themselves. It is clear from his comments in notebooks that for him language and the world it refers to are closed systems; that reality is intractable and finally untranslatable and language can only be suggestive of it. The Transcendentalists were dissatisfied with the current state of language: Emerson looked for a ‘language of fact’ and felt that ‘wise men pierce … rotten diction and fasten words again to visible things’.[18] Thoreau wanted language with the immediacy of an animal cry.[19] The poet for Emerson is one who names and his disciple Whitman formulated the notion that ‘Names are magic’.[20] Behind their views lies the belief that the problem of the artist is to bring words into a proper relation with things; Hawthorne’s statements, and his practice, imply a different proposition, that words and things are inevitably separate from each other.


But Hawthorne was more completely out of step with his European peers. The full-scale ‘romances’ on which Hawthorne’s reputation chiefly rests all belong to the 1850s. The Scarlet Letter published at the beginning of the decade and The Marble Faun, written at the end. However, the same decade saw the first use of the term ‘realism’ in England, and the appearance of the first works of Trollope and George Eliot. ‘To assert specifically when [realism] began is to ensure disagreement’, says George Becker in the introduction to a collection of contemporaneous documents on the topic, ‘yet it seems clear enough that the decade of the 1850s constitutes a kind of watershed’. [21] It is true that Hawthorne regretted to Longfellow that his works were not more substantial. (XV, 251) He said in ‘The Custom House’ that the ‘ordinary characters’ of his everyday experience might furnish the material for ‘a better book than I shall ever write’, (67) and later expressed to Fields his admiration of Trollope’s work, ‘written on the strength of beef and through the inspiration of ale’.[22] But the fact is that he never did, and spent a good deal of effort on explaining that this lack of solidity was an important feature of his fiction and not simply an omission. Hawthorne’s best-known and most succinct definition of what he understood by the term ‘romance’ is contained in the preface to The House of the Seven Gables:

When a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly he said that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man’s experience. The former – while, as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably, so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer’s own choosing or creation. (II, 1)

Hawthorne seems to be making two claims here. The first relates to the raw material of any fiction, the elements of character, setting and action, which in a novel conform to ‘the probable and ordinary course of man’s experience’. In romance, therefore, we should not expect verisimilitude in these things. As I hope to show below, Hawthorne was as good as his word on these matters: characters are not ’rounded’ or ‘realistic’, such as you might see; settings are often impossible to visualise; and plots are not driven by causality.

From their very different standpoints, Hawthorne’s American and European contemporaries were alike in their stress on the visible and the sense of sight. The word that echoes throughout the realists’ own critical writings on their work is ‘observation’, and, from Stendhal to George Eliot, the metaphor they used to characterise their art is that of the faithful reflecting mirror. Ruskin and Carlyle as well as Arnold voiced some version of the dictum that the purpose of art is to ‘see the object as in itself it really is’.[23] Emerson and Thoreau in the USA had inherited the Romantic belief that seeing had to be instinct with ‘feeling’, expressed for example in Coleridge’s ‘Dejection’ ode: ‘I see them all so excellently fair,/I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!’[24]

The Transcendentalists felt that like language seeing needed to be reinvented. Emerson famously wanted to be a transparent eyeball.[25] F. O. Mattheissen points out:

Concern with the external world… came to mark every phase of the century’s increasing closeness of observation, whether on such scientific achievements as telescope or microscope, or in the painter’s new experiments with light, or in the determination of the photographers and realistic novelists to record every surface detail.[26]

It was a concern that Hawthorne expressly ignores.

This brings us to the second aspect of Hawthorne’s definition. According to Marshall McLuhan it is the isolation of the sense of sight produced by print culture that makes the ‘fixed point of view’ possible, and with it the very idea of the author.[27] It is surely this ‘fixed point of view’ that is the foundation stone of the realist novel, the conviction that there is a common world of phenomena referred to by the author, the broad outlines of which we cannot but accept as independent of our individual perception of it. However, the classic plot of the realist novel is one of ‘Lost Illusions’. The consequence is that the characteristic attitude of the author’s representative in the realist novel, the omniscient narrator, is paternal, guiding a readership away from the mistakes made by erring characters. This attitude is summed up splendidly by Trollope in-his ‘Conclusion’ to Barchester Towers: ‘the end of a novel, like the end of a children’s dinner party, must be made up of sweetmeats and sugarplums’. Trollope dispenses, reassures, comforts: ‘Let the gentle reader be-wider no apprehension whatever. It is not destined that Eleanor shall marry Mr. Slope or Bertie Stanhope’.[28] In the late nineteenth century the narratorial voice moved from this paternal authoritarianism to the even more confident ‘invisibility’ of, say, Zola, whose narrator has no need to identify himself because he is reporting what anyone must observe in the context of his world, if they have eyes to see.

Jonathan Culler glosses Sartre’s view of the nineteenth century novel in general: it is ‘told from the viewpoint of wisdom and experience and listened to from the viewpoint of order’.[29] The language of realism, according to John Ellis and Rosalind Coward, is ‘the language of mastery’.[30] Michel Foucault looks at matters from another direction but comes up with a complementary view of the ‘author’ as governor:

The author allows a limitation of the cancerous and dangerous proliferation of significations within a world where one is thrifty not only with one’s resources and riches, but also with discourses and their significations. The author is the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning.[31]

Hawthorne suggests that the writing of romances puts the writer into a situation in which it is possible to ‘sin unpardonably’. The idea of the unpardonable sin is itself the explicit theme of one of his stories, ‘Ethan Brand’. and so its mention here is doubly self-referential; but what this notion introduces is the idea that the writing of fiction is a moral business as well as an aesthetic one, that the relationship of the storyteller, his stories and the world is problematic. In fact, he asserts the reverse of that confidence that I have suggested to have been characteristic of the realist writer. The teller behind Hawthorne’s tales and romances is not readily identifiable as a coherent authorial personality who dispenses an unquestionable truth; he will not adopt the paternal role, and is suspicious of the authoritarianism that the role conventionally implies.


Hawthorne wrote to a friend on the publication of The Marble Faun that some of the British reviews ‘grumble awfully’ about his ‘wild … fiction’, because ‘it is not every man that knows how to read a Romance’.[32] Instead of seeing Hawthorne’s prefaces as evidence of his wish to follow an audience, they might be seen as his attempt to create one, they might be not so much explanations of how the works were written as how they might be read. It is perhaps in the relationship of reader and writer inscribed in Hawthorne’s texts that we might find his most distinctive qualities.

2. The Tales


Disgusted, possibly, by the lack of success of the anonymously published Fanshawe (1828), or just disgusted with its awkward blend of Gothic, melodrama and autobiography, Hawthorne recalled the book, destroyed as many copies as he could, and embarked on writing tales and sketches, for which he found a ready market in the gift-books and annuals that were one of the publishing staples of his time. He eked out a thin income from the stories with literary hack-work, but was reliant on the financial support of his mother and her family. He used the freedom this gave him usefully, however, for in addition to writing, he was reading copiously in the histories of his region, and also travelling around it. The literary fruit of these years were the two series of Twice-Told Tales (1837; 1842), and two further volumes of stories, Mosses From an Old Manse and The Snow Image and Other Twice Told Tales, which followed in 1846 and 1851.

As collections, these volumes offend our urge to look for qualitative ‘development’, for some of the stories currently considered among Hawthorne’s best, like ‘My Kinsman, Major Molyneux’ and ‘Roger Malvin’s Burial’ are very early, dating from 1832. It should be noted, however, that this assessment of his ‘best’ would probably not have been understood by his contemporaries, who consistently singled out for highest praise pieces now largely ignored, like ‘Little Annie’s Ramble’.

The collections are miscellanies, and their inclusions do not simply correlate with dates of original composition. Hawthorne’s selections, and what they suggest about his own relative valuation of his tales, might seem to us surprising, for he omitted both 1832 stories from the first collection, preferring to’ include ‘The Gentle Boy’, for instance. However, it is clear from Arlin Turner’s reconstruction of Hawthorne’s earliest efforts in the short story’ that his original intention was to put together a formally connected set of narratives.[33] The first attempt was to be called ‘Seven Tales of my Native Land’, possibly containing stories that are autobiographically referred to as having been burnt, in the later ‘Alice Doanes’s Appeal’ and ‘The’ Devil in Manuscript’. The second projected collection, ‘The Storyteller’, was much more ambitious. Here too Hawthorne planned a series of ‘American’ tales, linked by the itinerant figure named in the title. Parts of both collections survive, though it is difficult to be sure exactly which stories might originally have been intended for which project. But if in the extant collections the ‘local colour’ aspect of the tales is diminished, a self-referential acknowledgement of artifice, suggested by ‘The Story-Teller’ project, remains, and is characteristic of all his fictions.


Many of the tales belong explicitly to the realm of the fantastic. ‘Earth’s Holocaust’, for example, takes as its theme the building of a huge bonfire on which ally the outdated uses of the world are to be heaped up and burned. I have already referred to ‘The Celestial Railroad’, where in Hawthorne’s version of Pilgrim’s Progress Pilgrim makes his journey by rail. Only slightly less fantastic is the notion of a search for, an abstract absolute like ‘the unpardonable sin’ in ‘Ethan Brand’, or perfection in a human being, in ‘The Birth-mark’.

If he does not seek real settings, neither does Hawthorne try to create ‘real’ characters. The tales show that-he conventionally uses types, and that there is a fairly short cast-list of these types. There is the artist in ‘Drowne’s Wooden Image’ or ‘The Artist of the Beautiful’ and the overlapping figure of the scientist in ‘Rappacini’s Daughter’ or ‘The Birth-mark’. Another recurring figure with qualities in common with the artist “‘scientist is one whom Melville might have called an ‘isolato’, the man for some reason cut off from the rest of humanity, like Ethan Brand. There are also the antithetical figures of the neophyte, like the heroes of ‘Young Goodman Brown’ and My Kinsman, Major Molyneux’, anal the authoritarian, like the eponymous ‘Gray Champion’, or Endicott, the iron Puritan who recurs in the colonial tales. This is not to say that the characters lack verisimilitude of any kind, but what they have is a kind that focuses and concentrates on an abstract quality, rather than one that expatiates and includes the miscellaneousness of a ‘real’ individual. ‘Roger Malvin’s Burial’ takes as its subject the operations of a guilty conscience, not the character of one on whom a guilty conscience is operating.

‘Roger Malvin’s Burial’ offers an excellent illustration of Hawthorne’s techniques in his tales, and is also interesting in being the subject of one of the most persuasive analyses in Michael J Colacurcio’s influential book on Hawthorne’s tales, The Province of Piety. Like many of the tales, it takes as its starting point a specific episode of New England history, in this case the experience of a lather and his son-in-law who fought the Pigwackett Indians in ‘Lovewell’s Fight’. Reuben Bourne leaves his father-in-law to be, the Roger Malvin of the title, to die at the foot of a great rock after the fight. Roger persuades him to go, and the narrator carefully details the operation of Reuben’s conscience as he leaves the old man.

He is in one of those impossible moral situations in which any course of action is wrong. Simple’ to stay and await the old man’s inevitable death, risking his own life, would be absurd: Roger’s daughter might lose both father and lover, and besides, it may be Reuben will find help and return to the rescue. On the other hand to leave strains Reuben’s filial wish to care for the old man and to give him a decent burial. Finally he leaves, promising to return, when he is himself well, to bury his friend. Reuben is finally found and restored to health. He marries Roger’s daughter, but he is never able to bring himself to tell her that he left her father still breathing; and because he cannot tell her, he can never return to fulfil his promise At the end he atones for his guilt by unwittingly shooting his own son at the exact scene of Roger Malvin’s death.

Colacureio’s reading of the story’s moral import is impeccable: Reuben’s fault is not what he does or does not do, it is that he cannot admit to himself or to his wife that his action has been other than heroic. And the application of the story to Hawthorne’s historical understanding of his own times is surely accurate too. Colacureio points out that in 1825 New England resounded with celebrations of the centennial of Lovewell’s Fight, and that the centennial pictured the engagement as a heroic defence of white civilisation against the savages. What ‘Roger Malvin’s Burial’ refers to is that tendency of a people to prefer a mythic version of their history from which they emerge with honour to a version that recognises the sins that may have been committed to ensure their success.[34]

Colacurcio’s agenda is not in the least hidden: it is to rescue Hawthorne from formalist critics who seek to remove him from a historical context. His basic warning is salutary and certainly right, that the formalist ignores Hawthorne’s genuine engagement with his times and his interest in the function of the past. But the claim that Hawthorne’s tales often turn on some precise point of abstruse Puritan doctrine or exact historical reference is surely overplayed. Hawthorne’s flexibility over ‘real’ events and his distortions of ‘real’ settings suggest that his interest is in the moral reflections that history can stimulate, and that he himself will be cavalier with ‘fact’ if a moral issue can be foregrounded thereby. He does exactly this in ‘Roger MaIvin’s Burial’ when he takes the delineaments of the ‘Charter Oak’, the hiding place of the Connecticut ‘liberties’ sought by the evil Governor Andros, the villain in several of his own tales, for the tree in Massachusetts beneath which Malvin dies. Nina Bayn’s view is more accurate, that Hawthorne had a ‘lack of interest in theological niceties’ and that ‘Hawthorne was not interested in making history the subject of his fiction or in creating fictions for the purpose of commenting on the American past. (It is arguable whether these were ever his purposes in fiction.)’[35]


In one sense Colacurcio’s information about the contemporary celebration of Lovewell’s Fight is unnecessary. Hawthorne’s narrator could hardly be more explicitly ironic: the fight was an incident ‘naturally susceptible of the moonlight of romance’, and there might be found ‘much to admire in the heroism of the little band’, if, that is, ‘imagination’ might cast ‘certain circumstances judiciously in the shade’.(51) This is obviously no uncritical boost to Hawthorne’s martial forebears, and we might surely spot it, even if we had not read other ironic treatments of similar topics, like ‘Endicott and the Red Cross’. But it is important to note that the mode of the story is irony, for its whole point is that, as I suggest above, there are situations in which no course of action is wholly the right one. More than that, such situations seem to me precisely the ones Hawthorne is most interested in, and many of the tables and romances turn on exactly the point that there are individuals who cannot accept the fact, who assume in doctrinaire fashion that what they say is inevitably right, or that what their laws proscribe can never be attended with any good outcome. For that is the further consequence of the ironic vision: while it is dishonest to claim that, say, the history of the relations of the white colonists with the Indians redounds throughout to the credit of the colonists, it is sentimental to pretend that in colonising a country it was possible to do it without bloodshed or detriment to the original occupants.


One such figure who does appear to claim always to be right ‘to stand next to God’, as John Fowles says, within a convention universally accepted’ in mid-nineteenth century fiction, is an omniscient author/narrator.[36] It is exactly’ the confidence of the single point of view that Hawthorne found uncongenial in the authorial role, and authorship in general seems to have been uncomfortable for him. In life he was not fond of the company of other writers, preferring publishers like Fields and Ticknor to fellow authors, and, in England, mixing with businessmen like Henry Bright or Francis Bennoch rather than the literary peers with whom he could have claimed company. In the tales characters who identify themselves as tellers of stories are almost always morally shaky. The itinerant peddlar and self-appointed bearer of news in Mr. Higginbotham’s Catastrophe’ spreads inflammatory scandal on scanty evidence in order that he might himself seem more important. The author-narrators of ‘Earth’s Holocaust’ or ‘The Seven Vagabonds’ or ‘The Celestial Railroad’ are naif or puzzled or uninformed about the events they describe.

Many of the tales have what appears to be an editorial apparatus that offers ‘commentary’ on the texts but actually serves to undermine the status of the writer as sole authority. This sometimes takes joke forms like the ‘editorial’ footnote to Time’s Portraiture’ which deplores the modern bearer of the surname ‘Hathorne’ for adding a supernumary ‘w’; and is sometimes more elaborate, as in the prefatory matter to ‘Rappacini’s Daughter’, which states that the work is a translation from the French of one ‘Aubepine’. The editor’ describes the works of Aubepine in terms much like those in which Hawthorne describes his own in the preface to Mosses from an Old Manse, except that the works of the French master are literally voluminous, whereas Hawthorne’s own are mere tales. Otherwise this editor is as weary of his subject’s work as Hawthorne claimed to be of his own: reading through Aubepine’s work has been ‘wearisome’; inspiring ‘affection’ but not ‘admiration’.(387)

Hawthorne does not allow these tales to fall into easily categorised genres, and consistently blurs distinctions: it is not simply as Poe says that many of them are more essays than tales. What for instance is Endicott and the Red Cross? On the one it is clearly not ‘pure’ fiction. It recounts an episode from Puritan history in which the warlike John Endicott ripped from the English flag the symbol of episcopacy to demonstrate colonial defiance of Charles I’s wish for conformity in religious practice. Much of it is given over to a ‘sketch’ of the Salem of the 1630s: but the items included, lists of townspeople mutilated for religious transgressions, and engines of Puritan authority, are clearly included not for local colour purposes but in order to make a thematic point. The events include the central one I describe, but also a supposed dialogue between Endicott and the acceptable face of Puritanism, Roger Williams, that cannot have taken place, at least in the circumstances the piece elaborates, but which is also there for thematic purposes. ‘Endicott and the Red Cross’ cannot therefore be considered a historical sketch either.

The same goes for tone as well as genre status. The prefatory matter to ‘Rappacini’s Daughter’ I mention above introduces one of Hawthorne’s darkest tales. ‘Little Annie’s Ramble’, consistently singled out by Hawthorne’s contemporaneous reviewers as distilling his most light and charming qualities, when read more suspiciously becomes a much more dubious and complex text. It too begins by looking like a sketch, the unnamed narrator using the device of taking a little girl for a walk to introduce a description of a contemporary New England provincial town. The narrator is nowhere signalled as being anyone other than a representative of the author, but careful reading reveals something more sinister. We learn at the end that this ‘ramble’ has caused much distress to Annie’s mother, since the narrator failed to let her know that he was taking her little girl away. It is clear that the purpose of the walk is less to entertain Annie than to gratify some urge of his own: ‘the pure breath of children revives the life of aged men’ whose ‘moral nature [is] revived by their free and simple thoughts, their airy mirth, their grief, soon roused and soon allayed’. (IX, 129) As it turns out, he is more interested in her grief than in her mirth, for he insistently draws her attention to things that might be supposed to upset a little girl. He wonders if in the busy streets the ‘rattling gigs will be smashed to pieces before our eyes’ (IX, 122) and points out to her ‘a shrill voice of affliction, the scream of a little child, rising louder with every repetition of that smart, sharp, slapping sound, produced by an open hand on tender flesh’. (IX, 128) The relish in the alliteration here condenses one of the implications of the story as a whole: this narrator is aestheticising human suffering. Far from illustrating Hawthorne’s wholesomeness, ‘Little Annie’s Ramble’ illustrates his grasp of human perversion.

The story also illustrates his understanding of the questionable aspect of storytelling, for what is the author of this talc doing but something like what is being done by his creation? The difference of course is that the act is held up for our inspection by Hawthorne, being put in a critical context that confesses its own dubious status in a way that the narrator of the story never explicitly acknowledges: he always stoutly maintains that he is merely taking a little girl for a walk.


Colin McCabe, in an essay on Middlemarch, objects to the way in which George Eliot pretends that the language of her narrator is a metalanguage that has more validity than the language of her characters, and would thereby remove from her readers the opportunity to make judgements of their own about the actions in the story.[37] The care with which Hawthorne establishes relations between narrator characters and reader is illustrative of his understanding of the authoritarianism McCabe protests against. Sometimes the touch is light in intent, at least, if not in execution. The narrator of The House of the Seven Gables hovers on the brink of an unmarried lady’s bedroom, questioning the propriety of using his omniscience to go inside.

A more subtle instance can be observed in ‘Young Goodman Brown’. The story is again one of Hawthorne’s earliest, from 1835, and takes as its subject the eponymous hero’s compact with the devil. Brown, recently married, sets off into the forest to be initiated in a meeting of a witches’ coven. He thinks of himself as the only resident of his village to have any truck with black magic, and he is dismayed to find that his neighbours have made this journey before him. They are all there for the festivities, including those he most respected; worse yet, including Faith, his bride. Maddened by despair, Brown rushes into the heart of the forest and collapses. In the morning he returns to the village unsure of whether his experiences were real or a dream. He cannot decide, but from that day forwards lives an embittered and cynical man, ever distrustful of those he had thought worthy.

It is characteristic of Hawthorne’s methods to leave the existential status of the events in his stories in doubt, a feature related to that blurring of genre lines I mention above. Is this a kind of ghost story, or a story about psychological affliction? If we knew whether what Brown saw was supposed to be ‘real’ we could answer the question, but we are as ignorant as Brown himself, drawn into the question, but not offered the answer. But the narrator’s refusal to pacify and to passivise us is itself part of the meaning of the story. Brown has always believed others to be morally superior to himself simply by virtue of their status as authority figures: Goody Cloyse, ‘a very pious and exemplary dame… had taught him his catechism, in youth, and was still his moral and spiritual adviser’, (137) and the minister and Deacon Goodkin are both ‘holy men’. (140) Brown is the other side of the coin that has on its head the profile of figures like the authoritarian Hollingsworth, in The Blithedale Romance, or Endicott, whom I have already mentioned: they think they are always right, but Brown at the outset of the story thinks everybody else is. If the narrator had simply answered our questions – was there really a meeting of a witches’ coven? – he would have been placing himself in the position Brown believed his mentors to have; and it is precisely Brown’s unwillingness to accept any level of human fallibility in those he has considered authorities that leads him into despair.

This subtlety about narratorial placing can be observed in the detail of the story too. As Brown enters the forest on his way to his assignation with the devil, he encounters an old gentleman taking a similar route:

As nearly as could be discerned, the second traveller was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and bearing a considerable resemblance to him, though perhaps more in expression than in features. Still, they might have been taken for father and son. And yet, though the elder person was as simply clad as the younger, and as simple in manner too, he had an indescribable air of one who knew the world … (135)

If I might refer back to Trollope’s address to his reader, comparison makes it clear that Hawthorne operates within very different conventions. Trollope’s narrator is in the know, and he is willing to dispense, carefully, and as a treat, his information to his reader, while his character is kept in the dark. This hierarchical compact of superiority between the author’s representative and the reader is exactly the kind of conspiracy that McCabe objects to in Middlemarch. I believe George Eliot to be a more subtle author than that but Trollope’s avuncular attitude is certainly the kind of thing McCabe had in mind.

But Hawthorne does not take the superior view and dispense the gospel to his reader: the perceptual and conceptual point of view he adopts is Brown’s own: his presentation of the stranger is as Brown sees him. The description is full of qualifications and uncertainty: ‘apparently . . . perhaps . . . might have been …. indescribable’. The last is particularly telling, for what is the function of narrator if not to describe? The effect is to make a statement of equality between the discourse of Brown and that of the narrator, which includes the reader and privileges him or her over neither of the other two parties. The compact is maintained until the moment that Brown loses his head, ‘maddened by despair’: ‘The road grew wilder and drearier, and more faintly traced, and vanished at length, leaving him in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward, with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil.’ (142)

It is only at his point that the narrator implies that he and the reader are in a different world from Brown’s: the narrator now speaks to the reader about Brown’s unwillingness to understand. ‘My Faith is gone’, (141) cries the young man; unaware of the ironies of his statement: he is thinking of his wife, whom he discovers to be also of the devil’s company. But his problem was that he never had faith. For him, individuals were valuable only if they were perfect; that is, unlike himself. Like Groucho Marx, he will not join a club that might have him as a member. The narrator on the other hand clearly accepts that frailty is the human lot and understands that the dram of evil does not doubt alt noble substance. He claims Brown for a fellow member of humanity: but Brown deserts him. It is a pattern that reverses the conventional disposition of the narrator, reader, and character: Brown is the one making large and superior generalisations about human nature, while the narrator and the reader are in a compact that accepts the limitation of our knowledge.


In ‘Young Goodman Brown’ the narrator offers guidance, but it is a guidance that is informed by the themes of the story itself. In general, Hawthorne is reluctant in his stories to use what Barthes calls the ‘reference code’: that manner of address that makes statements about the world outside the story, and claims the authority of conventional wisdom or accepted fact.[38] It is a voice that asserts a collective wisdom that the reader cannot question, and is often employed to assert the moral commonplaces that cultures take for granted. Hawthorne is much more likely to draw his reader into a situation in which these moral commonplaces are all questioned, in which all that is clear is that a multiplicity of contradictory readings is possible.

3. The Scarlet Letter


The Scarlet Letter stands at a turning point in Hawthorne’s career. Mark Van Doren is right in saying that ‘The Scarlet Letter is in a sense the last of Hawthorne’s tales’.[39] Versions of the major figures in the romance appear in the tales and the work achieves a concentration and economy that seems more characteristic of the tale than of the more discursive longer form. On the other hand, Hawthorne knew before its publication that he had written a book that was different from his productions to date, a book of unusual power. He recalls in his English Notebooks that when he read the manuscript to Sophia he was moved in an unprecedented way: ‘my voice swelled and heaved, as if I were tossed up and down on an ocean, as it subsided after a storm’ [40]

The Scarlet Letter can be seen as the last and the best of the tales, then, but also as the first and best of the romances, the work that distils his most characteristic qualities.


The major elements of the story had been present in Hawthorne’s mind for some years. As early as ‘Endicott and the Red Cross’ in 1838 one of a group awaiting public humiliation before the people of Salem was ‘a young woman, with no mean share of beauty, whose doom it was to wear the letter A on the breast of her gown’. (219) Later he speculated in his American Notebooks that there might be a subject for a romance in the ‘life of a woman, who, by the old colony law, was condemned always to wear the letter A, sewed on her garment, in token of her having committed adultery’. (VIII, 254) But the actual circumstances under which Hawthorne came to write the story are instructive, and he gives a full description of them in ‘The Custom House’, which acts as preface to The Scarlet Letter.

It is important to be critical in reading the preface. Some of ‘The Custom House’ is as fictitious as the events of the story proper, in particular the account of the finding of the letter itself among the papers of Mr. Surveyor Pue, one of Hawthorne’s predecessors in the Customs offices, to whom the speaker claims to act as ‘editor, or very little more’. (36) As he recognises, such a claim is ‘of a kind always recognised in literature’ (36) – but recognised as the reverse of a guarantee of literal truth. The claim signifies fictionality as unmistakably as Jim Hawkins’s finding a map in Blind Pew’s sea chest. The ordinariness and specificity of the account of the Custom House background emphasises further the extraordinariness of the ‘discovery’ of the scarlet A. The narrator’s claim to have found a red letter that burned his finger when he touched it is on the literal level preposterous, but much of the rest of the sketch, despite its tone of ironic satire, is a serious account of the responsibility the author/narrator feels towards his fiction, and itself a guarantee that he takes to heart his own injunction at the end of the narrative: ‘Be true! Be true! Be true!’ (271) It thus allies itself explicitly with the attitude that is implicit in the tales to date.

In ‘The Custom House’ the author/narrator asserts his similarity to the breed of Winthrop, Wilson and Bellingham, the Puritan authority figures responsible for Hester’s punishment in the text. He identifies his forefathers as associates of theirs, and the actions he chooses to remember them by are the ‘hard- severity’ towards a Quaker woman by his ‘first ancestor’, and his worthy son’s ‘conspicuous’ part in what the narrator calls the ‘martyrdom’ of the Salem ‘witches’. (40-2) He confesses that ‘strong traits of their nature have intertwined themselves with mine’. (42) He too in the course of his narrative is judging a woman. But unlike his forebears, the author/narrator brings the faculty of imagination to bear on the woman, and is able to look at her from more points of view than that of dogmatic weigher and measurer. Most important, he can see the world from her point of view; he is able to ally himself with the woman as well as with her persecutors. After all, would they not judge him as harshly as they judged her?’What is he?’ murmurs one grey shadow of my forefathers to the other. ‘A writer of story-books! What kind of business in life, – what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation, – may that be? Why, the degenerate fellow might well have been a fiddler!'(41-2)

In fact, he has shown his own badge of ignominy to wear in being the living representative of a line of harsh and unbending disciplinarians, and is willing, since they went unpunished in their own lifetimes, ‘to take shame upon myself for their sakes’. (41) Like Hester, he is an outcast, pitched from his place by officials, and suffering anyway ‘the chilliest of social atmospheres’ in his native town. (43) Nonetheless, he is drawn as irresistibly to the place as Hester is to Boston: ‘I felt it almost as a destiny to make Salem my home’. (43) He recognises that his gift could not properly function when burdened by the mundane, and just as Hester is thrown back on the ‘now forgotten art’ of her needle, so Hawthorne, out of office, rejoins the products of his imagination. During the whole of my Custom House experience… An entire class of susceptibilities, and a gift connected with them, – of no great richness or value, but the best I had, – was gone from me. (67) It is regained when ‘sitting all alone’ in moonlight.As D. H. Lawrence commented, A stands for Adulteress, Alpha, Abel, Adam, and America;[41] but it also stands for Artist. What is Hawthorne doing, after all, if not producing scarlet letters?


The Scarlet Letter clearly follows the tales in its understanding of the relationship of reader, writer and characters, then, but it reveals something more of Hawthorne’s romance technique. Again, despite the historical setting, there is little attempt to give antiquarian detail. We need only to ask ourselves precise questions about the physical appearance of the characters to discover that what Hawthorne offers in this way is very sketchy. It is an interesting exercise to compare the efforts of illustrators of the book and notice the widely different ways in which they portray the central characters.

The same is true of the settings of the story: Hawthorne seems to have had no interest at all in recreating milieux that might be represented realistically. Certainly the solid objects introduced into the narrative are not there in the spirit of deliberate redundancy that Roland Barthes considers characteristic of the realistic text, realistic precisely because they are redundant, suggestive of the miscellaneousness and contingency of the ‘real’ world.[42] The locations and figures from history in the book are ultimately there to serve thematic or symbolic purposes, not to provide realistic ballast. Things are expressions of the psychology of individuals or of groups. The prison from which Hester emerges at the beginning of the book, for instance, does not primarily inform us about early Boston town-planning; rather it signifies the repressiveness of Puritan thought. Hawthorne gives very few clues as to what the place actually looked like, then, even though he might have gained a good idea of it from the historical documents he read. He could of course simply have made it up.

In fact this part of the text concentrates on two features only: the rusty iron-work of the oaken door, and the wild rose-bush growing immediately beside it. The very sketchiness of the visualisable detail is sufficient in itself to foreground the two features that do find mention; but since these two features are iron and roses, they are removed from actuality almost altogether. They belong to a list of objects or qualities that we see as symbolic by default. Members of our culture must be clearly instructed not to see colours like red and black as having a significance over and above mere designation of hue; the same can be said of objects like trees, cups, gold – and iron and roses. The symbols are of course complex, but iron signifies a nexus of meanings that revolve around hardness and inhumanity; the rose a nexus cent ring on beauty and softness and sweetness. (Though there is sometimes a reference to the barbs. Mary, Mother of Jesus, was a rose without thorns.)

Hyatt Waggoner has shown how certain key objects recur throughout the narrative in the form of ‘actual’ appearances but also as metaphors.[43] The rose that blooms at the prison door is also a ‘sweet moral blossom’. (76) The forest that lies beyond the settlement, where Chillingworth gathers herbs for medicines and Hester meets Dimmesdale, is a type of the ‘wilderness’ in which Hester metaphorically and literally roams (217) The very fact that physical objects from the narrative are used metaphorically in this way serves both to materialise the abstract and make the real insubstantial. Richard Brodhead refers to this ‘fluidity of boundaries’ and considers that it gives The Scarlet Letter a ‘supersaturation – with significant pattern’ which has ‘the quality of overdetermination that Freud ascribes to dreams’.[44] The apparent trapping of realistic representation of the people and the place, then, do the reverse of supplying verisimilitude.or realisability. Hawthorne’s lack of interest in real visualisable details has important corollaries.

To illustrate them I should like for convenience’s sake to adopt Seymour Chatman’s distinction of ‘story’ and ‘plot’.[45] ‘Plot’ is the events with which a story deals, arranged in the order in which a particular discourse presents them. ‘Story’ is the same events arranged in chronological order, much as they might appear in a paraphrase or summary. Different plots have been made from the same story. Story is based on the idea of contiguity. So too on one level is the whole idea of realistic fiction: you write about what you can see and only what you can see; things and people appear together in your novel because they do so in ‘real’ life: we experience them in contiguity. ‘Plots’ in realistic novels tend to approximate fairly closely to the ‘stories’ that might be considered to lie behind them: they are conventionally linear, moving from one point to another in time, each related causally and usually temporally to its predecessor and its successor.

As I have tried to show, Hawthorne has no interest in the principle of contiguity in his settings: things are not included because they were there, but for the purpose of interpretation. Therefore they are often incongruous, do not conform with what we might consider normal in the probable or ordinary world. Given his lack of concern for contiguity in setting, we might expect him to have a related lack of interest in linear plots, for ‘stories’ to be slight. Such is certainly the case in many of the tales, and in the longer fictions too Plots are either static (I have already referred to the opening of The House of the Seven Gables: getting the old lady out of her bedroom takes a full three chapters), or interrupted (again in The House of the Seven Gables the plot is suspended while one character reads another the whole of a lengthy story which he intends to publish).

The one text that might seem to contradict this is The Scarlet Letter, which is arranged in linear order, and does not have any of the interpolations distinctive of the other romances. However, the romance as it is represented in the kind of plot summary that you find in say, a ‘companion’ to American literature, mutilates the memory you take away from a reading of the text itself. What remains in the mind is not a sequence of events that are meaningful as far as action goes, but rather a series of tableaux. Most conspicuous are the three scaffold scenes: at the beginning of the narrative Hester emerges on to the scaffold with the infant Pearl and the fantastically embroidered letter; in the middle Dimmesdale stands there at midnight with the mother and child; at the end Dimmesdale makes his confession and dies on the scaffold. Though these tableaux transcend their significance as events in the forwarding of the story, they are plot-significant in varying degrees; but many of the items that make up the experience of reading The Scarlet Letter are not, and so are omitted from a story-summary. The rose at the prison door has no part in the action, understood as a series of events; nor does Hester’s regarding herself in the highly polished breastplate of a suit of armour at Governor Bellingham’s house, seeing the letter on her breast so grossly magnified that it obliterates the rest of her. But episodes like these are the ones most insistently suggestive of the book’s meaning, as well as the most memorable.


I say ‘suggestive’, for no more than in the tales does Hawthorne offer hard and fast, once-for-all interpretations for the reader’s passive consumption. Take, for instance, a central scene in the book, the forest scene in which Hester and the minister remeet, recognise the fact that their love for each other is unabated, and plan an escape. Thomas Connolly’s edition of The Scarlet Letter, until recently the text most commonly used in Britain, saw the scene as one of a series that takes its meaning from an opposition of town on one side and forest on the other. It is a straightforward opposition of the plus/minus type: Hawthorne sets up a conflict between the law of nature and man-made law . . . the laws of nature (which Hester did not violate) and the laws of man (which she did violate).[46]

The problem with Connolly’s analysis is that it really makes little sense to talk of Hawthorne’s nature having laws at all, for what is stressed about the forest and its denizens is lawlessness. Pearl, insistently linked with and instinctively in sympathy with nature, is amoral, not innocently good. Chillingworth goes to the forest in search of the herbs he uses for Dimmesdale’s ‘medicines’; he emerges from the forest at the beginning of the book. It is in the forest that the witches’ coven meets, and the forest is the dwelling-place of the Indians, whose ‘wildness’ is stressed whenever they are mentioned. The wilderness, then, cannot be regarded as a place of natural beneficence, symbolic of the values suppressed by Puritan morality. The symbolic value of the town cannot be neatly formulated either. Its salient features are the places of punishment, prison and scaffold, but the complexness of its significance is stressed right at the beginning when for Hester the scaffold is at first a place where she must suffer humiliation, but suddenly and paradoxically a refuge when her husband appears. Dimmesdale’s voluntary conformity to what Puritan law forces on Hester is what redeems him. And, after all, Hester accepts the dictates of that law, even if with subtle defiance. The narrator comments, too, that for all its severity Puritan law invests human transgression with moral seriousness, and it is better thus than in a more decadent age, when ‘society shall have grown corrupt enough to smile, instead of shuddering at it’. (83)

Taking their lead from Lawrence, perhaps, what Connolly and other critics want to do is take a reading of The Scarlet Letter according to which Hester’s adultery, being in accord with the ‘natural law’ of love, is ‘right’ and Puritan repression of that instinctual behaviour ‘wrong’. Such a view takes its primary evidence from Hester’s claim that ‘what we did had a consecration of its own’. (212) But to take this view is to ignore the rest of the book. Dimmesdale is a hypocrite, but he never lays that flattering unction to his soul, that what they did was right. Hester herself for most of the book is acutely ashamed of what she has done. In the section of the book leading up to her defence of her adultery the narrator stresses her speculativeness and adventurous thinking, but he does not claim that it has led her to universal truths: rather it has left her in a ‘moral wilderness’. (217)

In such a tract it is presumably possible to hold totally conflicting beliefs, and this is perhaps why her conviction that their deed was ‘consecrated’ can coexist with her general behaviour, which suggests that she accepts that she was wrong. Most of all, to adopt a ‘romantic’ reading of the book flies in the face of the detail of the scene. Hester flings away her scarlet letter to signal her refusal to accept her love affair as a sin, but Pearl will not recognise her without it. Dimmesdale makes his way back to the town, having added to his adultery and subsequent hypocritical concealment of it an acceptance of further adultery and the final hypocrisy of intending to speak to the Boston townspeople in the guise of the purest of the pure when he knows that on the following day he intends to run away with his lover. As he enters the settlement he feels he has undergone a ‘revolution in the sphere of thought and feeling’ (233), but this does not give him some sort of Nietschean grandeur, it only encourages him to soil the minds of young children and virgins, and destroy the hopes for salvation of an old woman. It is significant too that the planned escape route is east rather than west, the sea rather than the land. The sea throughout represents lawlessness like the forest. The sailors we meet are not like Hawthorne’s own seafaring ancestors, but a piratical crew festooned with cutlasses and knives and swords, with an ‘animal ferocity’ in their eyes. (247)

Perhaps most important, to adopt this ‘romantic’ reading of the story is to ignore the very basis of Hawthorne’s symbolic technique; it is to miss the essential polyvalency of his symbols. This complexness is there even in the germ of the story as it occurs in ‘Endicott and the Red Cross Sporting with her infamy, the lost and desperate creature had embroidered the fatal token in scarlet cloth, with golden thread and the nicest of needlework; so that the capital A might have been thought to mean Admirable, or anything rather than Adulteress. (219) The A can stand for many things, some of them contradictory. The scarlet letter is a token of guilt but it is richly embroidered. It is suggestive of Hester’s shame but it also represents creative impulses and the passionate richness of her nature. It is inseparable from her beautiful daughter, but it turns Dimmesdale into a guilt-racked invalid and Chillingworth into a demon.

What Hawthorne condemns in the Puritans is not their harshness in itself, but their failure to understand this polyvalency, which in its turn derives from a failure of sympathy and imagination. They have a limited and single view, like Reuben Bourne and Goodman Brown. For Reuben, he is either a hero or he is a deserter; for Brown, either the elders of the town are perfect or they are wholly and hypocritically evil; for Hester’s neighbours, she is either good or bad, one of the elect or one of damned. The A declares the impossibility of taking such rigid views of human actions and emotions: it suggests our faults as a type of all sin; but it is also suggests that we are all connected, on a literal biological level and on a metaphorical one, since it signifies our common spots of humanity.


4. The Marble Faun


When Hawthorne set sail for England on 6 July, 1853, he must have experienced some sense of relief. The three years previous had probably been the most taxing of his life. They had been his most prolific, seeing the publication of The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance as well as a new collection of stories, The Snow Image, and two books for children, A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales. He was now the breadwinner for a family of five. He had had two personal losses that affected him deeply: the death of his mother in 1849, attended by a moving deathbed reconciliation after some years of relative estrangement, and the death of his sister Louisa in a steamboat accident in 1852.

He had also been more engaged in public life than ever before. It began with the public row over his removal from the Custom House for political reasons, a fire which had been fuelled by the introduction to The Scarlet Letter, and it culminated with his involvement in the presidential candidacy of Franklin Pierce, for whom he had written a campaign biography. Pierce rewarded him with an appointment to the Consulate at Liverpool. Hawthorne looked forward to making large gains from his years in Europe. He could save a good deal of money, which would put him in a position in which he could write at his leisure. Just as important, perhaps, the old world held out to him the prospect of a large stock of material for new romances; and he began to keep a journal which was in part intended as a quarry from which to mine new work. In regard to the money, Hawthorne was to some extent disappointed, but he did return home in 1860 with savings that represented a much larger sum than he had ever made directly from his writings. On the other matter his expectations were much further From the truth.

For some time he had felt that there was a need for something more earthy and substantial in his works. He wrote to Longfellow that he hoped his experience would introduce ‘something ruddier, warmer, and more genial, in my later fruitage. . . Ale is an excellent moral nutriment; so is English mutton; and perhaps the effect of both will be visible in my next romance’.[47] At his death in 1864 four unfinished works were found among his papers, all of them attempts to rework material from his English experience, which proved quite resistant to his imagination. The one work of fiction he completed was The Marble Faun, and comparing the book with the notebooks he kept while in Italy suggests that his contemplations on his experiences persuaded him that his initial implicit resistance to the ‘earthy’ or more realistic in fiction was no mere accident but a constituent feature of his imagination.

His reactions to England and the English, and to Italy and the paintings and statuary he saw there reveal that weighty physical substance, whether of an individual, a people or a culture, oppressed him. Throughout he preferred what can be seen by the mind’s eye to what the physical eye sees: the ruin to the intact building, the sketch to the finished painting, the partial to the complete. Of ‘The Dying Gladiator’ Hawthorne commented:

Like all other works of the highest excellence. . . it makes great demands on the spectator; he must make a generous gift of his sympathies to the sculptor, and help out his skill with all his heart, or else he will see little more than a skilfully wrought surface. It suggests far more than it shows. (XIV, 306)

‘The Custom House’ may be seen as an explanation of the author/narrator’s responsibility towards his text. The Marble Faun, seen in the light of Hawthorne’s comment, might be seen as a statement about the reader’s responsibility towards the text.


Notoriously, The Marble Faun has its version of the incompleteness Hawthorne admired in the ruins he visited in England and Italy. On the most trivial level it is the shape of Donatello’s ears, never finally revealed to us; or the contents of the mystery package taken by Hilda to the Cenci Palace. More important are the lacunae in the narrative line. We are never told what links Miriam and the model, or what happens to Donatello and Miriam after their arrest. We do not learn what befalls Hilda during her imprisonment, or what purpose it served. The action takes place in a vacuum.

The book has been criticised for this incompleteness ever since its first publication. ‘A fatal vagueness, James called it, and modern critics have agreed.[48] However, in contrast with his usual denigrations of his own work, Hawthorne felt proud of what was to be his last romance. ‘If I have written anything well’ he wrote to Ticknor, ‘it should be this Romance; for I have never thought or felt more deeply, or taken more pains’.[49] He was not surprised that his contemporaries misunderstood him, particularly in England, arid it was largely owing to pressure from that quarter that he added the ‘Conclusion’ to the second edition of the book, which actually explains but little of the mysteries. He did not feel it to have been an improvement to the book, and to an English friend, Henry Bright, he said ‘The story isn’t meant to be explained; it’s cloudland’.[50] What Hawthorne was aiming at, I believe, was that involving of the spectator or in this case the reader in the work that he claimed to be the distinguishing feature of great painting and statuary. None of this makes comfortable reading. Frank Kermode comments on the ‘readerly’ in conventional fiction:

There is no doubt that sequence, ethos and dianoia minister to comfort and confirm our notions of what life is like (notions that may have been derived from narrative in the first place) arid perhaps even constitute a sort of secular viaticum, bearing ultimately upon one’s private eschatology, the sense of one’s own life and its-closure.[51]

Hawthorne withdraws these conventional supports. His narrator is anything but comforting. He insists on the shakiness of his own grasp of the facts when in a chapter called ‘Fragmentary Sentences’ he describes the nature of his enterprise as like piecing together the torn scraps of a letter scattered to the breeze. Some of the scraps will be missing, and the gaps he says he will fill with his own ‘conjectural amendments’. (IV, 93) He refuses to take responsibility for the veracity of the interpretations of events he offers, sometimes making joke explanations with a poker face, as if we are to take them seriously. He makes several guesses about the meaning of the appearance of a shadowy figure in the catacombs, and says that the legend of Memmius, clearly the most unlikely of the lot, ‘offers the most reasonable version of the incident’. (IV, 32) At the end of the book he claims to be baffled by Kenyon’s account of events he pretends to have been previously uniformed about. Of Kenyon’s statements about the contents of the mystery package and the reasons for Hilda’s detention he reasonably comments that it is ‘as clear as a London fog’, and, with heavy irony, ‘how excessively stupid of me not to have seen it sooner’. (IV, 465)

These parsimonious pseudo-revelations, added grudgingly in the ‘Conclusion’ to the second edition of the work, contrast radically with Trollope’s fatherly disposition of the futures of his characters. It is not even that this is an ‘unreliable’ narrator in a book whose ‘implied author’ we can reconstruct sufficiently to be able to make allowances for distortions. Rather, it is a narrator who insists that he does not know or understand chunks of the story. James objected to the mixture of ‘categories’ in the book, the conflation of the literal features of Rome with the ‘lunar’ realms of fancy.[52] James is right to point to this conflation, but I suspect that the unease it causes is not due to Hawthorne’s breaking some neoAristotelian principle of unity, but to the fact that the text raises expectations it does nothing to satisfy. The plot contains elements that are distinctive of those Seymour Chatman calls ‘resolved’, which are teleological and move through a linked series of changes of states-of-affairs, inviting questions of the ‘what happens next?’ kind.[53] Such plots, since they raise these questions, implicitly promise answers. But from this plot no answers come forth.

The same may be said of the mixture of real and fantastic that James castigated. Rome exists all right, but in the way it is presented to us, and in the circumstances under which it is received, it is also fantastic. It is not that the book shuttles back and forth between the real and the other worldly, but that the real is itself other worldly. For a man of James’s cosmopolitan upbringing, and for a contemporary mind used to rapid travel and the dissemination of images of once remote places like Rome, the ‘Eternal City’ is part of an experienced, ‘real’ world in a way it was not for the vast majority of Americans of Hawthorne’s time. Hawthorne himself was severely limited in his access to painting and statuary before his move to Europe in 1853, and he was writing for an audience whose experience he knew to be similarly narrow. His description of St Peter’s in the Italian Notebooks, for instance, makes it clear that before he saw it the cathedral was in a fantasy world no less remote than the New England of two centuries previously. If we reverse his famous description of what America lacks as a source material for the romancer, we come at an implicit characterisation of Italy that emphasises anything but the ‘real’: ‘shadow… antiquity… mystery. .. picturesque and gloomy wrong’. (IV, 3)

Moreover, Rome is offered very selectively. If we compare the Rome of The Marble Faun with that of say, James’ Roderick Hudson we find the latter gives us a great deal of information about the social mores of the American colony in Rome, Italian expectations in marriage, the relationship of artists to patrons, and so on. The ‘realities’ Hawthorne offers are all of a special order: paintings, statuary, buildings. The objects do not function realistically. In the realist novel objects are either indexes of persons, or indicators of the ‘reality’ of their world, by virtue of their very contingency. But there are no causal justifying links between characters and objects in The Marble Faun: the paintings the characters see and the places they visit do not in themselves influence the course of events. There is nothing like the causal link between Daisy Miller’s general indiscretion and the visit to the Coliseum by moonlight that results in her death, though Hawthorne had the worst reason to find such a situation plausible: his daughter Una nearly died as a result of catching ‘Roman Fever’ after just such a visit. The referents of Hawthorne’s descriptions are interpretive.


The effect of the removal of conventional reader comforts is to implicate the reader in the construction of the book’s meaning. Frank Kermode in the essay to which I have already referred makes the point that what he calls the ‘secrets’ of the text are actually at odds with what he calls ‘sequence’, or ‘connexity and closure’. Secrets

… have no direct relation to the main business of the plot…. they form associations of their own, nonsequiturial, secret invitations to an interpretation rather than appeals to a consensus. They inhabit a misty world in which relationships are not arranged according to some agreed system but remain occult or of questionable shape.[54]

Kermode’s comments are provocative in this discussion, for in the comment to Bright I quote above it was the ‘cloudland’ elements of The Marble Faun that Hawthorne picked out as its most distinctive feature. In fact The Marble Faun works through ‘secrets’ too.

Many ‘secrets’ can be glimpsed in The Marble Faun whose meanings lie outside the narrative line of the book: connections between Donatello and the model, for instance, and between Donatello and Miriam; the complex significance of light and shade, and the (Freudian and non-Freudian) meanings of caves and towers. A detailed examination of one of them will show how the technique bears on the interpretation of a particular scene and a particular character.

A basic distinction between Hilda and the others is suggested in a scene near the end of the book when Kenyon, on his way to keep the mysterious appointment outside the Cenci Palace, meets Miriam and Donatello for the last time. The fact that they wear festive carnival dress on their way to meet their fate is suggestive in the way in which the gorgeous scarlet letter on Hester’s otherwise drab dress is suggestive: their sin is at once a guilt and a glory. Kenyon remarks that they are hand in hand, and before they part all three stand with hands joined:

‘Forgive me!’ said [Kenyon].

Donatello here extended his hand, (not that which was clasping Miriam’s) and she, too, put her free one into the sculptor’s left; so that they were a linked circle of three, with many reminiscences and forebodings flashing through their hearts. Kenyon knew intuitively that these once familiar friends were parting with him, now.(IV, 448)

This and the scene that follows, when Hilda appears on the balcony of the palace and attracts Kenyon’s attention by throwing a rosebud at him, take their meaning in part from a pattern of glimpses of hands that recurs in the book, which also excludes Hilda.

Miriam understands the grasp of hands as a symbol of Donatello’s sympathy. She takes his hand and he withdraws it when they see the dead Capuchin (IV, 187) and in the Medici Gardens she waits to see if he will take her hand and thus affirm his bond with her. (IV, 197) When they are reunited in Perugia they hold hands once more as an expression of their new fellow-feeling. (IV, 321) Kenyon uses the grasp of hands as a metaphor when he explains to Miriam that he cannot be Donatello’s counsellor: ‘Between man and man, there is always an insuperable gulf. They can never quite grasp each other’s hands.’ (IV, 285) And Hawthorne uses this metaphor when Miriam looks to Hilda for support and sympathy. Miriam wonders whether Hilda will ‘kiss her cheek, grasp her hand’, and fears that ‘my lips, my hand, shall never meet Hilda’s more’. When she sees Hilda’s repugnance, she asks, ‘Will you not touch my hand?’ (IV, 204)

Hilda is distinguished from the others in that she uses her hands not to make contact but to shield. Hilda is linked with the antique statue Kenyon exhumes from the Campagna, for he finds it when he is looking for her: she is lost, like the statue. He reassembles the broken parts and finds the hands disposed in the traditional gesture of modesty, rather than stretched out to others. (IV, 423) When Miriam offers her hand to Hilda, the American girl puts forth her own in ‘an involuntary repellent gesture, so expressive, that Miriam at once felt a great chasm opening itself between the two’. (IV, 207) Hilda’s gesture is not only the rejection of the grasp of hands, but the negative of the gesture of benediction. That gesture is extended even by the stone figure of Pope Julius in Perugia; (IV, 323) the priest in St Peter’s makes the blessing to Protestant Hilda; (IV, 373) and finally Miriam makes a gesture of benediction to Hilda and Kenyon, and it is by that gesture she is recognised. (IV, 461)

Hilda has not that ‘fellow-feeling’ that both metaphorically and literally unites the others: the closest she can get to the earth is the first piano, the nearest she can get to physical contact is to toss a flower. The only hand of Hilda’s anyone may grasp freely is the marble one that Kenyon sculpts.’


The literary technique is paralleled by the moral position the book implies: once more, the link that binds the writer to the reader is merely a special version of the link any man or woman must recognise with all other individuals. This may once more be illustrated with reference to Hilda, whose withdrawal from sympathetic involvement with Miriam has its direct counterpart in her attitudes to art.

Hilda’s failure to provide comfort to Miriam is linked with a parallel failure towards a picture. Hilda sits in her tower immediately before the arrival of Miriam. On an easel is her copy of the portrait of Beatrice Cenci, and opposite it is a mirror. Hilda sits between them, and catches sight of the reflection of the painting in the mirror behind her own face. Nervously she moves her chair, ‘so that the images in the glass should be no longer visible’. (IV, 205)

Mirrors are hot properties in Hawthorne’s fiction. The title of one piece from Mosses from an Old Manse is ‘Monsieur du Miroir’. But Hawthorne’s mirror does not simply reflect reality, it conveys a special kind of truth. Indeed this is how mirrors generally function as symbols in our culture as in many others. They are magic: breaking one leads to seven years bad luck. In an article on the function of mirror-images in various cultures, James Fernandez ties up superstitions about mirrors with a mirror trick in one of the rooms of the Prado, designed deliberately to produce just such an effect as the one Hilda accidentally experiences. The ‘Las Menindas’ of Velasquez hangs in a room with no other canvasses, but opposite it hangs a mirror: ‘The trick – the duplicity – in the duplication of mirrors is to persuade the observer that he is part of the scene figured, a gathering of the Spanish Royal Family.’[55]

When Hilda catches sight of her face alongside Beatrice Cenci’s, a new work of art is created which includes her. Seeing herself in the work of art presses her towards a relationship with Beatrice that recognises at least contiguity, and perhaps kinship; and kinship with Beatrice exposes a very different facet of her humanity from what is suggested by kinship with the Virgin. The recognition is painful, and so she withdraws, just as she is about to withdraw from Miriam.


Tony Tanner says of James’s In the Cage: ‘We may speak, then, with some certainty of the consolations and risks of the imagination, and note the fact that it is intimately related to that important virtue, sympathy.’[56] In my view, Tanner is right but understates the case, and could well apply the same comment to Hawthorne. The virtue of sympathy in the works of both writers is not an important one but the important one, important for a proper appreciation of art and for an appreciation of the fact that according to both authors we are all related. Ultimately, Hawthorne’s strategies in his final complete – and incomplete -work invite that kind of involvement Hilda must achieve in order to mature; the reader must extend the kind of sympathetic interpretive faculty to the suggestive narrative that Hilda abandons in turning from her reflection when it appears alongside the painting of Beatrice Cenci.

5. Hawthorne in our Times

In the twentieth century the universities have ensured Hawthorne’s continuing reputation. Even Robert Lowell’s unmistakably personal poem about his New England literary forebear was in fact a commission from The Ohio State University.[57] Since the criticism of literature became institutionalised at about the turn of the century in the USA Hawthorne scholarship has been unremitting. The Centenary Edition of the works of Hawthorne, emanating from Ohio once more, is the most impressive to have emerged from the Center for Editions of American Authors, not least because it is the only such project to be completed. In 1980 alone two full-scale biographies appeared, and a whole book devoted to Hawthorne’s years in England.[58]

I commented at the outset that there is more than one way to account for Hawthorne’s nineteenth century reputation, and that also applies to his modern standing. One is simply his gender, and feminist critics have rightly pointed out that the ‘tradition’ is one constructed by male academic critics around other male figures, which ignores the group of writers who spoke to the largest audience in the nineteenth century: popular, usually female, authors, whom Hawthorne himself referred to in one of his least felicitous but best-known phrases as a ‘damned mob of scribbling women’.[59]

What I call above the ‘critical consensus’ hardened into received opinion as a result of the publication of a series of books in the forties and fifties that sought specifically to isolate a particular and unique American way of writing, and identified symbolism and romance as the characteristic American mode.[60] This endeavour itself must be seen in the context of political events of the time, and as one element of a general public move towards the fostering of nationalism, which merely took its most obvious form in McCarthy’s clamorous condemnation of what was ‘Un-American’. In the fifties a literature that directly identified social abuses might not be considered patriotic: symbolism, romance and allegory are at least less obvious targets for political questions.

But Hawthorne’s standing has not had universal consent in our own time, for he seems a more narrowly American enthusiasm than most of the other writers that constitute this ‘American Tradition’. For all his centrality to Americans, he has not been held in such high regard in Britain. In the same year, 1980, which saw the publication of three large biographical works on Hawthorne, only one of the novels, The Scarlet Letter, was available in a British paperback imprint: it is only since Penguin joined forces with the American company, Viking, that he has been widely available in this country.

Skepticism about the construction of individual reputations and of literary ‘traditions’ is entirely proper; but Hawthorne’s unique situation is positively as well as negatively instructive. My own belief is that he was unusually ‘modern’. This is not a new view, for it was formulated at least as long ago as 1931 in Edmund Wilson’s Axel’s Castle.[61] But I suggest that Hawthorne’s relative neglect in England derives from the same attitudes that have made the English contribution to modernism slight in comparison with the American. Donald Davie claims that the map of British poetry in the twentieth century must be drawn with Hardy as its chief landmark and not Eliot or Pound, the great innovators – and Americans.[62] If we compare the contemporary English novel with the American, we find that the seam of fiction represented by the work of Barth, Pynchon, Barthelme, Hawkes and others has been mined much less here, and much later.

Two of the most distinctive elements of modernism were the modernists’ opposition to realism, and their invitation to their readers to make a new kind of response. Virginia Woolf ruled that Galsworthy and Wells did not write genuinely ‘Modern Fiction’, for instance, and Eliot and Pound are notoriously demanding. Eliot insisted that ‘Tradition… cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour’, and even as great an admirer of Pound as Basil Bunting remonstrated to his friend that ‘you allude too much.’ [63]

What I have tried to suggest is that Hawthorne’s distinctiveness may be seen in exactly these two qualities. It should be said however that Hawthorne is more encouraging even if he asks no less. ‘Be true! Be true! Be true!’ is the explicit ‘meaning’ the narrator draws from The Scarlet Letter: it is one among ‘the many morals which press upon us from the poor minister’s miserable experience’. (271) If many morals can be drawn from Dimmesdale’s experience. how many more may be drawn from the story as seen by the other characters too? But the narrator explains his moral a little further: ‘Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some traits whereby the worst may be inferred’. (271)

The notion of ‘truth’ recurs throughout the narrative. Hester fears that in concealing Chillingworth’s identity she may not have been ‘true’ to Dimmesdale, though later she claims that ‘in all things else, I have striven to be true’. (211) Hester exhorts her lover to change his ‘false life… for a true one’, (215) and only before Hester can he be ‘for one moment, true!’ (213) But it is an injunction imposed upon himself by the author/narrator too, when he stresses in ‘The Custom House’ that truth is necessary for all human community: ‘Thoughts are frozen and utterance benumbed, unless the speaker stand in some true relation with his audience’. (35)

To be true is to recognise our own imperfections, and thus to recognise our kinship with such as Hester and Dimmesdale; and that act of human sympathy is an act of the imagination in reading exactly parallel to the author’s in writing.

6. Guide to Further Reading

I: Bibliographies.
The most complete bibliography of primary materials is C. E. Fraser Clark, Jr., Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Descriptive Bibliography (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978). Theodore L. Gross and Stanley Wertheim, Hawthorne, Melville, Stephen Crane: A Critical Bibliography (New York: The Free Press, 1971), pp. 1-100, performs the kind of service that this guide tries to do, though it is much more comprehensive. Much has appeared since 1971, however. There are other reference materials relating to secondary sources, but probably the most recent and complete is Beatrice Ricks, Joseph D. Adams and Jack O. Hazlerigg, Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Reference Bibliography (Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1972).

II Editions.
The standard edition of the works of Hawthorne is the Centenary Edition, published at The Ohio State University Press (see n.4 below). At the time of writing, the final volume of letters (1853-1864) and a new edition of the English Notebooks have yet to appear. There is no earlier ‘complete’ edition of the late letters, but Randall Stewart’s edition of the English Notebooks 2nd ed. (1941; New York: Russell and Russell, 1962), will be useful even after the publication of the Centenary edition, for its notes and for his essay on Mrs. Hawthorne’s bowdlerisation of her husband’s texts.

III Biographies.
No American man of letters has been more biographised than Hawthorne: a monograph might be written about the biographies and their relationship with their times. The ‘standard’ scholarly biography is Arlin Turner, Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Biography (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980). This is authoritative, but longer, more gossipy and more readable is James R. Mellow’s Nathaniel Hawthorne in his Times (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980). Turner’s emphasis is literary and he gives much attention to the bibliographical detail of Hawthorne’s work; he is sounder in terms of critical opinions. Mellow’s emphasis is social. Hawthorne’s years in England are exhaustively detailed by Raymona Hull in Nathaniel Hawthorne: the English Experience, 1853-64 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980). Edward H. Davidson, Hawthorne’s Last Phase (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949), is the most complete survey of the period between Hawthorne’s return from Europe in 1860 and his death in 1864.

IV: Critical Studies.
Critical studies of Hawthorne are legion. His status in his own time is documented in Hawthorne Among his Contemporaries, K. W. Cameron, ed., (Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1968), which reproduces a great many primary sources. J. Donald Crowley, ed., Hawthorne: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), is one of the best of a most useful series: its bibliographic information is impeccable, and it contains a good deal of very useful information about the publishing history of Hawthorne’s books. Richard Brodhead’s The School of Hawthorne (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986) charts Hawthorne’s impact on his peers and heirs, and makes salutary reminders about the importance of the business aspect of publishing in the forging of the literary canon.

The earliest important literary critical studies of Hawthorne are Poe’s reviews of his contemporary’s work, which are reprinted by Crowley. Crowley also reprints Melville’s ‘Hawthorne and his Mosses’, fascinating not only for its very modern conception of its subject, but for the information it gives us about Melville’s thinking at the time of the composition of Moby-Dick. Henry James’s Hawthorne (London: Macmillan, 1879) is still thought by some to be the best critical study of its subject, but it seems to me to be more interesting for what it says about James’s own writing at the outset of his career. It should be supplemented by the equally personal but more critically acute letter James wrote to substitute for bis penal appearance at the Hawthorne Centenary celebrations in 1904, to be found in F. O. Mathiessen, ed., The James Family (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1947), pp.483-487. In the twentieth century, T. S. Eliot’s comments on ‘The Hawthorne Aspect’ of Henry James in ‘On Henry James’ (1918; rpt in F. W. Dupee, ed., The Question of Henry James (London: Alan Wingate, 1947), pp. 127-133) are rich with suggestions, and D. H. Lawrence on Hawthorne in Studies in Classic American Literature (1922; Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1971), pp.89-118, is characteristically cranky, provocative, and occasionally brilliant.

Modern discussion of Hawthorne begins with F. O. Matthiessen’s chapters in American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Whitman and Emerson (‘New York: Oxford University Press, 1941)), pp.179-368 which stress Hawthorne’s Puritan symbolist heritage. Matthiessen’s lead was followed by several studies of American symbolism in the 1950s (see n.54 below). Richard Harter Fogle Hawthorne’s Fiction the Light and the Dark, rev. ed. (1952; Norman: Oklahoma University Press, 1963) and Hyatt Waggoner, Nathaniel Hawthorne A Critical Study, rev. ed. (1955; Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press 1963) take a similar line in monographs devoted specifically to Hawthorne. Roy R.Male, Hawthorne’s Tragic Vision (Austin: University of Texas Press 1957)) explicates Hawthorne’s links with Romanticism. Given Hawthorne’s interest in the recesses of the personality it is natural enough that the same sort of attention should have been turned on him and his works, and Frederick Crews, The Sins of the Fathers: Hawthorne’s Psychological Themes (NewYork: Oxford University Press 1966) makes the standard Freudian reading of the man and his work. The 1970s produced a crop of books on Hawthorne some of which have not been superseded. Nina Baym’s The Shape of Hawthorne’s Career (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press 1976) reads Hawthorne in terms of his attempt to reach an audience: as will be clear, I believe he is better understood in terms of his attempts to create an audience, but Professor’s Baym’s work is always illuminating and original. Richard Brodhead’s Hawthorne, Melville and the Novel (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1976) relates Hawthorne’s narrative techniques to his language. In the 1980s more attention has been given to Hawthorne’s engagement with his times, and what a reading of his works in the context of his times may reveal. The most outstanding of such studies is Michael J. Colacurcio’s monumental The Province of Piety: Moral History in Hawthorne’s Early Tales (Cambridge, Mass, and London: Harvard University Press, 1984), an exhaustive commentary on the tales that seeks to show how far they depend for their meanings on precise historical reference. John P. McWilliams, Jr., Hawthorne, Melville and the American Character (London and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) concentrates on Hawthorne as a more general explicator of American history for his times. Robert Clark, History, Ideology and Myth in American Fiction, 1823-52 (London: Macmillan, 1984), pp.1 10-131, and Michael T. Gilmore, American Romanticism and the Marketplace (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), pp.52-112, illuminatingly re-read the novels as political documents in the light of the economic changes that came over American society during Hawthorne’s lifetime. A very useful selection of critical essays on Hawthorne may be found in Harold Bloom, ed., Modern Critical Views: Nathaniel Hawthorne (New York: Chelsea House, 1986).

7. Notes

  1. Herman Melville, ‘Hawthorne and His Mosses’, Literary World, 17 and 24 August, 1850, vii, 125-7, 145-7; rpt. in J. Donald Crowley, ed., Hawthorne: the Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970), pp.111-126. Back
  2. S. Schoenbaum, William Shakespeare: A Documentary Life (Oxford, London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1975). Back
  3. Julian Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Life: A Biography, 2 vols. (Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1885); Lloyd Morris, The Rebellious Puritan: Portrait of Air Hawthorne (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1927); Edward Mather, Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Modest Man (1940; rpt. Westport, Conn,: Greenwood Press, 1970); Henry James, Hawthorne (London: Macmillan, 1879); Randall Stewart, Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Biography (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948). Back
  4. ‘Preface’, The Centenary Edition of the Works of. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Vol. IX: Twice-Told Tales, William Charvat, Roy Harvey Pearce, Claude Simpson, Thomas Woodson and others, eds. (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1962-date), p.3. This edition, soon to be eighteen volumes, is the standard edition of Hawthorne’s works. The individual volumes so far published are as follows:I: The Scarlet Letter; II: The House of the Seven Gables; III The Blithedale Romance and Fanshawe; 1V: The Marble Faun; V: Our Old Home; VI The True Stories from History and Biography; VII A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales; VIII The American Notebooks IX; Twice Told Tales; X: Mosses from an Old Manse; XI The Snow Image and Other Uncollected Tales; XII The American Claimant Manuscripts; XIII The Elixir of Life Manuscripts; XIV: The French and Italian Notebooks; XV: The Letters, 1813-1843; XVI: The Letters, 1843-1853.The Centenary Edition is a model of bibliographical scholarship, and, in its prefaces, a rich source of material on Hawthorne’s life and works. The Centenary Edition provides the texts for the most recent Penguin reprints of Hawthorne, which I shall use since they are more readily available and indeed portable than the large grey hardbacks. The Penguin volumes I shall refer to are: Selected Tales and Sketches, Michael J. Colacurcio, ed. (Harmondsworth, 1987); The Scarlet Letter (Harmondsworth, 1983), Introduction by Nina Baym, notes by Thomas E. Connolly, The Blithedale Romance, Annette Kolodny, ed. (Harmondsworth, 1983). For economy’s sake, I shall in future refer to Hawthorne’s works in brackets in my text. Where possible, the reference will be to the Penguin volume in question; when a Roman numeral prefixes a page number, the reference is to a volume in the Centenary edition. Back
  5. Rpt. in Crowley, Hawthorne: the Critical Heritage, pp.259-264. Back
  6. Richard Brodhead, The School of Hawthorne (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p.51. Back
  7. Henry James, Notes of A Son and Brother (London: Macmillan, 1914), p.380. Back
  8. Quoted in Brodhead, The School of Hawthorne, p.64. Back
  9. Crowley, Hawthorne: The Critical Heritage, p. 11. Arlin Turner, Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Biography (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp.188-9. Back
  10. Herman, Melville, The Letters of Herman Melville, Merrell R. Davis and William H.Gilman, eds. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960), p.128. Back
  11. Jane Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 10. Back
  12. Brodhead, The School of Hawthorne, p.55. Back
  13. Quoted in Caroline Ticknor, Hawthorne and his Publisher (1913; rpt. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennicat Press, 1969), p. 141. Back
  14. Quoted in J. T. Fields, Yesterdays with Authors (London: Sampson Low, 1872), p.87. Back
  15. Nina Baym, The Shape of Hawthorne ‘s Career (Ithaca, N.Y. and London: Cornell University Press, 1976). Back
  16. The Letters of Herman Melville, P.124. Back
  17. R. W. Emerson, ‘The American Scholar’, English Traits, Representative Men, & Other Essays (London: J. M. Dent, 1908), p.309. Back
  18. Quoted in Tony Tanner, The Reign of Wonder: Naivety and Reality in American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), p.40. Back
  19. Quoted in Charles Feidelson, Jr., Symbolism and American Literature (Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1953), p. 139. Back
  20. Walt Whitman, An American Primer, Horace Traubel, ed. (Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1904), p.18. Back
  21. George Becker, Documents of Modern Literary Realism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963), p.7. Back
  22. Quoted in Fields, Yesterdays with Authors, p.63. Back
  23. John Ruskin, Modern Painters, III (1856), quoted in M. H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1971), p.375; Thomas Carlyle, ‘The Hero as Poet’, Heroes, Hero- Worship and the Heroic in History (1841; London: Chapman & Hall, 1888), p.97 Matthew Arnold, ‘On Translating Homer’, rpt. in Selected Prose, P. J. Keating, ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1970), p.84. Back
  24. S. T. Coleridge, ‘Dejection: An Ode’, rpt. in H. S. Milford, ed., The Oxford Book of English Verse of the Romantic Period: 1798-1837 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1935), p. 255. Back
  25. R. W. Emerson, ‘Nature’, The Conduct of Life, Nature and Other Essays (1836; London: J. M. Dent, 1908), p.4. Back
  26. F. O. Matthiessen, Henry James: The Major Phase (London: Oxford University Press, 1944), p.264. Back
  27. Marshall, McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962), p. 136. Back
  28. Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers (1857; Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1982), pp.495, 126. Back
  29. Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics and the Study of Literature (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975), p. 195. Back
  30. Rosalind Coward and John Ellis, Language and Materialism: Developments in Semiology and the Theory of the Subject (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977), p.49. Back
  31. Michel Foucault, ‘What Is An Author?’, in Josue’ V. Harari, ed., Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism (London: Methuen, 1980), p.159. Back
  32. Quoted in Ticknor, Hawthorne and his Publisher, p.283. Back
  33. See Arlin Turner, Nathaniel Hawthorne, pp.69-79. Back
  34. Michael J. Colacurcio, The Province of Piety: Moral History in Hawthorne’s Early Tales (Cambridge, Mass, and London: Harvard University Press, 1984), pp.107-130. Back
  35. Baym, The Shape of Hawthorne’s Career, pp. 108, 31-2. Back
  36. John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969; London: Triad/Panther Books, 1977), p.85. Back
  37. Colin McCabe, ‘Realism and the Cinema’, Theoretical Essays: Film, Linguistics, Literature (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985), p.37. Back
  38. See Roland Barthes, S/Z trans. Richard Miller (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974), p.18. Back
  39. Mark Van Doren, Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Critical Biography (New York: The Viking Press, 1949), p. 145. Back
  40. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The English Notebooks by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Randall Stewart, ed., 2nd edn. (New York: Russell and Russell, 1962), p.225. Back
  41. D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (1922; Harmondsworth; Penguin Books, 1971), p.95. Back
  42. Quoted in Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Friction and Film (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1978), p.144. Back
  43. Hyatt Waggoner, Hawthorne: A Critical Study, 2nd edn. rev. (Cambridge, Mass.; Harvard University Press, 1963), pp. 127-129. Back
  44. Richard Brodhead, Hawthorne, Melville and the Novel (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1976), p.53. Back
  45. Chatman, Story and Discourse, p.43-48. Back
  46. Thomas E. Connolly, ‘Introduction’, The Scarlet Letter and Selected Tales (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1970), pp. 13-14. Back
  47. 11 May, 1855. Quoted in Samuel Longfellow, ed., The Life of Henry Wansworth Longfellow, with Extracts from his Journals and Correspondence, 2 vols (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1886), 2, 239. Back
  48. Henry James, Hawthorne, p.170. Back
  49. Quoted in Ticknor, Hawthorne and his Publisher, p.238. Back
  50. Quoted in Julian Hawthorne, Hawthorne and His Wife, 2, 236. Back
  51. Frank Kermode, ‘Secrets and Narrative Sequence’, Critical Inquiry 7 (1980), 87. Back
  52. Hawthorne, p. 169. Back
  53. Stony and Discourse, p.48. Back
  54. Kermode, ‘Secrets and Narrative Sequence’, p.93. Back
  55. James W. Fernandez, ‘Reflections On Looking Into Mirrors’, Semiotics 30 (1980), 37. Back
  56. Tanner, The Reign of Wonder, p.318. Back
  57. Robert Lowell, ‘Hawthorne’, (Columbus, Ohio: The Ohio State University Press, 1964); rpt. in For the Union Dead (London: Faber and Faber, 1965), pp.389. Back
  58. Arlin Turner, Nathaniel Hawthorne; James R. Mellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times (Boston: Houghton Mifllin, 1980); Raymona Hull, Nathaniel Hawthorne: The English Experience, 1853-1864 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980). Back
  59. Ticknor, Hawthorne and his Publisher, p. 141. Back
  60. See in particular: F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1941); Charles Feidelson, Jr., Symbolism and American Literature (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1953); R. W. B. Lewis, The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1955); Richard Chase, The American Novel and Its Tradition (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1957). Back
  61. Edmund Wilson, Axel’s Castle (1931; London: Fontana, 1962), p.17. Back
  62. Donald Davie, Thomas Hardy and British Poetry (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973. Back
  63. Virginia Woolf, ‘Modern Fiction’, The Common Reader: First Series (London: The Hogarth Press, 1925), pp.184-195; T. S. Eliot, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, Selected Essays, 3rd, enlarged ed. (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), p. 14; Bunting quoted by Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era (London: Faber and Faber, 1972), p. 430. Back

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