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Nathaniel Hawthorne's Secret Garden.

Toward the end of Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1852 novel, The Blithedale Romance, the first-person narrator, Miles Coverdale, formerly a dilettantish poet of faulty vision, is returning on foot to what will soon be the defunct Utopian commune of Blithedale after a deeply disillusioning stay back in Boston. The veils have now fallen away. The reformer at the head of the commune, Hollingsworth, is a monomaniac; queenly Zenobia has a past that puts her under the thumb of a blackmailer; innocent Priscilla's spiritual gifts are being pressed into lucrative entertainment (she is the stage sensation of the day, the veiled clairvoyant); and Coverdale himself has neither friends nor home out in the country. He should not be going down this road at all, as even he reckons it. He should at least be in a bad mood. But as he gets out into the countryside, amidst "fields yet green on either side," his ramble takes on a motivation of its own (3: 204). (1) First he discovers that his step has gained an unwarranted spring, as if he imagines a warm reception awaiting him. Then, as he progresses further, the human drama awaiting him at journey's end seems to fall entirely out of mind--and off the page. Instead, Coverdale's focus strays more and more to those fields and woods by the side of the road, which he recalls, not in broad, impressionistic swaths, but in finest detail:
I know not why it should be so. But my mental eye can even now discern
the September grass, bordering the pleasant roadside with a brighter
verdure than while the summer-heats were scorching it; the trees, too,
mostly green, although, here and there, a branch or shrub has donned
its vesture of crimson and gold, a week or two before its fellows. I
see the tufted barberry bushes, with their small clusters of scarlet
fruit; the toadstools, likewise, some spotlessly white, others yellow
or red--mysterious growths, springing suddenly from no root or seed,
and growing nobody can tell how or wherefore. (3: 305)

Coverdale at first attempts to justify this digression in human-centered, indeed, self-centered terms, as he hypothesizes that the variegated vegetation and suddenly springing toadstools "resembled many of the emotions in my breast." Yet, this seems not quite to cover it. There is something in his closeness of attention that even he knows defies narrative economy and logic. "But, no--I never can account for it," he ultimately surrenders, "that, with a yearning interest to learn the upshot of all my story, and returning to Blithedale for that sole purpose, I should examine these things so like a peaceful-bosomed naturalist. Nor why, amid all my sympathies and fears, there shot, at times, a wild exhilaration through my frame!" (3: 305).

Coverdale's perplexity may well echo--or even awaken--the reader's own. In overt and covert ways throughout his work, even at the least likely moments, Hawthorne devotes a surprising amount of attention to vegetable matter. One could hardly throw a stone in a Hawthorne story without hitting a tree, or vine, or weed, or flower reference. Sometimes this investment in plants is obvious and foregrounded. Say "plants in Hawthorne" and someone will call up "Rappaccini's Daughter" (1844), a story about a garden of monstrous, poisonous, yet beautiful and tragic plants, and the girl who has been bred as kin to them. Then there is the Pyncheon- elm in The House of the Seven Gables (1851); the oak with the blighted limb in "Roger Malvin's Burial" (1831); the "wild rose-bush" that we find "rooted almost at the threshold" of the prison door (1: 48), and at the very threshold of the story, in The Scarlet Letter (1850). Hawthorne'svegetableobsessionsrunmuchdeeperandwiderstill, though. That rosebush is not the only vegetation at the entrance to The Scarlet Letter. The "grass-plot" before the "oaken door" is also "overgrown with burdock, pig-weed, apple-peru, and [other] such unsightly vegetation"--specific, prosaic, native plants that Hawthorne catalogs both offhandedly, with the facility of a natural historian, and with seeming purpose, perhaps intending an equally plant-minded reader to recognize these witch-associated, poisonous weeds as possible symbolic keys to the tale there to unfold (1: 47-48). In "Roger Malvin's Burial," not only is there virtually a tree in every sentence, the page replicating the experience of the forest, but there is also an unostentatious yet persistent attention to distinguishing species. (The story hinges on a return to a forest location recognizable only because native pines have been displaced by English-associated oaks, a detail that adds a racial subtext to the surface narrative.) Some references are almost absurdly self-conscious. In The Marble Faun (1860), characters spend a whole page conversing about a shrub that crops out from the top of a Tuscan campanile, "Heaven knows how" (4: 259). In A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys (1852), the narrator's admonition not to "waste our valuable pages with any more talk about... wildflowers" (7: 117) only foregrounds that this is precisely what he has been doing--devoting precious paragraphs to houstonias and a half-dozen other woodland plants, and thus delaying delivery of the story proper to a troop of children (all of whom, by the way, have been given botanical nicknames by said narrator). Elsewhere, plant references sneak into the subconscious by stealth or accretion. In the largely town-bound "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" (1831), as the befuddled young protagonist waits by a church, having been promised that the kinsman he seeks will soon pass by, he longingly imagines how the evening would have passed back at the family farm. And plunk at the center of his imaginings is a tree:
He pictured them assembled [for prayer] at the door, beneath the tree,
the great old tree, which had been spared for its huge twisted trunk,
and venerable shade, when a thousand leafy brethren fell.... He
perceived the slight inequality of his father's voice when he came to
speak of the Absent One; he noted how his mother turned her face to the
broad and knotted trunk;... how his younger sister drew down a low
hanging branch before her eyes. (11: 222-23)

The tree is not simply there as setting. The story, curiously, turns our face and eyes to it, just as the characters turn theirs. Returning to The Blithedale Romance, we find a similar, though much pithier, instance. Having pulled Zenobia's drowned corpse from the stream with Hollingsworth and the farmer Silas Foster, Coverdale takes the extra beat to tell us that they "laid her on the ground, beneath a tree" (3: 234). The tree is a superfluous addendum, as Hawthorne underscores, setting it off by the preceding, and also unnecessary, comma. And yet, by the same move, he causes us to pause on it, literally pointing it out (publishing parlance at the time referred to punctuation as pointing).

This article seeks to uncover the many roots and routes of Hawthorne's compulsive and seemingly wayward attention to plants--what we might call his plant-mindedness. Why is Nathaniel Hawthorne--the Man of Mosses, as Melville referred to him in his famous review of 1850--so mossy? We will explore this question throughout the body of Hawthorne's work, but most especially in a novel identified by critics as Hawthorne's most prescient and "modern," The House of the Seven Gables. This 1851 novel might be Hawthorne's most conscious of the literary market, his most attuned to socioeconomic conditions, and his most critical of contemporary discourses and models of artistic and literary production. (3) But it is also his most plant-centric--in ways partly allied with, but also partly beyond, such critical claims. What happens when we keep the plants in view? What would it mean to recognize Hawthorne's plant-mindedness not as an ancillary but as a primary and fundamental aspect of his work?

To foreground Hawthorne's plant-mindedness is, in part, to place Hawthorne within an ecocritical framework from which, to date, he has been largely left out. Yet, it is also more than this. Like Coverdale's uncontrollable and multivalent reaction to a vegetation that transcends human emotions even as it embodies them, Hawthorne recognized an order and life of plants beyond human projections and readings while also plumbing the ways vegetable and human natures resonate with and speak to one other. Hawthorne's plant-mindedness, in other words, is capacious and complex. Ultimately, our wayside trail through Hawthorne's forests and gardens will take us across variegated symbolic and social terrains to the very kernel of Hawthorne's literary identity and the affective power of his work.


We tend to think of Hawthorne as a cynic, a skeptic--a man of "blackness, ten times black," wary of the transcendental optimism that informed, say, Ralph Waldo Emerson's natural effusions, and downright hostile to what he famously called a "d__d mob of scribbling women" (a group epitomized for Hawthorne not least by the vegetatively pseudonymed Grace Greenwood, whom Hawthorne pronounced, in private barbs, a "humbug," her work "miserable stuff" [17:304,161,166]). (4) And even Hawthorne's own sister Elizabeth once wrote that her brother "professe[d] to regard the love of flowers as a feminine taste." (5) Yet Elizabeth was, in that instance, attempting to justify taking for herself a bouquet that had been sent to Nathaniel. The perhaps surprising truth, as Elizabeth herself confesses elsewhere, and as becomes especially apparent in Hawthorne's private notebooks, is that Nathaniel Hawthorne--cagey, sardonic, double-tongued Nathaniel Hawthorne--not only knew, but in fact loved, plants. (6) We might even go so far as to suggest that Hawthorne--whose very name rings of vegetation--replanted that "w" to emphasize the kinship, to coax a new life out of the blood-stained soil of Hathorne family dust, or perhaps to grow out and away from what he repeatedly characterizes as stonehearted Hathorne ancestors.

To some extent, Hawthorne's fascination and affection grew out of surrounding conditions. One could say, in fact, that a fixation with plants ran in the family (on his mother's side, at least). After his father's death in 1808, when Hawthorne's mother took the children to live with her family, Hawthorne spent his time moving between two kingdoms of vegetation: one, the home of his uncle Richard Manning in Raymond, Maine, where, he later wrote, he "ran quite wild" among "the primeval woods" (23: 379-80); the other, the Salem household where he was governed by his uncle Robert Manning, who not only cultivated a famous orchard, but also was one of the most recognized pomologists of his day, a particular expert on pear trees, and author of a pioneering work, The Book of Fruits, of 1838. (7) Hawthorne certainly knew the business; he participated in his uncle's horticultural endeavors and literary pursuits. Describing, in an 1830 letter, a "great misfortune"--a gale that "did an infinite deal of mischief" to Manning's orchard in what had promised to be a good year--Hawthorne goes on to note that his uncle "has lately become a distinguished writer on horticultural subjects in the New-England Farmer, and he employs me to correct his contributions and to form them into pretty sentences" (15: 208-09). This would have been just at the time Hawthorne was beginning a writing career in earnest, contributing stories to the Salem Gazette and to the annual gift book The Token and Atlantic Souvenir. (8)

Launching off from this familial background, Hawthorne had his own adventures with planting through the 1840s. In 1841, he could be found at Brook Farm getting his hands dirty in the experiment in communal living that was the basis for The Blithedale Romance, planting potatoes and peas, as he wrote home in letters signed, "Nath. Hawthorne, Ploughman" (15: 539-40). Taking up residence at the Old Manse in Concord thereafter, Hawthorne dove effusively into gardening, and continued to turn outsize attention to all things vegetable. This is abundantly manifest in the autobiographical sketch titled "The Old Manse" that prefaces his 1846 collection, Mosses from an Old Manse. Like the trees of the manse's orchard, the piece is almost ridiculously overladen with fruit, as well as other plant references. Hawthorne here dotes on vegetation, not least that of his own garden, confessing that he would "visit and re-visit [the garden], a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny, with a love that nobody could share nor conceive of, who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world, to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a row of early peas, just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green" (10: 14).

In tandem with these more hands-on engagements, we find Hawthorne playing the role of "the peaceful-bosomed naturalist" throughout his life. Indeed, Coverdale's wayside digression in The Blithedale Romance could well have been lifted from any number of similar, but more extensive, instances of vegetable observation in Hawthorne's personal notebooks--documents so rife with such moments that, were one to read only Hawthorne's notebooks, one might be forgiven for thinking this was his main vocation. With something like a naturalist's knowledge and attentiveness, conjoined to a sense of wonder and affection, Hawthorne returns time and again to the doings of plants--their characters, habits, and whims--in his own garden (where he waxes on about his vegetables and fruit trees and contemplates how lilacs and apple trees age); in his rambles along roadsides or in the woods (where he recognizes on sight elms, oaks, varieties of pine, maples, beeches, hemlocks, juniper trees, barberry, whortleberry, blueberry, whiteweed, houstonias, trailing arbutus, fringed gentians, lobelias, and--perhaps his favorite--the rocky-soil-loving columbines, along with many others); (9) and even along the seashore, where, in the first entries to his collected notebooks (June 1835), he begins by talking about eelgrass, and turns to the virtues of the samphire he finds sprouting in the sand ("It is an excellent salad at this season, salt, yet with an herb-like vivacity, and very tender" [8: 5]). He devotes at times whole entries, and even series of entries, to plant life--as when he tracks at length, in close detail, the progress of autumn color in the leaves and grasses over four weeks, and through nearly a dozen consecutive entries, in September and October 1841 (8:196-332). Other entries are just as telling in their brevity: when Hawthorne inscribes this one-liner on June 10, 1851--"Found the first wild strawberries, ripe" (8: 309)--the very succinctness bespeaks a sense of momentousness, as well as delight, in the occasion for the writer. '"Oh, how blest should I be, were there nothing to do!" Hawthorne writes wishfully in another entry, from 1843. "Then I would watch every inch and hair's breadth of the progress of the season; and not a leaf should put itself forth, in the vicinity of our old mansion, without my noting it" (8: 380).

If Hawthorne's personal and familial encounters infused a botanical flavor into his writings, his interest in vegetation also tapped into a much broader cultural moment that was wild for plants and obsessed with botany and floral meanings. Plants and planting undoubtedly enjoyed a special place in the American national imaginary back at least to the Revolution. Still, the era in which Hawthorne wrote could justly be called the Age of the Plant in American culture. Here was Emerson investigating the "occult relation between man and the vegetable" in his seminal essay Nature (1836), while book after book on the "language of flowers" flew off the shelves. (10) Here was Henry David Thoreau writing "The Succession of Forest Trees" (1860) and "Wild Apples" (1862) while Walt Whitman offered up Leaves of Grass by the handful starting in 1855. Edgar Allan Poe published pieces such as "The Domain of Arnheim" (1847) and "Landor's Cottage" (1849), which read like little more than fantasias of landscape gardening; chapters of blockbusting sentimental novels, such as Susan Warner's The Wide, Wide World (1850), were dedicated to gathering (and taxonomizing) wildflowers in the woods. Varieties of plant-mindedness were everywhere.

One need only look at the gift books to which Hawthorne contributed (sometimes voluminously, often unnamed) through the 1830s and 1840s for evidence of an enormous popular obsession with plants. These lavish annuals, with which Hawthorne was intimately familiar, seem now so many bouquets, or cornucopias, framed in and filled with vegetable references. Take The Token for the year 1838 (to which Hawthorne contributed at least five stories). We find pieces on what we might call big vegetable celebrities--a long poem to "The Old Elm of Boston" by H. F. Gould, a piece by Sarah Josepha Hale on "The Dead Oak"--alongside others dedicated to specific species, such as "The Trailing Arbutus." A surfeit of poems or essays on "Spring" or "The Voice of Nature" come packed with references to vegetable life, sometimes in sweepingly general terms, but more often in minutely specific shout-outs. In "An Autumn Walk," Sarah R. Whitman manages to include holly, purple sloe, witch hazel, bayberry, violet, moss and lichens, aster, lobelias, clethra, alders, clematis, osiers, gentian, willows, birch, elm, pine, cedar, chestnut, oak, and more. Each species is referred to with a definite article--not "a cedar" but "the cedar"--as representative of a type with particular, recognized characteristics (138-31). Similarly, Lydia Sigourney's poem, "Autumn," brings literally into conversation a multicultural mix of personified plants, each responding in turn to the question posed by the season, "Has it come, the time to fade?": "The Maple, in his motley robe"; the "queenly Dahlias"; "Hydrangia, on her telegraph"; "[t]he Lily, as a timid bride," the "trim and proud Anemone"; the Daisy, the Lilac, the Rose--all say their lines (316-17). Plants do not just fill the pages of The Token: they form part of the packaging and framing. In addition to the urn full of flowers stamped on its leather cover, the whole volume comes introduced by a "vignette title page" that effectively links the gift book itself--links literary inspiration and product--to explicitly American vegetable matter, as it depicts a pair of cupids carving the word "Boston" (the publication site) into an enormous pumpkin surrounded by grape vines (thus the literal meaning of "vignette"). Like the pumpkin that disrupts Governor Bellingham's best efforts at an old-world ornamental garden in The Scarlet Letter, this cheeky image seems to epitomize the book that follows as an upstart, democratic endeavor that takes American vegetation as muse and material (a sense underscored in the preface, where the gift book's editor, S. G. Goodrich, points an amused, exclamatory finger back at the image, "which seems to combine a classic with a Puritan age,--Cupids carving mementos upon a pumpkin!" [iii]). (11)


Still, just knowing that Hawthorne really dug plants--and knowing that he was surrounded by a culture of multifarious plant-mindedness--does not yet answer the questions of why plants feature or how they function in Hawthorne's writing. To start unearthing the multiple and ultimately central roles played by vegetation in Hawthorne's work, we turn here to The House of the Seven Gables (1851), perhaps his most plant-centric book. At least on the surface, The House of the Seven Gables is the story of the Pyncheon family of Salem. It opens with a glance back to the seventeenth century, to a fraught founding moment during which the ancestral Colonel Pyncheon, perhaps wrongly and deliberately, has the plebeian Matthew Maule hanged as a witch, and thereafter builds the family mansion on Maule's former plot. Coming forward, then, to the nineteenth century, the narrative follows a small cast of characters inhabiting the now-decaying structure: the fretful spinster Hepzibah Pyncheon, clinging to gentility despite encroaching poverty, dreaming of finding a long-lost deed to lands in Maine; her brother, the frail, damaged Clifford, returning from long (and it turns out, wrongful) imprisonment an old man; the outwardly respectable, secretly sinister Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon; the young country-cousin Phoebe; and a boarder named Holgrave, who is a Daguerreotypist by current trade, a radical of sorts, and secretly a Maule.

Joining this human cast, however, is a whole host of plants. With chapters titled "The Pyncheon-Garden," "Alice's Posies," and "The Flower of Eden," the book virtually begins and ends with vegetation: the distinctive, landmark "Pyncheon-elm" debuts in the second sentence of chapter 1 and presides over the narrative's close, appearing in the penultimate sentence. It also comes up throughout the book, in references that run from frontand-center to slyly oblique. For instance, in the second chapter, as poor old Hepzibah Pyncheon makes her dreaded way toward the disgraceful necessity of opening a shop in the old mansion, she passes through a corridor made gloomy "[o] wing to the projection of the upper story--and, still more, to the thick shadow of the Pyncheon-elm, which stood almost directly in front of the gable" (2: 36). The tree seems always present, looming over the narrative, just as it "overtop[s]" and overshadows the house (2: 27).

But it is not only the tree. Just as Blithedale's Miles Coverdale finds himself dwelling on plants beyond any explainable necessity, so too we find the narrator of Seven Gables, even when he sets himself to describing the house, turning almost immediately to the stuff growing on and around it: the "gigantic" elm, the moss, the "grassy yard," and "an enormous fertility of burdocks, with leaves, it is hardly an exaggeration to say, two or three feet long," as well as the flowering shrubs on the rooftop, called Alice's Posies after a legendary bygone Pyncheon, that thrive on the dust of the street and the decay of the roof (2: 27-28). Our first look at the back side of the house comes framed through an account of a profuse rosebush, "a very tall one, and of luxurious growth, [that] had been propt up against the side of the house, and was literally covered with a rare and very beautiful species of white rose" (2: 71). Beyond this, there is the back garden itself; the narrative dwells a great deal not just in but on this space. Phoebe's first entrance into the garden in chapter 6 can seem little more than an excuse for the narrator to take stock over her shoulder--to report, over several paragraphs, on the vegetation that springs from the garden's decay-fed "black, rich soil": a hopvine beginning to clamber over a "ruinous" summerhouse; several species of "antique and hereditary flowers, in no very flourishing condition"; an assortment of "esculent vegetables"--summer squashes, rambling cucumbers, "gigantic" tomatoes, two or three rows of string beans--all in "a praiseworthy state of advancement"; one pear tree and three damson trees, bearing marks of "recent amputation of several superfluous or defective limbs"; a row of currant bushes; rank weeds, moss, grass; and so on (2: 86-87).

This is by no means the last time our narrator will get carried away in dense vegetable description. Indeed, throughout the book, our narrator seems unable to resist turning off from the main action to head down shady sidetracks, just as his visits to Salem--he tells us in the opening paragraph--never go without a digression down the now-unfashionable Pyncheon street, simply to pass through the shadow of the great elm tree (2: 5). We thus find him time and again returning to the garden, lingering over the multifarious "incidents" of the plant kingdom, dwelling on the "life, character, and individuality" of each flower (2: 147). He apologizes to the reader--repeatedly--for devoting so much attention to the minutiae of "this garden-life" (2: 150). Nevertheless, he keeps on doing it.

To some extent there is a human rationale for this excessive interest in plants. Embracing a shared sentience that makes plants like humans, the narrator writes that "the sympathy or magnetism among human beings is more subtle and universal, than we think; it exists, indeed, among different classes of organized life, and vibrates from one to another" (2: 174). This sympathy not only allows for a sense of community and communication to exist between human and plant beings but also creates a condition in which the plants, by their responses, can seem to clue us in to differentials in human character, as when Phoebe recognizes how flowers droop faster in dour Hepzibah's or semi-deranged Clifford's hands than in her own. And if the narrator personifies plants, he also frequently plantihes humans, taxonomizing characters into vegetable types (or at least the decent ones; distasteful characters, such as the greedy Judge Pyncheon, are characterized in terms of either animal or mineral nature). Such correlations of plant and human natures were not uncommon in Hawthorne's moment. In some cultural quarters, they were rampant. Discussing the highly popular floral dictionaries, some of whose illustrations featured "flower-women" hybrids, Dorri Beam writes, "Women were asked to cultivate flower-like qualities--essentially to be a flower" (40). Thus, Phoebe Pyncheon constantly blooms and blossoms throughout the book. Meanwhile, Uncle Venner, neighborhood vagrant-cum-"patched philosopher," is equated to a common apple, the "Roxbury russet" (2: 317-18).

Such vegetable-typing of individual characters extends to a broader taxonomizing that builds both within and across Hawthorne's texts, whereby certain kinds of plants seem to become associated with larger classes of people. Collating texts, we might even begin to build a glossary of Hawthorne's plants and their historical, national, or social resonances, especially as certain species--burdocks, pumpkins (or squashes), roses, oaks, pines--recur with some frequency. Such sense of particular affiliations or meanings allows for a subtext of social contexts, comments, or conflicts to enter the garden plots, both overtly and covertly. The plant life in Seven Gables thus can seem to be staging a social contest, or at least to be bandying about questions of class, pitching democracy against the claimed merits of a hereditary elite. Just like that pumpkin vine that runs riot in The Scarlet Letter, grotesquely fertile, "gigantic," and explicitly "plebeian vegetables" lie always on the verge of overtaking the "aristocratic flowers" (2: 87) of the Pyncheon garden (abetted by the anti-elite Holgrave, who, as a descendant of the plebeian Maules, is perhaps surreptitiously repossessing the acreage as well). (12) A sense of class contest also emerges in front of the ancient house, whose dignity is there grossly upstaged and compromised by the giant shoots of weedy burdock (a plant that gains a native American antitraditional or anarchic resonance when we remember that Pearl uses it to irreverent ends in The Scarlet Letter). (13)

This sense of the garden as social allegory brings us to another possible human-centric purpose to Hawthorne's plants. Just as Uncle Venner represents his own brand of vernacular wisdom as so many "dandelions" freely offered to his friends (2: 318), vegetable references at times seem planted here to symbolize morals and embody lessons, or are served up as philosophical or religious aids. Such usages ran rife through the larger culture, from Thoreau's attempts to harvest allegories from his beans, to floral dictionaries' hyperspecific equations of species with sentiments ("Rose, Deep red" means " Bashful Shame"; Eglantine says " I wound to heal"), (14) to Sarah Josepha Hale's poem "The Dead Oak" in the 1838 Token, which ends, as it should: "And therefore doth it mouldering lie / Nor hope, nor joy recall / Bearing this lesson,--'Pride must die' /And none will mourn its fall" (223). (15) Hawthorne's characters and narrator also see lessons and allegories in plants, from the original description of the back garden, where the narrator breaks stride to point out how weeds are "(symbolic of the transmitted vices of society)"--the parentheses here operating with all the subtlety of neon arrows (2: 86)--to those long- forgotten seeds from the attic that burst forth with startling scarlet vividness, promising (or threatening) that matters seemingly dead and buried in the past may yet flower forth with a little help from the right gardener (just as Hawthorne's own recuperative attention to ancient histoiy flowered forth in a scarlet letter). In fact, the whole moral, or at least the stated "truth," of Seven Gables is effectively pinned onto a tree: "that the act of the passing generation is the germ which may and must produce good or evil fruit, in a far distant time; that, together with the seed of the merely temporary crop, which mortals term expediency, they inevitably sow the acorns of a more enduring growth, which may darkly overshadow their posterity" (2: 6).

And here we return to the massive, pervasive presence of the Pyncheon elm. Planted by a Pyncheon ancestor, right alongside the house, it seems to represent the family's history, to interactively reflect plot developments, and to symbolize the moral of the Pyncheon story--all at once. A multifarious sense of interconnectedness surfaces not least in the wake of a violent gale, just after the pivotal event that leaves the now deceased Judge Pyncheon still sitting inside the house. The great tree, we are told, was unharmed by the storm: it was "all alive," the gentle breeze setting its "thousand leafy tongues a-whispering all at once." The only change involved "a single branch, that, by the earlier change with which the elm-tree sometimes prophesies the autumn, had been transmuted to bright gold. It was like the golden branch, that gained Aeneas and the Sibyl admittance into Hades." Literally weighed down by analogies and allusions, this "mystic branch" hangs by the door of the house "so nigh the ground that any passer- by might have stood o n tiptoe and plucked it off. Presented at the door, it would have been a symbol of his right to enter, and be made acquainted with all the secrets of the house" (2: 284-85).


But is this branch really the key to it all? Aren't Hawthorne's symbolic fruit, after all, a little too low hanging, so close to the ground that any reader might get it? The reader--even one naive to the extensive critical literature on Hawthorne's problematic symbolism--might here begin to feel a little dissatisfied, a little suspicious, the symbolism feeling at once too obvious (akin to the overdetermined assignations of "aristocratic flowers" and "plebeian vegetables" and the overtly flagged meanings of weeds [2: 86-87]) and too uncertain. (16) Against, say, Hale's utter and earnest confidence in the message of the fallen oak. Hawthorne's narrator hesitates; on second look, his advances become tentative and grasping. The tense is subjunctive: "[I]t would have been a symbol of his right to enter" (2: 285; emphasis added). And as we think things through, we find ourselves hard-pressed to say what the branch represents, exactly: the death of Judge Pyncheon, the bad seed? Or the idea that the evil men do sprouts into a whole tree of consequences? (17)

The problem of reading the self-consciously advanced vegetable signs expands throughout the post-gale scene in Seven Gables, as we see if we pan out to the larger passage surrounding the golden branch, a passage also dominated by a language of "seems" and by the subjunctive mood. The power of revelation in the scene is conditional on the hypothetical presence of a "person of imaginative temperament" who, on passing the house, "would turn, once, and again, and peruse it well." The assertion that "Alice's Posies"--the rooftop flowers, allegedly sprouting from seeds Alice Pyncheon had brought from Italy--"would take root in the imaginative observer's memory" is equally contingent and conjectural. And when the narrator tries to assert what the blooming flowers represent, his language is just as hazy: they "seemed, as it were, a mystic expression that something within the house was consummated" (2: 285-96; emphasis added). Bit by bit, as we, like that person of imaginative temperament, look back once, and again, we realize that the revelatory moments promised by the vegetable world constantly fall short of allegorical clarity. Potential moral lessons come partial, wavering, and equivocal--just as the light in the garden comes in fitful shifty movement through breeze-blown branches and tangled vines, just as the leaves whisper in a thousand tongues at once. Even the elm that presides over the close of the book does so with utter ambiguity, without closure, as we leave it "whisper[ing] unintelligible prophecies" (2: 319).

The ultimate failure of trees and plants to take on full, legible, human meanings leaves the reader to vacillate unsettlingly between two possibilities. On one hand, the narrator seems to embrace an idea--reassuring, if also potentially gothic in its fatalism--that plant life maps onto human stories as reflection, expression, or moral cipher, implacably representing the fate that grows out of some seminal original sin, and echoing the wishful belief that natures, murders, sins, and morals "will out." Yet, on the other hand, with all those tentative undertows and seemingly superfluous sideglances, another possibility, at once more disquieting and liberating, comes creeping through the chinks. Threading through the long accounts of plant lives, as they flit in and out of correlation to human plots, is the possibility that perhaps plants do not mean--perhaps they are not outgrowths or symbols of the human story--but instead are just plants, with a life all their own, operating in a wholly separate vegetable plot. (Note that the sentence, "The Pyncheon-elm, throughout its great circumference, was all alive," is one of the few straight declaratives in these passages [3: 284; emphasis added].) Even though the elm was planted by an ancestral Pyncheon, perhaps the tree and the Pyncheon house are now linked only by physical proximity, and any perception of symbolic resonance is merely wishful or phenomenal--only a projection by human characters onto natural vagaries. After all, as the naturalist in Hawthorne points out (echoing real-life observations in his notebooks), elms do sometimes change color a little earlier than other trees in New England. (18) Perhaps those plants that humans call Alice's Posies just happened to come into bloom that day, instead of symbolizing that "something in the house was consummated"--a phrase whose passiveness of construction, on top of its vagueness, in itself implies a lack of human agency, and thus voids human lessons anyway. Maybe the moss that seems so benignly to adopt the human dwelling as its own is really the same moss that implacably grows up over the speaker's lips and name in one of Emily Dickinson's postmortem poems, a plant careless of human lives and structures except insofar as they--and more particularly their decay--provide roothold and sustenance. (19)


To land on this idea--that Hawthorne, in part, cultivates a sense that even the most familiar plants possess a secret life beyond human ken--is to run several risks. First, it risks overstating Hawthorne's sense of nature as utterly alien and hostile, and with this erroneously, I think, flattening him back into a Puritan worldview (though I would say that Hawthorne's dealings with plants can and do contribute to eerie effects that anticipate, say, Stephen King's hedges and cornfields; not surprisingly, Hawthorne's work has already drawn attention in the emerging held of "ecogothic" studies). (20) It also risks simply looping us back to well-trod readings of Hawthorne as ur-skeptic, using the inscrutability of vegetable life, in this case, to raise existential and heuristic doubts as to what, or whether, anything really means. Yet still, there is something in the degree and nature of Hawthorne's engagement with plants--in the obsessiveness and often in the delight or wonderment with which he returns to plant life--that suggests more to this story.

If Hawthorne's contemporary Henry David Thoreau has been central to what Lawrence Buell calls the "environmental imagination," and if Ralph Waldo Emerson is his era's foundational philosopher of Nature, then Hawthorne's own approach might be seen, in qualified ways, to outstrip even those transcendentalist neighbors in terms of the parity, or even primacy, he affords vegetable life. Just consider the difference between Hawthorne's description of growing beans in "The Old Manse"--which rests simply at wonder and effusion over the fact that the beans appear and how they grow, and grants them agency in that process (it is the plants themselves that thrust aside the soil)--and Thoreau's own experiment in getting to "know beans" (161), as he recounts it in Walden, which lands ultimately on their allegorical usefulness. Or take Hawthorne's satirical piece, "The Hall of Fantasy" (1843). Without disclaiming the presence of spiritual truths within the material world, the tale nonetheless lampoons dreamers and schemers who lose touch with the ground--radical idealists who, in worshipping Platonic abstractions and valorizing transcendental states, dismiss the natural world as at best an imperfect shadow or analogy. Hawthorne's narrator becomes increasingly defensive of the intrinsic value that lives in earth's own empirical materiality, basing his defenses most often on sensory experiences with vegetable matter. Asserting that "the root of human nature strikes down deep into this earthly soil; and it is but reluctantly that we submit to be transplanted, even for a higher cultivation in Heaven," the narrator becomes most vocally dismayed by suggestions that the material Earth is dispensable, that it could and perhaps should be destroyed in the name of idealism: "'The poor old Earth!' I repeated. 'What I should chiefly regret in her destruction would be that very earthliness, which no other sphere or state of existence can renew or compensate. The fragrance of flowers, and of new-mown hay;... the deliciousness of fruits.... I fear that no other world can show us anything just like this'" (10: 182-84).

Certainly, there are limits to Hawthorne's "planetarity"--his ability to imagine a globe in which humans no longer occupy a central presence. (21) He is not yet quite Aldo Leopold "Thinking Like A Mountain," or Robinson

Jeffers celebrating the "inhumanism" of a rock. (22) The narrator of "The Hall of Fantasy" may want the "great round solid self" of the earth "to endure interminably," but he also wants it to "still be peopled with the kindly race of man" (10:185). It would be going too far, perhaps, to argue for Hawthorne the post-humanist, or the advocate of what Jeffrey T. Nealon calls "plant theory": a discovery in the pure life of vegetable growth a liberation from the power and politics of the human and the animal. But still, there are important ways in which Hawthorne's brand of plant-mindedness resonates with ecological and ecocritical thinking. "Basic to ecocentrism," writes Bryan L. Moore, "is the sympathetic recognition and observance that all members of a land community exist for their own sake and not for what they can do for humans" (5). The ways that Hawthorne often invests plants with a sense of person-like agency, sentience, personality, and identity--each flower its own "life, character, and individuality" (2: 147)--dovetails with what Moore, focusing on Herman Melville's dealings with Moby-Dick, identifies as "anti-anthropocentric personification" (117-20). Nor would Hawthorne be entirely out of place among the writers whom Bochelle Johnson identifies as embracing a more ecocentric "counteraesthetic" in nineteenthcentury American culture. Against Thomas Cole's landscape paintings, Andrew Jackson Downing's landscape designs, and, indeed, Balph Waldo Emerson's writings, all of which, Johnson argues, "render[ed] nature's meaning abstract by positing it as a feature of humanity," and "thus threatened to alienate the American people from the physical landscape [itself]" (2-3), Johnson extols such writers as Susan Fenimore Cooper and Henry David Thoreau (Walden excepted) who tried "to understand the 'otherness' of that which cannot "be fully captured"' and who "believed that nature's meaning is inherent, somehow, in nature's materiality itself--that nature has an authenticity and integrity, a 'truth' beyond humanity's constructions of if" (12). (23)

Beturning to The House of the Seven Gables in this light, we can ask whether Hawthorne is, at times--particularly in those moments of hyperflagged symbolic or moralistic readings of plants, or in that over-the-top equating of Phoebe with floral language--purposefully channeling popular modes, parodying what Holgrave might call the "misuse" or misappropriation of flora, while simultaneously advancing an alternative, more organic and open-ended recognition of and relationship to plant life. (24) After all, Hawthorne was an often-acute critic of contemporary literature and culture, and he frequently threads parries at competing generic, heuristic, and affective modes into his fictional works, not least The House of the Seven Gables: as various scholars have recognized, this particularly market-conscious novel finds Hawthorne by turns (and sometimes by the same turn) playing to, playing on, and playing against what sells. (25) Indeed, my own points here resonate with Julie Wilhelm's reading of an anti-sentimentalism in Seven Gables, which sees Hawthorne at times deliberately referencing and mimicking modes deployed by contemporaries to produce (as Hawthorne sees it) knee-jerk, cookie-cutter, marketable, and ultimately inauthentic emotional and moral reactions in their readers. Not surprisingly, plant references figure in Wilhelm's argument (as they do--and almost must--in other critical takes on Seven Gables). For instance, Wilhelm notes that Holgrave, who is trying to write tales for the lucrative magazine trade, himself calls out the superficial and mechanical tears such writing is designed to produce when he describes to Phoebe the effect of his stories "on Godey's and Graham's readers": "as for pathos, I am as provocative of tears as an onion!" (Wilhelm 117).

Yet, if plants often come entwined with other social and aesthetic concerns, we should be careful not to reduce Hawthorne's plant-mindedness to just a vehicle for carrying other critiques. That is, we might see in Seven Gables and other works a Hawthorne who, rather than being our allegorist-in-chief, is instead taking aim per se at the overdetermined metaphorizing, abstracting, or sermonizing usages of plants that ran rife in the American culture of his day, from transcendentalist writing to popular sentimental literature. To Hawthorne, such hothouse forcings and pot-bound readings sinned unpardonably when they denied plant life its own complex vitality. (26)


Is the ultimate point, then, that a tree is after all just a tree, and should be left alone to be a tree? Does Hawthorne turn to vegetation so compulsively throughout The House of the Seven Gables, and throughout so much of his writing, only to debunk a culture so set on reading plants--reading Nature itself--for abstractable allegories, metaphors, and morals? Not quite. Hawthorne may at times work to critique or undercut superficial, presumptive human appropriations of plants, and there may be parodic play in some of Hawthorne's dealings. ("Rappaccini's Daughter," for example, could well be read as a send-up of the pervasive linkages between women and flowers in contemporary culture, as well as an indictment of perverse overmanipulations of plants in general.) But Hawthorne is ready neither to throw the rose out with the rose water nor to draw a hard line between plants and humans. Indeed, to do so, to land too firmly on the side of debunking, would be to undermine that essential Hawthornesque effect that comes from keeping readers in an ambiguous netherworld, between familiarity and strangeness, between the glimmer of interpretable meanings and the possibility of no meaning at all. Hawthorne may at times approach recognizing an alternate vegetative reality or ontology, but the point of his plant mindedness is its multivalent interconnection with human identity. Plants, for Hawthorne, are uncannily like yet also unlike human beings. By putting them so frequently on the page, Hawthorne may be attempting to strike a deeper resonance in his readers, a cognate affective and aesthetic sensibility stemming from this double-edged relationship between the human and the vegetable world.

To take this idea a step further, we could say that part of the reason Hawthorne returns so obsessively to vegetable matters on the page is that plants provide the very model and core of his conception of literature, or of what it should be. His literary identity itself derives from vegetable sensibilities. Recall that Hawthorne's ideal occupation, according to a notebook entry of 1843, was simply to track the unfolding of leaves, to capture the natural magic of seasonal progress. Arguably, this is, in effect, what he is after as an author--how he understands the work of Romantic authorship--to serve as natural historian capturing the seasons, the unfoldings and fruitings of human as well as vegetative nature. And if Hawthorne behaves sometimes, with inexplicable devotion, like a peaceful-bosomed naturalist, dwelling extravagantly on vegetable details beyond plot necessity, then he is striving, through this process, to teach us how to read his books. His vegetable distractions remind us to smell the roses: to read past the surface plot and "lessons" to a sense--call it phenomenal as much as moral--that is ripening subrasa and that, just as the elm and the posies overtop the structure of the story, is supra-verbal, supra-rational, supra-narrative, even supra-symbolic, or at least supra-allegorical.

It is worth returning here to the preface of Seven Gables, and to Hawthorne's somewhat grudging capitulation to the popular demand for a moral to his story. In a subtle but significant semantic sidestep, one that already shifts us away from teleological pedantry, Hawthorne offers not a moral but a "truth," that "the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones" to become an "uncontrollable mischief." Then, as if uncomfortable with having conceded even that much to lesson making, Hawthorne quickly turns to a his famous statement of organic form, that meanings cannot be pinned to a text but are alive throughout it: "A high truth, indeed, fairly, finely, and skilfully wrought out, brightening at every step, and crowning the final developement [sic] of a work of fiction, may add an artistic glory, but is never any truer, and seldom any more evident, at the last page than at the first" (2: 2-3). (27) Accordingto this idea of literary inherence, the author's role is not to actively "teach" or even to articulate but, instead, through '"a far more subtile process" (2: 2), to tend, to create the conditions by which that truth that lives in the material can body itself forth--as a gardener might nurture a plant, or a carver might hone his wood. Telling here is Hawthorne's use of the word "wrought," a word that also appears in his 1844 story of a wood-carver, "Drowne's Wooden Image." In response to an admiring visitor, who wants to know whose work produced what seems an exquisitely lifelike sculpture of a woman, Drowne responds that it is "[n]o man's work.... The figure lies within that block of oak, and it is my business to find it." On finishing, he says, "I wrought upon the oak with my whole strength, and soul, and faith!" (10: 311, 313). (28) And just as that story suggests that the inhering truth within any material turns to ice when one tries to state it abstractly, so too the preface of Seven Gables suggests that the way to apprehend any inherent genuine meaning or sense is not through articulable rational explanation or cognitive realization but via a subtler sense. It might be termed affective, or simply sensory, just as Clifford's appreciation for flowers is less a "taste" than an "emotion" (2:147) and just as Coverdale feels an illogical exhilaration in his frame as he dwells on the wayside trees and shrubs. It is the feeling of plant-mindedness.

Hawthorne returns throughout his writing to the organically expressive and affective powers that plants possess. In "The Old Manse," for example, he notes the imaginative and emotional effect that grotesquely shaped apple trees have on those who get acquainted with them: "And what is more melancholy than the old apple-trees that linger about the spot where there once stood a homestead, but where there is now only a ruined chimney, rising out of a grassy and weed-grown cellar? They offer their fruit to every wayfarer--apples that are bitter-sweet with the moral of time's vicissitude" (10: 12). If there is a truth here--if there is a meaning--then it inheres in, and can be rightly grasped only through, the twist of the branches and the taste of the apples that grow from it. What Hawthorne aspires to in his writing is to distill and replicate the sense--the feel, the flavor--of those uniquely expressive tree limbs and apples on the page. In a related analogy from Seven Gables, Hawthorne compares possibly apocryphal neighborhood legends that sprung up regarding the death of the original Pyncheon to "the toadstools that indicate where the fallen and buried trunk of a tree has long since mouldered into the earth" (2: 16). The immediate suggestion is that these mushroom growths, even if apocryphal, point to some secret or subterranean significance. Yet Hawthorne is as interested ultimately in the mushrooms as he is in the buried tree; he is as interested, perhaps more interested, in harvesting the sense that lives and is expressed in the overgrowth as he is in unearthing, detective-like, some historical, factual "truth" beneath it. The mushrooms, the stories, the imaginative and affective sproutings: these, more than solving the case, are the point. This is what he means when he famously writes in the preface to The Marble Faun that "Romance" is like the "ivy, lichens, and wall-flowers" that need rain to make them grow (4: 3). If we see the comment only as lamenting a lack of propitious historical depth in the United States, we miss the more basic fact that the vegetable overgrowth, rather than the ruin per se, is what Hawthorne is after--what he explicitly equates with Romance here.

In these ideas, Hawthorne comes close to Emerson's ideal of having words behave as natural signs, capable of immediately communicating essences to the receiver beyond explanation, and indeed to Jonathan Edwards (also an ardent natural historian by avocation), who pointed out the crucial difference between being told that honey is sweet and knowing how sweet honey is. (29) But Hawthorne is not after some passive idea of taste, whether literary or physical. If plants are symbolic at all for Hawthorne, they are symbolic of a much more active and encompassing process of literary communication--even communion--that he is attempting, a specifically vegetative, organic process by which essential meaning emerges and is communicated to the reader. Vegetable matter is thus not just the stuff on the page for Hawthorne; it is fundamentally intertwined with an expansive ideal of literary art, its production, circulation, and reception. Waxing rhapsodic about the beautiful shapes of summer squashes in "The Old Manse," Hawthorne writes: "Art has never invented anything more graceful. A hundred squashes in the garden were worthy--in my eyes, at least--of being rendered indestructible in marble." And he promises that, if he ever came into a "superfluity of gold," he would spend it on plates "to be wrought into the shapes of summer-squashes, gathered from the vines which I will plant with my own hands. As dishes for containing vegetables, they would be peculiarly appropriate" (10: 14). On the surface, such a desire might seem uncharacteristic of a Hawthorne who, as we have seen time and again, embraces the pliant and perishable materiality of real plants over calcined forms--who, in A Wonder Book, extols the delights of real roses over those touched by Midas, the juiciness of ordinary apples over the fabled golden variety of the Hesperides (7:48-49, 90-91). And yet the episode also exemplifies, rather exuberantly, how vegetative devotion shapes Hawthorne's work, at every level. For Hawthorne, art could do no better than to emulate the organic beauty of the plant, in form as well as content. And this, you might say, is what Hawthorne is after in his own writing: not just offering vegetables on the plate, or page, in pervasive images of trees, flowers, and garden produce, but keeping the vegetative inherent in the page--in the literary text's mode of presentation--just as he stops to note, in describing the Pyncheon house, that the "structure of our story" (ostensibly meaning the house, but suggesting something more) was framed in "white-oak" (2: 27).

It is important to note how frequently Hawthorne describes his writing in exactly these vegetative terms. Busy with actual farming at Brook Farm, he apologized for the delay in sending stories for the 1842 Token, "because stories grow like vegetables, and are not manufactured, like a pine table. My former stories all sprung up of their own accord, out of a quiet life. Now I have no quiet at all" (15: 550). (30) In "The Custom-House" preface to The Scarlet Letter, he characterizes publishing as casting one's "leaves forth upon the wind" (1: 3). To read this as mere pun is to miss how much Hawthorne imagines the literary product as produce and reception as a kind of vegetative transference, not unlike the kind of atomic, bodily transfer that Whitman imagines happening through the pages of Leaves of Grass. (31) It is an idea that also resonates in contemporaries' responses to Hawthorne. Reviewing The House of the Seven Gables for the Literary World, Evert Augustus Duyckinck warned, "You must be in the proper mood and time and place to read Hawthorne, if you would understand him. We think any one would be wrong to make the attempt on a rail-car, or on board a steamboat.... [It is] a book... upon which you may feed and pasture, not exhausting the whole held at an effort, but returning now and then to uncropped fairy rings and bits of herbage" (334).

Tellingly, we find the man we might consider Hawthorne's most sympathetic reader--Herman Melville--extensively describing his own first experiences with Hawthorne in just such vegetative terms in "Hawthorne and His Mosses," his 1850 review of Mosses from an Old Manse. (32) Melville is pretending to be a Southern gentleman visiting a Yankee cousin, who usually helps him to strawberries and raspberries for his breakfast, but instead offers him a dish of "moss" one morning:
With that she left me, and soon returned with a volume, verdantly
bound, and garnished with a curious frontispiece in green,--nothing
less than a fragment of real moss cunningly pressed to a
fly-leaf.--"Why this," said I, spilling my raspberries, "this is the
'Mosses from an Old Manse". "Yes" said cousin Cherry "yes, it is that
flowery Hawthorne." (518) (33)

As Melville spends the morning almost literally vegetating in the barn with Hawthorne's tales, something happens: "Stretched on that new mown clover, the hill-side breeze blowing over me through the wide barn door, and soothed by the hum of the bees in the meadows around," he writes, "how magically stole over me this Mossy Man!" (518). Throughout the passage, and piece, we see that the magic effect of reading Hawthorne is, for Melville, entirely affiliated with vegetable processes. Most dramatically and famously, he writes:
[B]ut to glean after this man, is better than to be in at the harvest
of others.... To what infinite height of loving wonder and admiration I
may yet be borne, when by repeatedly banquetting on these Mosses, I
shall have thoroughly incorporated their whole stuff into my
being,--that, I can not tell. But already I feel that this Hawthorne
has dropped germinous seeds into my soul. He expands and deepens down,
the more I contemplate him: and further, and further, shoots his strong
New-England roots into the hot soil of my Southern soul. (529)

In other subtler but no less suggestive moments, Melville compares the effect of reading Hawthorne's tales to various sensory experiences with apples: " [H]ow aptly might the still fall of his ruddy thoughts into your soul be symbolized by 'the thump of a great apple in the stillest afternoon, falling without a breath of wind, from the mere necessity of perfect ripeness! For no less ripe than ruddy are those apples of the thought and fancies in this sweet Man of Mosses" (519).

This sense of the vegetative process and effect, the subtle, organic, supra-plot sense that ripens over and through the narrative, resonates throughout Hawthorne's work, helping us to recognize the deeper workings and rationales of Hawthorne's pervasive plant-mindedness. The thud of the ripened apple is, perhaps, what we hear echoed in the thud of the portrait that falls from the wall in The House of the Seven Gables, revealing the safe containing a long-lost, now defunct, deed to lands in Maine--a bittersweet denouement that, like the death of Judge Pyncheon, occurs not by human agency, but simply by organic process occurring over arboreal time. Perhaps, too, we finally understand why Miles Coverdale of The Blithedale Romance both takes the time to lay the fallen Zenobia "beneath a tree" and takes the time to say so. It is only natural that Hawthorne's vegetable plots should end there.

Judith A. Richardson is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department and Coordinator of the American Studies Program at Stanford University. The author of Possessions: The History and Uses of Haunting in the Hudson Valley (Harvard UP, 2003), she has published essays on Irving. Cooper, Hawthorne and Emerson, and other topics in American literature and culture. She is currently at work on a book about nineteenth-century America's "plantmindedness," its multivalent obsession with vegetable matters.


(1.) All references to Hawthorne's writings are taken from The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. 23 vols. Subsequent references will be cited parenthetically in the text by volume and page number.

(2.) Hawthorne lifted this detail from a factual entry in his notebook, describing a suicide by drowning in July 1845, where he not once but twice remarks on the placement of the recovered body "under an oak-tree" (see 8: 263, 265). Rather than voiding my point, this fact redoubles a sense of Hawthorne's plant-mindedness: even in the midst of reallife tragedy and horror, Hawthorne cannot help seeing the tree, and he chooses to keep that detail in an oddly askew spotlight in his fictionalized version of this episode.

(3.) For some influential works advancing such readings, see Gilmore, Trachtenberg, Michaels, and Sundquist.

(4.) The phrase "blackness, ten times black," comes from Melville, "Hawthorne and His Mosses" 521; Raym identifies Greenwood as the "paradigmatic woman author" for Hawthorne (29). It should be noted that Hawthorne did express positive responses to some of Greenwood's writings, and even more, evinced genuine admiration for the also vegetatively pseudonymed Fanny Fern, whose Ruth Hall caused him to walk back--if only a little--his categorical denunciation of women writers (17: 307--08). For a recuperative treatment of what she terms "floridity" (2) in nineteenth-century women's writings, as well disparaging assessments of it by contemporary authors and latter-day critics, see Beam.

(5.) Letter to Sophia Peabody, 1838. in E. M. Hawthorne 60.

(6.) In a May 1866 letter to Hawthorne's daughter Una, Elizabeth (who was something of a naturalist herself) suggests that Hawthorne loved flowers more than he said, or felt he should: "Did you not tell me that [columbines] were especial favorites with your father? I never see them now without thinking of him. He did not profess much love for flowers in general; less than he felt, no doubt" (E. M. Hawthorne 104). We might also see some admission of a publicly repressed love of flowers in Hawthorne's description of Clifford Pyncheon, who is liberated from gender pressures by age and tragedy: "This affection and sympathy for flowers is almost exclusively a woman's trait. Men, if endowed with it by nature soon loose, forget, and learn to despise it. in their contact with coarser things than flowers. Clifford, too, had long forgotten it. but found it again, now as he slowly revived from the chill torpor of his life" (a: 147).

(7.) Though I maintain Hawthorne's affection for plants, one wonders what resent ments against Uncle Robert might be surfacing in Seven Gables, where Hawthorne includes among the villainous Jaffrey Pyncheon's outward proofs of "unimpeachable" character, "his benefits to horticulture, by producing two much-esteemed varieties of the pear" (a: 230-31).

(8.) The letter regarding Manning's orchard and writings is immediately preceded in Hawthorne's collected letters by a May 6, 1830. note to S. G. Goodrich referring to two pieces Hawthorne is sending for The Token (15: 305).

(9.) Regarding columbines, see E. M. Hawthorne 104.

(10.) Emerson 24. "So popular were flower dictionaries," writes Beam, "that John Ingram's 1869 Flora Symbolica was able to claim that 'in the United States, the language of flowers is said to have more votaries than in any other part of the world'" (38).

(11.) Notably, the review of this edition of Thc Token in The American Monthly Magazine (Nov. 1837) calls it a green leaf in the fantastic and somewhat withered laurel that encir cles the brows of its editor."

(12.) This point relates to Michaels's argument in "Romance and Real Estate." which traces a debate in Seven Gables over the legitimate basis for property rights, one pitting a Lockean idea that it is labor invested into the soil that matters against abstract claims based in monetary exchange or inheritance.

(13.) In chapter 10 of The Scarlet Letter. American-born Pearl--who is described as "wild." having "no law, nor reverence for authority"--lines her mother's scarlet A with burrs plucked from a burdock, and then pelts the minister Arthur Dimmesdale with them (1: 133-34).

(14.) See Wirt (unpaginated).The sentiment assigned to Hawthorn, by the way, is hope.

(15.) It is worth noting that Hale, who also produced a floral dictionary that remained in print from the 1830s to the 1870s (Beam 39), held an influential position as a cultural arbiter throughout the mid-nineteenth century: in 1837, she began a forty-year tenure as editor of Godey's Lady's Book, the most widely circulated magazine before the Civil War.

(16.) Questions of symbolism constitute a majorstrain in Hawthorne scholarship, particularly regarding The Scarlet Letter. As Bercovitch nicely summarizes in his key study. "The Scarlet Letter is an interpreter's guide info perplexity. As critics have long pointed out, virtually every scene in the novel is symbolic, virtually every symbol demands interpretation, and virtually every interpretation takes the form of a question that opens out into a variety of possible answers, none of them entirely wrong, and none in itself satisfactory" (19).

(17.) A similar problem haunts other such symbolic vegetable moments in Hawthorne's tales. The blasted branch atop the oak in "Roger Malvin's Burial" seems both to predict the story's denouement and to symbolize some moral, but the unanswered question. "Whose guilt had blasted it?" causes any lesson to stall, incomplete and indeterminate (10: 357). Worth noting too is the wild rosebush at the threshold of The Scarlet Letter, which is expressly proffered as a symbol in potentia, but in an already backtracking, equivocal way that undercuts that promise from the start: "It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow" (1: 48).

(18.) In an entry from September 1836, Hawthorne notes, "The elm-trees have golden branches intermingled with their green already, and so they had on the first of the month" (8:18).

(19.) See Dickinson's poem numbered 448 (previously 449). "I died for Beauty."

(20.) See especially essays by Matthew Wynn Sivils and Lesley Ginsberg in Keetley and Sivils.

(21.) For a particularly environmentally focused take on planetarity. see Heise, esp. ch. 1 (including n28. which gives a useful brief synopsis of the term's development in the work of Gayatri Spivak and Wai Chee Dimock).

(22.) On "inhumanism," see Albert Gelpi's introduction to Jeffers.

(23.) The scene that opens Johnson's book--Susan Cooper recording her observations of the "brilliant crimson patches" on the maples in her 1849 journal--resonates not only with the passage of natural-historical attentiveness in Blithedale that opens this essay but also with numerous passages of fascinated, nonteleological, nonmetaphorizing observation in Hawthorne's journals and writings.

(24.) Referringto his photographic practice. Holgrave says, "I misuse Heaven's blessed sunshine by tracing out human features, through its agency" (2: 46).

(25.) Critics identify a market-consciousness in Seven Gables, both in that they see Hawthorne somewhat attempting to play to the market (thus the discordant "happy ending") and in that they trace numerous ways in which Hawthorne uses Seven Gables to critique competing contemporary modes--from the mechanical techniques represented by Holgrave's photography, to the novelistic realism that Hawthorne burlesques in the tellingly named opening salvo. "The Little Shop-Window." See for instances Gilmore and Trachtenberg.

(26.) In the preface to Seven Gables, Hawthorne says that a Romance-writer only "sins unpardonably" if he "swerve[s] aside from the truth of the human heart" (2: 1).

(27.) A parallel idea can be found in Hawthorne's notebooks, where he underscores how aspects of the scene may have been there all along but emerge only gradually into consciousness. See. for instance. July 1844: "And how strange is the gradual process with which we detect objects that are right before the eyes; here now are whortleberries, ripe and black, growing actually within reach of my hand, yet unseen till this moment. Were we to sit here all day, a week, a month, and doubtless a lifetime, objects would thus still be presentingthemselves as new, though there would seem to be no reason why we should not have detected them all at the first moment" (8: 347).

(28.) Further expressing that this is a labor of love. Drowne (who also notably refuses a suggestion that he work in marble instead) later says of his sculpture, "I have not wrought it for money" (10: 315). It is worth noting that the sculpture is not just remarkably lifelike but seems to emerge into a flesh-and-blood woman at the end.

(29.) See Emerson's section on "Language" in Nature and Edwards's sermon. A Divine and Supernatural Light, 12.

(30.) Similar equations can be found elsewhere, e.g., in prefacing a new edition of Twice-Told Tales in 1851. he says that the early stories "have the pale tint of flowers that blossomed in too retired a shade" (9: 5).

(31.) Hawthorne's idea of an inhering relationship or parity between leaves of paper and vegetable leaves resonates in various ways throughout the culture. For instance, not only is The Token implicitly offered as a bouquet, and equated with a pumpkin, but in the H. F. Gould poem. "The Old Elm of Boston." included in that volume, an explicit connection is made between leaf and literary product as the speaker asks the tree to send her, via bird, a leaf as "token" (95).

(32.) Melville also wrote, in an 1851 letter to Hawthorne, of the "grass-growing mood" necessary for writing (Moby-Dick 539).

(33.) It seems Melville himself attached the moss--actually "sea moss" purportedly gathered in Salem--to the flyleaf of the copy presented to him by his Aunt Mary Melvill ("Cousin Cherry"). See Cook.


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doi: 10.5325/nathhawtrevi.45.2.0171
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Author:Richardson, Judith A.
Publication:Nathaniel Hawthorne Review
Date:Sep 22, 2019
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