Printer Friendly

The Teller and the Tale: A Note on Hawthorne's Narrators.

As I have tried to suggest more than once, the 1835 breakup of the third of Hawthorne's early collections--"The Story-Teller"--is a sadly significant event in the literary history of America in the nineteenth century. (1) And beyond. In the historic moment, it almost certainly contributed to the author's growing discouragement about the viability of a literary career: how long could one go on writing anonymously (or pseudonymously) for magazines and yearbooks? Surely we are not to understand the year (1836) spent editing The American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge as anything but a last resort. Certainly, the quality of the editing, and of Hawthorne's own contributions, is fairly high. Then too, the literary enterprise appeared to be rescued when a former classmate subvented the publication of the Twice-told Tales. Yet the rescue was hardly complete. That collection may have opened an "intercourse with the world" for this "obscurest man of letters in America," but it was far from the kind of thing the author originally had in mind. (2)

Essentially a miscellany--pairing "Wakefield" with "A Rill from the Town Pump," "Endicott and the Red Cross" with "The Lily's Quest"--it altogether lacks the kind of formal and thematic unity Hawthorne had clearly aimed at in his outsetting "Seven Tales of My Native Land," which seemed to be experimenting with the enforced combination of gothic and domestic sentiment, and the astonishingly sophisticated "Provincial Tales," in which Hawthorne's ironic patriotism might frighten Oliver Stone. (3) And it published most of the tales intended for "The Story-Teller" quite apart from the scenes of their local performance, whose "frames" their narrator had modestly suggested might be "more valuable than the pictures themselves" (4); and, significantly for this study, without benefit of their fully characterized Narrator--an orphan in the care of a puritanic minister, then a runaway, committed to storytelling against all New England odds, the traveling companion of one Eliakim Abbott, who looks to the Story-Teller somewhat like an "unfledged divine from Andover" (180), and whose memory Hawthorne called to mind when he first came to understand Jones Very. (5) Nothing else remotely like this in the early years of a tenuously emergent American belles lettres. An experiment complex enough to warrant its own chapter in Anybody's History of Narratology.

But no. The Tales Themselves, each with a Teller doomed to be identified as Hawthorne Himself. Whoever the hell that was. Let's see: his remote ancestor (often spelled Hathorne) helped condemn the Salem witches; his father was a ship's captain who died abroad when his son was young; he lived with his mother's family, mostly women, but for two uncles who ran a stagecoach line; he was shy; he had private tutors rather than ordinary schools; he hurt his foot one summer, and this made him more shy; he avoided church service at a cut-rate country college with a Harvard-like curriculum; after that, he spent a lot of time brooding in a "dismal and squalid" chamber--but he did take long walks in the summer, and sometimes played cards with friends. (6) A full, rich, and interesting life, no doubt. Lots of luck with that.

Of course one can locate certain "narrator" issues in earlier tales, not written for inclusion in "The Story-Teller." Not in "Wives of the Dead," perhaps, where--unless one chooses to vex the reference of the "she" (67) in the last paragraph--the complexifying interest lies in the dramatization (and the symbolism) of sameness and difference that the tale addresses. (7) But maybe just a little in "The Hollow of the Three Hills," where one is tempted to wonder whether the author, who seems to have been reading eighteenth-century fiction, quite agrees with the narrator's implication that "madman's fantasies" could occur only in "those strange old Times" (7). And somewhat more in the longer stories intended for the "Provincial Tales." Not so much in "The Gentle Boy," where morality and sentiment have to have everything pretty much their own way. But, clearly, in the headnote to "Boger Malvin's Burial," somebody is expected to know (or go and discover) more than the narrator is saying about the "well-remembered" event called "Lovell's Fight" (88). And no one in their right, suspicious mind can be expected to believe that the ritualistic and well-orchestrated events of "My Uncle Molineux" merely "chanced" to happen "upon a summer night, not far from a hundred years ago"--any more than the man who appears to befriend Bobin Molineux had "chanced" (68/82) to meet the man with painted face of red and black. Here, and with astonishing effect later, in "The May-pole of Merry Mount," the personage graciously offering us some "authentic passages from history" (366) is seldom to be given entire credit. History, it appears, is a story. And so is a story: lots of tellers, not all to be trusted.

To be sure, the assembled twice-told tales--some of them--are incomparably wonderful, all by themselves: "Young Goodman Brown," "The Minister's Black Veil," "The May-pole of Merry Mount," even the less precisely historical "Prophetic Pictures" and "Ambitious Guest." But one is left to ponder: who exactly thinks Goodman Brown's traumatic adventure in the forest may really be a nightmare, but leaves readers of Cotton Mather to imagine that experiences of "specter evidence" may be dream-enough to cover the case? Who, in the case of "The Minister's Black Veil," thinks it sufficient to tell us that Parsons Hooper's scary new sermon "had reference to secret sin" (373, my italics); or who is obtuse enough to suggest that his "awful power, over souls that were in agony for sin," has "no other apparent cause" (381) than his theatrical black veil? And was it the canceled "Story-Teller" or the enduring Author who inserted into the text of "The May-pole of Merry Mount" the curiously indirect footnote about Blackstone? Not to mention the self-canceling political ironies of "The Gray Champion" and "Endicott and the Bed Cross." (8) To be sure, all these questions can be dealt with internally, so to speak, but all would be more than a little different if (what Emily Dickinson called) a "supposed person" (9) were explicitly given as the nearest source of these complexities; and he, standing in a place with a local habitation and a name. Even as originally intended.

Then too, if you happen to pick up the second (1851) edition of Twice-told Tales, there will be the four dazzling "Legends of the Province House," written just after the 1837 Tales and--as if to compensate for what was lost in "The Story-Teller"--employing a carefully specified Narrator who, with a nostalgic (and boozy) interest in his country's past, tells the tales he hears from two other tellers, one an incorrigible old Tory, and both given to a fondness for myth and legend. All this in a bar that used to be part of the Province House, a pivotal place in the history of American trade and taxation. Narrated thus obliquely are four well-specified but not chronologically arranged episodes, the "present" moment of initial hostility, the provocative decision to quarter troops in Boston, then--by virtue of some wayback machine--the social unrest associated with the smallpox epidemic of 1721, and then, back to the more-than-present moment of civil restoration. Read all by itself or in tandem with the reassuringly linear account of historian George Bancroft, the effect of all this is more than a little disconcerting. As if we were meant to be reminded that history is after all a tale, told by somebody or other, and that its form is far from inevitable. (10)

But then, another story: the happy interruption of ordinary reality. The nameless author of this or that tale published in some place or other turns out to be none other than Nathaniel Hawthorne, part-time recluse of Salem. One Peabody sister helps him get a low-level political job; another, amicably connected with educator Horace Mann, enables the writing of some intriguing tales for children; a third, imperfectly distracted by chronic headaches, becomes his very inamorata, writing and receiving urgent love letters to and from Boston, where the newly identified author--who "never cared much for those blue diamond rings"--had gone to work in Uncle Sam's revenue service. Open intercourse indeed. Before you know it, this newly awakened worldling will be investing $500 in a communal experiment: where cooperation aspires to replace competition, perhaps two can live as cheap as one. No? Can't write there? Well, some further (and remarkable) stories for children, but nothing all grown up. Turns out, the Soul can be buried under a dung heap as easily as under a pile of money.

So--duly married anyway--off to the Old Manse at Concord; Emersonville, in very fact, an entirely new scene, offering an irresistible temptation to write, down from the attic, a moral history of his own remarkable time. But in what form? And requiring what sort of narrative persona? That is to say, who would you have to be in order to register a timely critique of the various ideal aspirations in evidence there without admitting that you were, after all, a practical materialist? An after-the-fact Preface might assert that the real you--about which there remained in your own mind considerable doubt--was decently concealed behind some sort of veil, but the real problem is that your stories, many of them, end with strong interpretative instructions, some of which are borderline insane and almost none of which come close to covering the issues raised by a new set of themes and characters. Who speaks, in the tales of Hawthorne's Old Manse period? And how consistently? Unlike the tales of the 1830s, the specified storytelling Narrator is absent by design; so that, unless we can identify one that is merely implied, there is now no one to praise or blame but the author himself. Even if we say these cunningly wrought tales were written by language.


From the Concord period, the only tales that seem designed for a collection are "Egotism; or The Bosom Serpent" and "The Christmas Banquet," identified, both of them, as belonging to a set called the "Unpublished Allegories of the Heart," of which there are, so far as we know, no other members. But the first is interesting enough to have provoked interpretative psychotheological comment from Melville; and together they require at least a certain amount of narratological acumen. Linked, internally, by the repeated but widely differing use of the phrase "life within a/the life" (786/863), they more significantly require the reader to notice that the second tale ("Banquet") is told by the protagonist of the first ("Egotism"); cured, presumably, by the suggestion of his estranged wife that he try to lose diseased self-awareness in "the idea of another" (793), he turns to posit a case of more-than-clinical identity formation that may not be so easy to cure. What but his own disease, we are strongly invited to ask, gives the once insanely self-involved Boderick Elliston the right to puzzle us with the case of the hopelessly dissociated Gervayse Hastings, to whom everything Emerson would call the "not me"--and then even his very own "me"--is as a shadow "flickering on the wall" (856/860/866)?

Allegorically, as I have argued elsewhere, it might be not Jones Very recalling Eliakim Abbott, but a preternaturally ingrown Hawthorne propounding the case of a conscientiously apathetic Emerson. (11) But however we handle the key to this curious moins de roman, our attention has been turned to the question of who tells what; and why. The snaky and sin-obsessed discourse of the first tale is clearly puritanical; of the second, Emersonian and in the end Platonic; but we need to know the situational source and interpersonal function of this peculiar but clearly deliberate pairing of philosophical idioms. What follows from the fact that a character cured of a self-involvement clearly related to somebody's idea of "the true sight of sin" turns on his wife and friend with a puzzling tale about what might be called "them old transcendental subjectivity blues" (12) or else, more generally, Platonic or Cartesian schizophrenia?

So alerted, we may even, plausibly enough, ask about the narrator of the original story--George Herkimer, the sculptor, who demands to know the "origin" of Elliston's rare and remarkable disease and who solemnly pronounces it "an awful affliction, whether it be actual or imaginary" (793). For which relief, some small thanks perhaps; but less than a competent criticism might eventually require. As almost everywhere in the mini-canon we have designated, somebody in the story, named or not, is only too ready to tell us less than we need to know. Or worse, something we are supposed to know is dead wrong. As in the case of Aylmer and Georgina: yes, this compulsive purist has indeed lost his best chance for worldly happiness, but she's the one who gets dead. More of this anon. For the moment, call this the technique of flagrant but flawed self-interpretation: put your yellow marker back in your school bag and move along.

Backing up to the very beginning of the Old Manse period, we encounter, in an under-investigated tale called "The Virtuoso's Collection," a Narrator perceptive enough to identify the learned and voluble guide of his tour through a museum of reified literary symbols none other than the Wandering Jew, which legendary personage will reappear more than once between here and "Ethan Brand." More than that--and stuff written about "the elixir of life" to the contrary--he is wise enough to suspect that earthly immortality might not be good for the mortal man, that without some hope for what Poe would call certain "glories beyond the grave," all wish for the better, all aspiration might in due time disappear. And, though he is perceptive enough to recognize that the Virtuoso who leads him through his encompassing collection has made some odd pairings, he never even tries to figure out what game this proto-encyclopedist may be playing. Leaving the reader to wonder what might be wrong with pairing Una's lamb with "Alexander's steed Bucephalus" or the "very dove... that brought the message of peace and hope to the tempest-beaten passengers of the ark" with the raven--not of sacred scripture and, for reasons of chronology, no doubt, not of Poe--but of Barnaby Rudge (698/700). Or, more crucially still, what might be wrong with reducing the full semantic range of a complex dialogic text to its symbols? Or, what mythographer might be reductively identifying any one myth with any other? And why? Or, again, just who in the course of Hawthorne's omnivorous reading might be guilty of any such procedure? Don't say P. T. Barnum. Please. (13)

Similar instances of deliberate but inadequate self-interpretation occur in "The Hall of Fantasy" (1843) and "Earth's Holocaust" (1844), both of which also touch on the theme of ideal aspiration and loyal earthliness. In the one, an interested but cautious and skeptical Narrator moralizes for and against the theories of a whole gallery of poets, prophets, reformers, projectors, and other fantasts: good to keep alive the idea of the better, but very bad to get lost somewhere in cloud land. A Christian, perhaps, he will yet have no part of Fr. Miller's Adventist wish for the near appearance of God's last put-out the-light. Aroused, he even breaks out into a hymn to the peculiar, matchless, indeed unreplaceable pleasures of this very earth altogether worthy of Thoreau, or, closer to the sketch's own system of reference, of Ellery Channing's poem "The Earth Spirit." (14) But in the end, a final, well-elaborated moral rings a little hollow. Indeed, its overtone and specific allusion may betray the entire force of his studied naturalism.

Offered the chance to share the "vegetable diet" of his tour guide (organic, free-range, grass-fed sprouts, as I imagine it), he produces--unconsciously, or at least without emphatic comment--one of Hawthorne's most tellingphilosophical puns: this invitation to dinner, even when the fare was to be nothing very "substantial" (my italics) "compelled us forthwith to remove from the Hall of Fantasy" (745). Talk, talk, talk; when do we eat? Or, as Emerson's self-satire has it, "Children, eat your vittles and say no more of it." (15) And then, an ending that overtly references Emerson--when "the Idea shall be all in all" (745)--suggesting that the Narrator is unaware that he has been withholding from us somebody's knowledge that Emersonian idealism is fundamentally connected with the morale of this exhaustive (and, in the original magazine version, fully specified list of eager dissatisfactionists. (16) Blasphemously parodying St. Paul--"the Idea shall be all in all"--but clearly invoking the apocalyptic conclusion of Emerson's Nature, it is this ending which clearly informs the structural meaning of this otherwise prosy sketch: the premillennialAdventism of Fr. Miller may seem the epitome and reductio of all plans to make it new, but the logic of immaterialism may register an even deeper unhappiness with the way things are. Plotinus either did or did not hate his body, and Emerson worries that his denial of real being to the world of matter implies an insult to Mother Earth; (17) but while an inadequate Narrator mouths a pseudo-Christian platitude, a suspicious Hawthorne may be inviting his readers to wonder.

Equally explicit and equally incompetent is the Narrator of "Earth's Holocaust," a sketch which imagines a secular approximation of Fr. Miller's end-time bonfire but without a perfect courage of its conviction: What if a Bonfire of the Vanities got out of control? Or, in the radical logic of a relevant Star Trek episode, what if the crusade against imperfection entails the elimination of all created being? At one point the Narrator wonders out loud, what next? "Unless we set fire to the earth itself, and leap boldly off into infinite space, I see not that we can carry reform to any further point" (901). Or else, as someone might have said, now we devoutly await its Millerite consummation, a mighty conflagration to consume the earth and, in it, all who are not among the blessed. As if the title implied a Holocaust not in or on but of the earth.

All along, destruction by destruction, the Narrator is, alternately, enthusiast and skeptic: at one time, on the occasion of the elimination of the death penalty, "That was well done" (897); at another, upon the burning of the Bible, "This is terrible" (904)--requiring, in both cases, the words of a certain "grave observer" (889) to suggest that the process involves somewhat less of good and evil than might at first appear. Tempting one to say to the unsteady Narrator: "Oh foolish Mortal, ever blind to fate: / Too soon dejected and too soon elate." (18) And in any case, to doubt the adequacy of this unstable observer's final, explicit, elaborate moral: how sad if, playing into the hands of the Devil himself, we discarded things and reformed institutions but left unreformed--untouched by the fire of true religion--"that inward sphere" (906) from which it all proceeds. True enough, as any card-carryingAwakener could surely observe, and as even the logic of Emerson's "Self-Reliance" might imply. But what if the point is that, Christian and Secular Radicalism to the contrary notwithstanding, the human heart is subject to education but not perfect transformation? What if, in the name of ridding the universe of imperfection, the Great Fire would have to consume rather than merely purify the all-engendering heart of man? What if carbon-based life should turn out to be as imperfect as it is expensive? Fear death by perfection, Georgiana. But not quite yet--as "The Celestial Railroad" offers us yet another case of a Narrator not quite sure what his tale is supposed to mean.

A slightly more complicated instance: the Narrator is aware that he is living out and retelling the most famous not-quite-biblical story of the seventeenth century, but he seems not entirely sure why. And, though he is aware that the liberal guru who instructs him in all the improvements made to religion since the time of poor old John Bunyan is not entirely to be trusted, he appears to have no knowledge that this (plainly allegorical) Mr. Smooth-it-away has an important literary predecessor--the "Smooth Divine" who, in the mock epic of Timothy Dwight, relishes Charles Chauncey's amazing discovery that the assembled Jewish/Christian scripture does not in fact hold forth the doctrine of hell. And his responses to the specifics of the new liberalism is decidedly mixed.

On the one hand, he notices that the new bridge vibrates rather dangerously as they pass over the old Slough of Despond--which "cartloads of wholesome instructions" (808) had failed to fill and make solid; and he slyly declines to say whether he believes the "Evangelist" who sells tickets may be in fact an impostor, or whether they will be accepted at "the gate of the Celestial City" (809). On the other hand, however, he supposes that "it would have done Bunyan's heart good to see" that his ragtag assortment of sorrowful souls traveling on foot had been replaced by "parties of the first gentry and most respectable people in the neighborhood" (809-10). We can say, of course, that this praise sounds a little insincere; but then that is the besetting problem of satire: when do we understand a dramatic speaker to be less enlightened than the author, and when do we hear the author himself "being ironic"?

And the problem continues: conversations on "religion," though "indubitably the main thing at heart, was thrown tastefully into the background," so that "[e]ven an infidel would have heard little or nothing to shock his sensibility" (810). Clearly Hawthorne has read that "pattern American" who arranged a religion that would "satisfy the professors of all religions and shock none"; (19) is he being ironic, or is the Narrator simply deluded? Same with the "great convenience" of removing one's burden from one's back into the "baggage car" (810) and of employing "Apollyon, Christian's old enemy" as the engineer of this train to perdition. But it seems a bit much to have the now-and-then perceptive Narrator break forth into absurd excitement:
"Bravo, bravo!" exclaimed I, with irrepressible enthusiasm. "This shows
the liberality of the age; this proves, if anything can, that all musty
prejudices are in a fair way to be obliterated. And how will Christian
rejoice to hear of this happy transformation...." (811)

Too heavy, this. And, partly at least, it is the not-quite-Swiftian management of ironic narration which makes "The Celestial Rail-road" seem somehow more clever than profound.

The Narrator is not so foolish as to imagine a permanent residence in Vanity Fair. And, unlike so many others, he does not respond to the sudden disappearance of persons from that familiar delusion, "as if nothing had happened" (821). But in the end, when a pleasant ride on the modern road of a plausible Christianity delivers him, with his cargo of unforgiven sins still in the baggage car, at the very gates of hell, he relieves himself of the obligation of adequate interpretation with the discovery that, after all, "Thank heaven, it was a Dream" (824). Convincing the reader that the Narrator himself was, all along, being mildly, inadequately satirical--suspecting something blithely amiss, but unable to penetrate to the heart of a design fairly called Satanic. Yet leaving that same reader to wonder exactly where Hawthorne himself might stand on the doctrine of Atonement. Clearly, the tone seems to say, one is less hysterical now than was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards, who thought the Universalism of Charles Chauncey might speak the world back into biblical and poetic (Pope-like) darkness; (20) but is it after all just a matter of tone? And causing one to wonder, perhaps, whether Hawthorne's not-smart-enough Narrators might be some form of self-protection. Where exactly did he stand?--on the matter of The Protest, on the reality of the spiritual world? on the credibility of historical Christianity? Perhaps he thought it quite enough to wonder.

Yet wise skepticism is not everywhere the answer--as in the desperate case referred to earlier. Having shut up his (weirdly) beloved in an angular chamber--with curtains borrowed from Poe's "Ligeia" to make it appear circular--a Mad Scientist (with a Neoplatonic backstory) does his level worst to make his beloved appear perfect. No mention of her character, except as a learned echo of the source, in which an experimental amateur named Sir Kenelm Digby poisons his wife with freckle-curing viper wine and, in an attempt to repress the knowledge of her career as courtesan, changes her name from Venetia to Stelliana. (21) Two stories there, but here only one: hating her freckle-turned-tiny-hand, and, if the barely hidden truth were known, fearing the power of her sexuality, a fastidious pseudo-spiritualist named Aylmer, having already, in a gross external parody of conversion, "administered agents powerful enough to do aught except to change your entire physical system" (777), the final step. With her desperate approval: how can she love life if there is something in her he hates? Even if my one-time graduate student was right: what he gives her is the psycho-moral equivalent of a cliterodectomy.

She dies of course. But unlike Beatrice in "Rappaccini's Daughter," who manages to discern more resident evil in her lover than in herself, Georgiana, who might well be Georgina, except for the four-letter allusion to Stelliana--that's right, pedantry strikes again--completely absolves her experimental but incompetent (and no doubt impotent) lover of all guilt. She consents, and, after all, did he not mean well? Was it not all done in the name of spiritual aspiration? So far, so bad. Read this cautionary tale, all you young women starving yourselves into anorexia because the magazines convince you that men hate fat. But then the Narrator appears to agree. At least as to the name and nature of Aylmer's crime

Apparently convinced that he has a sort of Faust tale on his hands--that Aylmer's strong claim is that he refused ever to say something like, "Stay this moment, thou art so fair"--he consoles rather than blames his death-dealing aspirations. Poor Aylmer, he as good as concludes, he meant well but he made an identifiable philosophic mistake, learning to his infinite sadness, how "the gross Fatality of Earth exult[s] in its invariable triumph over the immortal essence" (780). Along with the absurd thematic capitals, the self-parodic "Thus ever" makes it clear to all but the most convinced literalists that they must, in the words of D. H. Lawrence, in a famous essay on Hawthorne's indirection, "Never trust the teller. Trust the tale." (22) The tale says Aylmer is crazy and dangerous. It well implies that we emphasize the handprint he leaves on the arm of the "prying woman" (776) who would dare suggest that her interest in her body, herself, could in any way bear on the import of his experiment is the symbol of moment. Sexual obsession aside, the rest is just freckles. And the Narrator's forced conclusion--that Aylmer "failed to look beyond the shadowy scope of Time, and living once for all eternity, to find the perfect Future in the present" (780) reads less like hard-won insight than like a recited lesson in transcendentalist grammar.

"The Artist of the Beautiful" offers a similar (if less tragic) case of artfully authorized misprision. Comfortable all along with the topos--about to become a cliche--of sensitive artist suffering at the hands of bourgeois audience, he makes nothing of the fact that, from the outset, while Owen Warland is still misemployed as a watchmaker's apprentice, he has turned all the clocks in his shop window face-inward--as if to suggest that the Artist owes his Audience not so much as the time of day. Like certain modernist poetry, perhaps. (Who started this?) Nor does he bother to thematize the fact that, once at least, Owen performed the rare service of repairing the clock on the church tower. Dear me, what if one function of art were to suggest, from time to time, an adjustment to the conscience of official religion? But absentminded omission is one thing, thematic pontification quite another.

So there we are: finally successful at the much-interrupted and often-thwarted attempt to produce a thing of absolutely no use other than to imitate, mechanically, the graceful beauty of nature, the Artist presents his Object to his hopelessly ill-prepared Audience. With no one by to suggest that "a poem should not mean but be," they are curious but plainly uncomprehending: Is it alive? What is it for? Equally puzzled, the poor butterfly cannot find a place to land. Not on Peter Hovenden, who cordially hates "The Beautiful" even if it does not exist. Not on Danforth the blacksmith, whose strong natural presence makes the tale--in a line started by "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"--a memorable moment in the story of The Jock and the Nerd. Nor is this magical new thing "For Annie," even if Owen's obsessive minimalism suggests Poe's decision that poems must be short. Back to the Artist? No way. Like the Bobert Frost I once heard, avoiding the intentional fallacy by refusing in public to parse his own poem. So it tends to the chubby Child, with or without a "most knowing eye": perhaps the "shades of the prison house have not entirely closed." But no. In what modern professors can only take to be an allegory of teaching poetry to freshmen, crunch! Oh well, Owen did his level best.

And the Narrator thinks it's all OK. In so ponderous a thematic pronouncement that so sensitive a reader as Herman Melville misquotes it as a General Truth, missing in the process a string of historic and philosophical ironies long enough to keep criticism off the streets for a whole weekend. The passage is remarkable enough to address in its entirety. Determined at one moment to show them all, to make them "know, and see, and touch, and possess" (935) the fleeting secret of Beauty here ably reified, he then, in the moment of fat and clumsy--one had almost said "retarded"--refusal, Owen suddenly finds himself the site of entire transcendence. Or so the Narrator would have us believe. For had this Artist not caught "a far other butterfly"? Archetypal, no doubt, and if the truth were known, imitable only at some steep Platonic discount. Was he not in it all along for the thrill of aspiration itself? Then learn the lesson:
When the artist rose high enough to achieve the Beautiful, the symbol
by which he made it perceptible to mortal senses became of little value
in his eyes, while his spirit possessed itself in the enjoyment of the
Beality. (931)

Was not the process always more important than the product? How could this ideal artist care at all for the thing he gave the best part of his life to create? Or mind what anybody else might happen to think of it? Art is aspiration. Its "object" not some beautiful thing but Beauty Itself. How could John or Jonathan know about that?

One finds it said that this is the story Emerson would have written, had he chosen a literary kind more fictional than the essay. (23) One hopes not. For surely literary solipsism can go no further; and the man who in maturity despaired of ever making plain to brothers or wives the nature of the drama "forward on his private boards" (24) never stopped writing and polishing essays designed to teach, rather than privately cherish, the life of the Spirit. And can we seriously imagine the Hawthorne who kept writing prefaces aimed, however obliquely, at connecting himself with a proper audience? Had "My Uncle Molineux" and "Roger Marvin's Burial" been written in the name of ideal self-possession? How do the sufferings of Hester and Dimmesdale lend their parts to the soul of the Beautiful? Rather, Hawthorne is the one who, quite as much as Emerson, mends the clock on the church tower. And both wish us to notice.

Of course there is a less inflated, indeed ironic sense in which the Narrator's remarks make some practical sense. Devoutly we wish to believe that Owen Warland got some higher pleasure out of the worldly deprivation and pain involved in his long process of making his idea real--because, in the end, that was about all he got. The artist had better like what he is doing or it could be all a waste of time. And life. Perhaps we may charitably imagine that this is something like what Melville meant when, in his famous essay "Hawthorne and His Mosses," he misquotes the Narrator's blatant pseudo-Platonic moral. (25) Changing all the tenses from past to present, he effectively translates what the Narrator affirms about this artist into a universal claim about The Artist as such, forcing us to ask ourselves whether such really is the nature of the general case: Artists live for the pleasure of the creative process. Period. Maybe so. Maybe Melville didn't care whether Moby-Dick ever got published or not; or if it did, whether it sold a single copy. But if this is indeed the rule, then Hawthorne is the capital exception. He cared.

And while we are asking, we may need to remember that the concept of the artist as such is not an ancient and venerable concept; indeed, as the researches of M. H. Abrams have admirably demonstrated, this all - embracing concept was less than a century old when Hawthorne thought to inquire of it. To be sure, Plato had enough of a general concept of "the poet" to propose banishment from the universe of critical discourse; but prior to about 1750 one had to speak of the poet, the painter, the singer, the dancer, the landscape gardener, the fake butterfly-maker, one by one--and apply to separate publications for the rules governing each. (26) That is to say. it is necessary to notice that "The Artist" in Hawthorne's title is every bit as overdetermined as is "The Beautiful"--the latter pointing to the long shadow of Plato's otherworldly ontology, the former a modern invention designed to unify in one inflated conceptual family all those who try to make something pleasing rather than practical. So that, today, we can without irony speak of this or that "Rap Artist." Appropriately deflated, the plot concerns "The Guy Who Hated Trains So Much He Manufactured Small Mechanical Butterfly." (27) The story is--indeed and provocatively--about art and society, but not in the way the Narrator thinks.

Crowning the achievements of the Old Manse period, but establishing itself as something of a special case, is the most-discussed and still-elusive "Rappaccini's Daughter," which sometimes appears with a not-very-witty headnote identifying its author as M. de l'Aubepine, naming his tales as tomes, translating some of Hawthorne's former works into plausible-enough French, and entitling the present offering as "Beatrice; ou, la Belle Empoisonneuse" (976). We can locate the biographical source of this unusual foreplay, (28) but its narrative function is somewhat harder to determine. With the ascribing most of the day's serious literature to "the Transcendentalists," "under one name or another" (975), one might expect the reference to be German. Unless some French writer, like Eugene Sue, be taken as the beau ideal of the sort of writer whose "brilliant success" (976) owes to the rare ability to work just in between the "spiritual or metaphysical" interest of the Transcendentalists and "the great body of pen-and-ink men who address the intellect and sympathies of the multitude" (975). Clear enough, however, is the almost-mock modesty by which Hawthorne is learning to satirize himself in advance--as if, as Adam Gordon has well argued, he felt safe only if he anticipated the insensitive criticism he most feared.

Accordingly, Aubepine's works are just as fatally allegorical, just as devoid of ordinary "human warmth" as Hawthorne's own. The Hawthorne who will soon express envy of the under-the-glass realism of Trollope is here confessing "a very slight embroidery of outward manners--the faintest possible counterfeit of real life." And, anticipating the major self-attack-defense of "Main-street," he concedes that unless "the reader chance to take them in precisely the proper point of view... they can hardly fail to look excessively like nonsense" (975). Poor Hawthorne--who read Spenser and Bunyan at an impressionably early age and, given the ready availability of romance, failed to become a novelist in any proper sense.

But also clear, from the first line of this headnote growing toward the rank of a preface, is the not-very-veiled allusion to the sometime Transcendentalist who, after standing in for Emerson in the "Infidelity" controversy with the Pope-like head of the Harvard Divinity School, set about editing and introducing to a provincial American reading public, in fourteen volumes, certain selected "Specimens of Foreign Standard Literature." Almost certainly Hawthorne had Bipley in mind, as the very first sentence begins, "We do not remember to have seen any translated specimens" (975) of Aubepine's voluminous but not too popular output. Clearly, Hawthorne knew Bipley well from his months at Brook Farm, and earlier he could scarcely have been unaware of Bipley's part in the so-called Miracles Controversy, which found its way, absurdly, into the daily papers. At one level, the reference reinforces our sense that he wishes to talk about his contemporaries--as about himself--in some sort of code: consider the thinly veiled and faintly meretricious reference, in the last line, to George Bancroft, whose boyishly patriotic theory of the American Bevolution had been subtly undermined in the four "Legends of the Province," and whom a letter to John Louis O'Sullivan refers to as "the blatant beast." (30) No egotism here, but no chance of mistake either. The magazine version of "The Hall of Fantasy" named all the names. The collected version took them all out. Why should a perilously placed writer go out of his way to make enemies?

But the Bipley reference also alerts the contextual reader to the necessary question of an evidence--relating Bipley's "better mode" of verifying the truth of scripture to the "better evidence" (999) to which the Narrator ascribes Giovanni's weak and failing faith in Beatrice. Some allegory here: what if the woman who, hearing the healing words of the divine savior and faithfully touching the hem of his garment, shriveled up like a spider held too long over the fire? (31) And thus the deep Narrator problem in "Bappaccini's Daughter," whether or not we follow the rare pleasure of Carol Bensick's long and winding "Boad to Padua." (32)

Clearly Beatrice is speaking metaphorically--possibly for the first time in her socially innocent life--when she poses her final, rhetorical, accusatory question to her would-be lover: "Oh, was there not, from the first, more poison in thy nature than in mine" (1005)? Probably so. We easily spot the "vile empiric" (998) problem of Giovanni's "decisive test" (999): he must know "whether there were those dreadful peculiarities in her physical nature, which could not be held to exist without some corresponding monstrosity of soul" (999). And the Narrator is absolutely unforgiving at just this point, convicting Giovanni, but exposing at length a spiritual creed that may carry the Reader beyond her own credence. Of course there had been signs of some terrible poison, but
These incidents... dissolving in the pure light of her character, had
no longer the efficacy of facts, but were acknowledged as mistaken
fantasies, by whatever testimony of the senses they might appear to be
substantiated. There is something truer and more real, than what we can
see with the eyes and touch with the finger. On such better evidence
had Giovanni founded his confidence in Beatrice, though rather by the
force of her high attributes than by any deep and generous faith, on
his part. But, now, his spirit was incapable of sustaining itself at
the height to which the early enthusiasm of passion had exalted it; he
fell down, groveling among earthly doubts, and defiled therewith the
pure whiteness of Beatrice's image. (999)

A lot going on here. Time, in another context, for another hand, to go very slow.

Not just the Narrator's evident (and rather simple) Platonism, but the difference between faith and "confidence," a technical term in Locke and, after him, in the carefully crafted apologetics of "Pope" Andrews Norton--not quite scientific proof, but highly convincing probability of the truth of historical Christianity. (33) Then too, "enthusiasm," a very bad word for old Charles Chauncey but not for Jonathan Edwards. (34) And "passion": does that play any part in the drama which will come to be called "the fixation of belief"? (35)

But much more simply, for the moment, the Narrator expects Giovanni to embrace Beatrice, whether in literal twilight-zone fact her father has poisoned her or not. Of course she may be morally quite innocent, not at all privy to her father's plan to secure her a poisoned partner in the dangerous dance of earthly life among the Borgias; but on some crazy-ass premise she may be quite lethal. Poisoned body, pure spirit? Whose premise? If Hawthorne's very own, then let the feminists have at that spiteful sonofabitch. Giovanni could not be more afraid of her (sexuality) than if she had some social disease. But maybe she does, inherited from her sickly looking father. Or else, why the reference to those little vials of mercury with which Benvenuto Cellini was known to dose his syphilitic friends? Ben Who? We all know about Dante and his Beatrice, in which national epic Giovanni was "not unstudied" (976). Maybe even about Shelley's "Beatrice Cenci," who murdered the father who had raped her. But Benvenuto Celini? It's like asking the reader to consider Cotton Mather when reading "Young Goodman Brown." But then, "Whose Hawthorne" is it anyway? (36)

Yet the simple point is telling enough: the more-than-transcendental Narrator, having found his protagonist shallow in the Neapolitan manner, now convicts him of a faith weaker than that of his ancestor, Goodman Brown, just because he cannot live on "the words of Beatrice Rappaccini's lips" alone (99?). Plainly it is a vulgar error to believe that a deadly soul can be inferred from diseased body, but C'mon, Man, the chick could be toxic. So that, once again, an elaborately intrusive and annoyingly moralistic Narrator may not know what-the-fuck he is talking about. Hawthorne, in a conversation with his headachy (but not for that reason undersexed) wife, is reported to have said he never knew whether Beatrice was beautiful or deadly or both. (37) And the reader can't know either. Unless we discover some allegory deeper than Male Horror--like, according to some theology, original sin is a sexually transmitted disease--we need to experience the puzzle without solution. One more turn of the screw since "Young Goodman Brown": Giovanni's evidence is indeed a little funky, but in this here tale there seems no easy way to make it go away.


Then of course there is "The Old Manse," after-the-fact introduction to many of the things Hawthorne wrote in Concord between 1843 and 1845. Neither tale nor sketch, this pleasant but evasive preface is, like all self-writing, in some sense a fiction: a linguistic construct designed to offer some created representation of the human person whose name is on the cover. Call it persona rather than narrator, the writer's problem is pretty much the same: "Who am I this time?" (38)

And the Hawthorne who appears is only a little less self-effacing than the other voice someone describes in French. By the end, the Hawthorne impersonator is offering one professional apology and one persona.

On the one hand, given the rich intellectual context, there should have been a novel, if not a "profound treatise of ethics" or a "philosophic history." Some sympathetic reader may yet tease out from the tales and sketches gathered here together something not unlike both of these. But the voice of the apologetic author authorizes only these "few tales and essays" ("sketches," we have learned to call them), all of which "had blossomed out like flowers in the calm summer of my heart and mind" (1148). Nothing here about their blooming it "too retired a shade," to be sure, but, oh dear, "my heart and mind": it really is Hawthorne talking to us, right?

Well, some Hawthorne. And, before we get too excited about the possibility of honest, authorial self-revelation, we need to recall that the self-same heart and mind has just patiently explained, in one rather long paragraph, that, deliberately at least, nothing very personal had been in fact revealed. Having collapsed three summers into one--anticipating and outdoing the self-inventing strategy of Walden--this here Hawthorne stipulates that, unlike his second-most famous neighbor, he neither expects nor means to provide "an honest account of his own life." (39) In fact,
How little have I told!--and, of that, how almost nothing is even
tinctured with any quality that makes it exclusively my own! Has the
reader gone wandering, hand in hand with me, through the inner passages
of my being, and have we groped together into all its chambers, and
examined their treasures or their rubbish? (1147)

Like Parson Hooper, perhaps, the author of the humbly estimated Mosses from an Old Manse is determined to "veil [his] face" (1147).

More than that, the author who earlier had assured his wife that, given his "involuntary reserve" and, in consequence, "the objectivity of [his] writings," "people are wrong when they think I am pouring myself out in a tale or an essay" (40)--and who may well have suspected that his great gift of negative capability came at the expense of any proper selfhood--now professes, with comic hyperbole, that he is not, nor ever has been, "one of those supremely hospitable people, who serve up their own hearts delicately fried, with brain sauce, as a tidbit for their beloved public" (1147). Shy he most certainly was. And modest. Yet hardly unconcerned with audience: his "public" may have been more distrusted than "beloved," but no writer of his generation--not even Melville--suffered more anxiety on their account. Who were they, exactly? What would they have him produce? Could they recognize any reality in his rare form of neo-allegoric mimesis? Soon enough, in preface after preface, for romance after romance, the personal would become a prime literary project.

In the interim between the self-protective "Old Manse" and the less guarded but equally fictional "Custom-House," two quite different cases present themselves: the sober fiction of "Ethan Brand," which declares itself--and leaves referent-less references to reinforce the point--but "A Chapter from an Abortive Romance." and the serio-comic sketch called "Main-street," equally abortive as it turns out, breaking off well short of the date proposed to a well-dramatized audience. Abortive or not, the disturbing tale of the Brand that would not be plucked from the burning is told by one of the most neutral and simply efficient narrators in all of Hawthorne's short fiction. Within the fiction itself, it seems, there is character enough to underestimate the seriousness of the issue at stake: Ethan Brand scares the hell out of Bartram fils, but his less percipient father is sure he can recognize superstition when he sees it. The most we can say is that the Narrator does not bother to emphasize what is supposed to be obvious: only the very smoothest of divines can be got to teach that "Tophet has not even a metaphorical existence" (815). And that his friendly greeting to the sunlit day after the defiant suicide of a man once "simple and loving" (1063) was convincing enough to deceive, for a while at least, the competitive intelligence of Melville. (41)

"Main-street," on the other hand, exposes a somewhat less existential threat, but its emphasis is primarily on the Narrator himself. And on his audience. Once again, it appears, the committed but unassured Moral Historian is determined to get out in front of the moral and the historical criticisms he expects to encounter. Or would encounter, if anyone were paying close enough attention.

OK, so some spirited amateur is, with the aid of the pictures historically arranged in his showbox--just a "passing fancy," but "our love is here to stay"--going to tell his fellow Salemites the whole history of their originary but thereafter infamous town, whose main street just happens to be laid "over the graves of the red men" (xxx). In the narrative, some Red Men look on as local leadership passes from Roger Conant to a more militant--and energetic--John Endicott, and as more and more Puritans with hobnail boots make a deeper track in the wilderness than would thousands of moccasins, even if their wearers had not been decimated by white men's disease. Secure at first in the thought that "their own system of things will endure forever" (1035), they look on at first with curiosity, then with growing concern, as they "become aware" that the path-turned-street "is no longer free to them" (1031-33); and then they disappear. (42) But all this is merely subtext, and the Showman, a sort of dumb-it-down Hawthorne, appears to accord it no special emphasis, as he portrays the gradual, perhaps inevitably destined, transformation of a wilderness into a proper town.

Yet his story is by no means flattering to the Salem audience--characterized much earlier in Hawthorne's career as not knowing where to find Gallows Hill, making them fit descendants of the ancestors who set bonfires on Powder Treason Day to scare away the Pope. (43) The audience will have to face up to their, well, unfriendly treatment of the Quakers; they will have to hear that all the generations after the first were narrower and less attractive souls, and they will have to experience the infamous Salem Witchcraft as a "Universal Madness run riot in the Main-street" (1047), a scene left on the cutting floor of an otherwise-perfect "Young Goodman Brown." And none of this they really can dispute. But some other things they do, and rather vigorously.

Even before anything bad has happened, one captious critic in the audience protests the art of the performance: "The trees look more like weeds in a garden, than a primitive forest." To which the showman replies--nearly ironic even in his dumbed-down persona--"Human art has its limits." And then, in language familiar from the headnote to "Bappaccini," "[W]e must now and then ask a little aid from the spectator's imagination." To which, "You will get no such aid from mine.... I make it a point to see things precisely as they are" (1039). Peter Hovenden, we think. Or Tom Tristram, in case we have read The American in the wake of Hawthorne. And on it goes: responding to the suggestion of the rose-like beauty of "the lady who leans on the arm of Endicott," the same critic protests:
" Here is a pasteboard figure, such as a child would cut out of a card,
with a pair of very dull scissors; and the fellow modestly requests us
to see in it the prototype of hereditary beauty."

Matter of perspective perhaps, the Showman faintly suggests; matter of "light and shadow"; try sitting further back. Nope: "I want no other light and shade. I have already told you, that it is my business to see things just as they are" (1039). No further self-defense. But goodbye to "History as Bomantic Art." (44)

But wait. Another objection, somewhat more sophisticated, from a "gentlemanly person" who seems to know a bit about the subject the Showman would now lightly, now darkly imagine. Modestly, but with authority,
"I would suggest to the author of this ingenious exhibition... that
Anna Gower, the first wife of Governor Endicott, and who came with him
from England, left no posterity; and that, consequently, we cannot be
indebted to that honorable lady for any specimens of feminine
loveliness, now extant among us." (1029-30)

It matters not whether any other Salemite would have these biographical facts ready to hand: the objection is Hawthorne's own, manufactured to anticipate a possible criticism, sometime, somewhere, from some "professor of biographical exactness," unhappy with anything like poetic license (not to say metaphor) in the text of history. And if the objection is a hopeless misprision, so the answer is a modest but ironic apology: "Having nothing to allege against this genealogical objection, the showman points again to the scene" (1030).

But the irony comes sharply into focus in the very next paragraph: the showman noticing the re-forming effects of "Anglo-Saxon energy--as the phrase now goes" (1030), the reader grasps at once the real subject: Anglo-Saxon energy as polite code for Manifest Destiny, and the representative determination of Endicott himself as a symptom and symbol of just that. The word "prototype" having been used, one is invited to regard Endicott as the "type" of the forces that tamed the wilderness and at the same time caused the native population to, well, not quite disappear, but to recede to the invisible margins. Typological prediction being not the same as precise historical causation, the objection against Anna Gower disappears in a cloud of epistemic misprision.

And on it goes. Even as the historical literalist protests the "anachronism" of the Showman's assembling together a number of personages who, though they "probably did all visit our town at one time or another," "could not possibly have met together in the Main-street" (1034), the "realist" critic once again refuses the suggestion that he "take another point of view" (1035). Later he loudly observes that the Showman's "mettled steed looks like a pig" but, for the moment at least, refuses to leave with a refund, preferring instead to offer one of Hawthorne's best-made self-criticisms. Realizing too well that the historian's prime difficulty is to "make it move," his Showman hopefully intones, "Pass onward, onward, Time." To which the critic, "Turn your crank" (1043). But the point has already been made. Sensitive to the problems of his craft, Hawthorne is deeply suspicious of his probable audience: history is story, and stories are fictions, and only the most primitive (or unimaginably sophisticated) can do without tropes. So here it is: apologia as plea for latitude. What if he were yet to find some old manuscripts? Who would believe that? Who would you invent to tell that story?


"Who speaks?" Virtual mantra of the once-vital movement called "The New Criticism"--which, temporarily at least, rescued the classroom teaching of literature from learned but not always pointed lectures on biography and "backgrounds"--the question marks a well-considered determination to keep the meaning of meaning "personal," what some imaginable somebody tried to say to somebody else. (45) Language itself may be thought to have an all-engendering life of its own, but not unless and until somebody speaks. Nor can it ever quite account for the appearance of those "monuments of undying intellect" which stubbornly refuse to lapse into the background of this or that "discourse." The personalization of speech--author or narrator or character, trustworthy or not, sincere or ironic--creates the drama of competing and conflicting meanings we used to call "literature," which opposes itself to the sentences undergraduates underline with a yellow magic marker or else, more professionally, to the criticism which discovers that specialized groups have a diction, a grammar, and even a syntax we can learn to identify as such. Like, doctors talk funny.

The endurance of classical lore (and certain emergent conditions of the Irish Renaissance) may well enable "Leda and the Swan," but W. B. Yeats assembled and styled the rhythmic sentences. And, closer home, that same lore, falling into the hands of an orphan who made poems instead of ordinary sexual love, is well required to explain why a "weary way-worn wanderer" is going home to Helen; but in the whole history of langue and parole, who but Edgar Poe could have written of "Nicean barks"? Or, intruding into a competing discourse, who else would think to redefine a wandering comet as a Muslim limbo turned into an aesthete's paradise? Or felt compelled to compete with a Persian poet he knew to be fictional? What is an author, indeed? The one who, turning the generally available into astonishingly precise, manages to make language memorable. For a literary critic to say anything less is either inattentive or ungrateful. (46)

Once I tried to explain to my engineer father how "language" was coming to replace the "author function" in the spiffiest sort of academic criticism. He thought a minute, then told me this story. Making the rounds of his rural parish, a minister noticed that a long-neglected property was showing signs of human habitation and interest. Spotting the owner, he said, "I must compliment you on the wonderful garden you and the Lord have conspired to produce." Pausing a moment, the new owner replied, "I know where you're coming from, Reverend, but when the Lord had it by himself, it was all weeds." Language is weeds. Authorship is gardening.

Once upon a time, when all this went pretty much without saying--when literature was understood as a stylized kind of human saying--the problem was always to characterize the human speaker. Who's telling us this? The author in propria persona? Or some invented persona? If the first, then--understanding that literary self-presentation involves some degree of self-invention--how is he representing himself this time? Ok: I never said it was going to be easy. If the second, what sort of person has the author invented to do the work of narration?

For example, we may, in the wake of "The Custom House," wish to say that the Narrator of The Scarlet Letter is obviously Nathaniel Hawthorne. But then we need to ask, who does that person appear to be here? The vengeful bastard who tried to get even with the political hacks who fired him for publishing a literary review in an opposition newspaper? Or the inveterate dreamer in the attic, who imagined what it would be like to find some old manuscripts and decided to obey the summons of the past as directed by a ghost? And would either of these Hawthornes explain the critical fact that somebody in a position of authorship is trying very hard to keep the redundant sexuality of Hester Prynne in careful check? And which one is hinting that Chillingworth, clearly dosing Dimmesdale with something or other, may have got the dosage wrong and inadvertently poisoned the man he lived to torment? (47) I, Nathaniel Hawthorne, former dependent of Uncle Sam, about-to-be-Citizen of Someplace Else. But once pen is in hand, who am I this time?

Then, on the other hand, one Miles Coverdale--who, speaking words from Hawthorne's own letters and notebook, was long and confidently taken to be none other than our blue-eyed darling Nathaniel, incompetently hiding his "inmost me" behind an all-but-transparent gauzy veil. Until, undeterred by the biographical facts, literary critics discovered that this subtle representation of incompetent (or meretricious) narration could not possibly be an authorial self-portrait. To the point where a couple of literary super-sleuths proposed that Coverdale, whose story does not quite hang together, who was the last to see Zenobia alive, and who knows exactly where to find her body, may be in fact less a quasi-Hawthornean Paul Pry and more a murderer. Leaving others to debate whether Hawthorne's most mature character-narrator is an incompetent literary amateur or a brilliant sociopath. Or somehow, weirdly--as it has seemed to me--both. (48)

To be sure, all this epistemological curiosity defers the necessary question of exactly what real person Hawthorne was, in either case, trying to say to what supposable audience, real-historical, or formal-imagined. But on the personalist premises of the old New Criticism, neither the metaphor-system of Puritan salvation theory nor the real politics of early socialism can quite speak for themselves. Nor can, in either case, the "Woman Question." (49) Views are held by people, not as authorities, to be sure, but as the very condition of existence. And so we ascribe to the wide- reading Hawthorne, and no one else, the linguistic messages precisely if ambiguously arranged in his tales and romances. Language may well be said to have a life of its own, but quite like many monkeys at many typewriters (or computer terminals), it sends nothing to the publisher. And, unlike young scholars, it does not perish thereby.

Of course there is a nontrivial sense in which language is the last discovery of all literary criticism--as if David Hume had said, I go looking for the author and find always some words. But so it is with all human interaction: bodies can touch and be variously penetrated, but "souls never touch their object"; and no degree of passion can make "consciousness and ascription equal."' (50) Language is as close as one human consciousness ("subject") can get to another. And even if we come to believe that the Self is elevator music, this "privacy" remains true: I simply cannot hear your raging guitars or rampant raps; nor you, my own, more sophisticated, jazz-inflected lines: flatted fifths and minor ninths. Call this Epistemology 101--then read my forthcoming book on "Emerson and other Minds."

So we live with the paradox: meaningful literary criticism--as opposed to discourse analysis or even old-fashioned intellectual history--absolutely requires a personal, even an intentional model of meaning; yet no sort of analysis, not even the most subtle psycho-biography, can render the authentic authorial subject. Language conceals as much as it connects. Yet we also live with the simple fact that real language acts are infinitely various: not everybody uses the same words in the same order. Poe wrote Eureka and not Nature. Hawthorne wrote The Blithedale Romance and not Uncle Tom's Cabin. Melville invented the word Isolatoes and not Whitman: He invented Camerados. And, creative as we wish the act of our own act of reading to appear, we did not entirely make the texts we are privileged to consider. So that, at the very least, the author function is a form of politeness and, one might say, honesty. Credit where credit is due. The rare Form we know as Basketball enables the astonishing achievements of Michael Jordan and LeBron James; but, disembodied as it is, it never sank a single three.

Michael Colacurcio was born in Cincinnati. Ohio, and was educated there by Jesuits. He received his PhD from the University of Illinois in 1963 and, except for "visits" to Ohio State, UC and UC Santa Cruz, taught at Cornell University from then until 1985; from then until the present he has taught at UCLA, where he holds the rank of Distinguished Professor. His interests cover most of "classic" American literature, from the Puritans to Henry Adams. His important publications include The Province of Piety (Harvard UP. 1984: Duke UP, 1994), Doctrine and Difference (Routledge, 1997), and Godly Letters (Notre Dame UP, 2006). He is currently awaiting the publication, from Baylor University Press, of a two-volume study of Emerson (Emerson and Other Minds) and a two-volume anthology of American religious writings from 1600 to 1730 (American Reformation).


(1.) See my Province of Piety. 515. And cp. my more recent "Supernal Loveliness and Fantastic Foolery."

(2.) The 1851 Preface--to the third edition of Twice-told Tales--both laments an obscurity which lasted "for a good many years" and also protests that the early tales were not the product of "solitary mind" conversing with itself, but rather an attempt to "open an intercourse with the world." He might have added that the 1837 Tales, bearing the author's name for the first time, introduced him to the Peabody sisters of Salem, one who helped get him his first real job and the other who became his "Dearest Beloved."

(3.) The "bitter patriotism" of Hawthorne's early tales is best sensed in "Roger Malvin's Burial" and "My Kinsman. Major Molineux': cf. Province. 107-53.

(4.) "Passages from a RelinquishedWork." in Hawthorne: Tales and Sketches. 177. Unless otherwise identified, all Hawthorne quotations refer to this edition.

(5.) See Edwin Gittleman 8183. And for the figure of Very behind the protagonist of Hawthorne's "Egotism; or. The Bosom Serpent," see Arner.

(6.) For a full and un-ironic account of Hawthorne's early life, one may consult and compare Stewart 1-74; Cantwell 3-264; Hoeltje 3-128: Turner 3-129; Mellow 3-198; and E.H.Miller 3-186.

(7.) For the theory that the action of "Wives" is all a dream, see Lang 82-84; for my counter-reading, see Province 102-07.

(8.) For the problem of patriotism and irony in Hawthorne's "typological" anticipations of the Revolution, see my Province 208-38.

(9.) Dickinson's apparent denial of simple first-personhood was made in an 186a letter to her informal adviser and sometime-patron Thomas Wentworth Higginson: see L268 in Johnson (p. 176).

(10.) Forthe orderingof the four "Legends of the Province House"--and for the significance of their appearing in O'Sullivan's Democratic Review--see Province 389-457.

(11.) See my "Life within the Life."

(12.) I owe the phrase to Bruce Jorgensen, now Professor of English at BYU, but who, as a graduate student at Cornell University, first noticed that, as a sign of their mutual good wishes, Hawthorne and Emerson had exchanged journals; see These True Madmen of the Nineteenth Century.

(13.) For the minimally helpful suggestion of the relevance of Barnum to Hawthorne's "The Virtuoso's Collection," see Green.

(14.) The text of Channing's "Earth Spirit"--which first appeared in the Dial for 1843-is conveniently anthologized in Perry Miller, The American Transcendentalists.

(15.) Emerson, "Experience," Essays and Lectures 478.

(16.) Published in John Russell's magazine. The Pioneer for Feb., 1843, the initial version of "The Hall of Fantasy" contained no fewer than twenty-seven brief recognitions of American writers, including contemporaries; see H. P. Miller. "Hawthorne Surveys His Contemporaries."

(17.) In the "Idealism" chapter of Nature Emerson concedes "there is something ungrateful in expanding too curiously on the particulars of the general proposition, that all culture tends to imbue us with idealism" (Essays and Lectures 38).

(18.) Almost a quotation from Pope's "Rape of the Lock": too heavy forthat comic context, perhaps, but memorable enough to guide the way of wisdom elsewhere.

19. Thus, in his Studies in Classic American Literature (rpt. Penguin, 1971, 16) does D. H. Lawrence represent Franklin's eclectic, irenic. comparatist Deism, which purported to be the "Essentials of every known Religion, and being free of anything that might shock the Professor of any Religion"; see Franklin, Autobiography 90.

(20.) For the connection between Dwight's "Triumph of Infidelity" and Hawthorne's "Celestial Rail-road," see my "Cosmopolitan and Provincial" 4-6.

(21.) Forthe figure of Sir Kenelm Digby behind the character and career of Hawthorne's Aylmer. see Reid.

(22.) See Lawrence, Studies in Classic American literature (rpt. Penguin, 1977), 8. Though the remark occurs in the introductory chapter ("The Spirit of Place "), it applies pretty well to the chapter on The Scarlet Letter, which applauds the "absolute duplicity of that blue-eyed Wunderkind of a Nathaniel" (106).

(23.) Quoting from the Edinburgh Review of 1855, Millicent Bell cites the following: "If the Sage of Concord had sat down to write a short story, he would surely have produced 'The Artist of the Beautiful'" (94). For a more balanced and discerning view of the Hawthorne/Emerson question, see Newberry.

(24.) Properly included in Stephen Whicher's Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson (281). this epitome of Emerson's firm grasp on the nature of human "privacy" occurs in bis Journal for June 1845.

(25.) "Hawthorne and his Mosses" (1850) is conveniently available in the Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick (3018).

(26.) Implicit in the eighteenth-century invention of "Art" as a specialized form of human experience is the generalized idea of "the Artist" as one who. regardless of the particular medium and its supposed rules, aims at the production of esthetic effect; see Abrams.

(27.) For the foundation of an ironic, counter-Romantic reading of "The Artist of the Beautiful," see Bell 94-113.

(28.) Evidently it was a half-German French teacher named Schaeffer--whom Hawthorne met at the home of his friend Horatio Bridge--who in July of 1837 conferred on Hawthorne the name of Monsieur de l'Aubepine, even as he named Bridge Monsieur du Pont. The fact was recalled to me by the talk of Leonardo Buonomo at the Hawthorne and Poe Conference in Kyoto in 2018: but see also Cantwell 202-05.

(29.) In an 1860 letter to Fields, Hawthorne writes of the "solid and substantial" virtues of Anthony Trollope: it is "as if some giant had hewn a great lump out of the earth and put it under a glass case...." (Letters. 1857-1864. 229).

(30.) See Letters 184.3-1853 114.

(31.) For a precocious, almost whimsical statement of the case for "Rappaccini's Daughter" as, in part, a response to New England's contemporary Miracles Controversy, see my "Better Mode of Evidence" 12-22.

(32.) See Bensick, esp. 29-43.

(33.) For the rare epistemology of "confidence." see Duban 196-202.

(34.) Provoking various responses by Jonathan Edwards--ultimately his magisterial Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746). Harvard Professor Charles Chauncy identified and defined "enthusiasm" as a sort of mental disease in which "people are truly beside themselves, acting as truly by the blind impetus of a wild fancy, as though they had neither reason nor understanding" (qtd. in Levin, America in Literature 361).

(35.) The memorable phrase rehearses the title of an important essay by Charles Sanders Peirce, but it is to the less academic thought of William James that we look for the never quite conscious and rational factors in the formation of our deepest-held beliefs; see. for example, his 1896 essay "The Will to Believe." Both essays are conveniently anthologized in Perry Miller's American Thought: Cinl War to World War I (121-39, 142-65).

(36.) Glancing back toward Lionel Trilling's classic essay "Our Hawthorne," Gordon Hutner raises the question of whether that author may be quite so available as once it seemed (Millington 251-65).

(37.) On the account of his son, Hawthorne "read the as yet unfinished manuscript [of Rappaccini's Daughter'] to his wife. 'But how will it end?' she asked him, when he laid down the paper; 'is Beatrice to be a demon or an angel?' 'I have no idea!' was Hawthorne's reply, spoken with some emotion" (J. Hawthorne 360). Feminist or not, the modern reader is of course free to evade (or deconstruct) this too-familiar binary.

(38.) Evoked here is the title of a richly suggestive book by Jay Martin, Who Am I this Time?, which, though it pays greatest attention to "the darker side" of the problem, is nevertheless an essential work on the question of authorial self-invention.

(39.) In the space of something like an "authorization," the first page of Walden stipulates that its author absolutely requires-and presumably feels himself bound to furnish.

(40.) The letter of 27 February 184,2 continues: "I am merely telling what is common to human nature, not what is peculiar to myself. I sympathize with them--not they with me" (Letters. 1813-1843 612-13).

(41.) For a word about the Bartrams in "Ethan Brand," see my "Artificial Fire," esp. 11-12, 20-21.

(42.) See my "'Red Man's Grave.'"

(43.) The Narrator of "Alice Doane's Appeal"--quite probably Hawthorne's fictive "Story Teller"--takes note of the stunning lack of historical awareness in his (Salem) audience: almost no one comes "on pilgrimage to [the] famous spot" where the witches were executed, and "Every fifth of November" the young men build a bonfire "without an idea beyond the momentary blaze" (Tales and Sketches 205, 206).

(44.) Evoked here is the seminal book in which David Levin explains the special, Romantic. Walter Scott-inspired epistemology of most American historical writing in the mid-nineteenth century; see Levin, History as Romantic Art, esp. 3-23.

(45.) In the memorable words of Wayne C. Booth. "Though it is most evident when a narrator tells the story of his own adventures, we react to all narrators as persons" (273). More general (and more self-consciously philosophical) is the view strongly advanced by E. D. Hirsch Jr., namely, that for literary purposes the only coherent sense of meaning is what somebody tried to say to someone else; see Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation, esp. 24-31.

(46.) For the history of this patent ingratitude--smarter-sounding in French than in English--see, first. Roland A. Barthes, "Le Mort de lauteur." first published in Aspen (1967); next, less allusively, Michel Foucault. "Qu'est-ce qu'un auteur?" delivered as a lecture at the College de France on 22 February 1969, then published the same year in the Bulletin de la Societe francaise de philosophic: then, better late than never (but happily avoiding the what-is-it-which-is construction), Jacques Derrida, in a memorial of Roland Barthes. The best one can say is that this particular version of THEORY--Continental Philosophy Taken Out of Context--has not really caught on in the Anglophone world. One reason, well explained by Jeanne Willette, online ("Michel Foucault: What is an Author?"), is that we have become rather sensitive to the question of subaltern speech. "What does it matter who speaks?" Ask Frederick Douglass. More cogently, when will the French get over their hysterical disowning of the Cartesian subject?

(47.) For the (disputed) theory that Chillingworth actually poisoned Dimmesdale, see Khan. In my view he probably did: not intentionally, of course, for his obvious purpose was to keep him alive and in pain; so that, when Dimmesdale dies, Chillingworth simply dries up and blows away. I guess he got the dosage wrong: after all, it's The seventeenth century, who knew about titration? Still, as I have suggested elsewhere. "A minister thin / Was Sure it was sin / But actually he died of surreptitious atropine poisoning."

(48.) See my "Nobody's Protest Novel."

(49.) See my introduction the John Harvard Library Edition (2009). esp. xxxi-xlvi.

(50.) Emerson, "Experience," Essay and Lectures 488, For commentary, see my "Religion and the Lonely Subject." The essay is a down payment on Emerson and Other Minds, forthcoming in fall, 2019, from Baylor University Press.


Abrams, M. H. "Art-as-Such: The Sociology of Modern Aesthetics." Doing Things with Texts, Norton, 1989, pp. 135-58.

Arner. Robert D. "Hawthorne and Jones Very: Two Dimensions of Satire in 'Egotism; Or. the Bosom Serpent.'" New England Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 2, 1969, pp. 267-75.

Barthes. Roland A. "Le Mortde I'auteur." Aspen, nos. 5-6, 1967.

Bell, Millicent. Hawthorne's View of the Artist. SUNY Press, 1962.

Bensick, Carol Marie. La Nouvelle Beatrice : Renaissance and Romance in "Rappaccini's Daughter." Rutgers UP, 1985.

Booth, Wayne C. The Rhetoric of Fiction. Chicago UP. 1961.

Buonomo, Leonardo. "In a Foreign Land: Estrangement in 'Rappaccini's Daughter.'" Hawthorne and Poe Conference, 2018, Kyoto,

Cantwell, Robert. Nathaniel Hawthorne: The American Years. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1948; rpt. Octagon, 1971.

Channing, Ellery. "Earth Spirit." P. Miller, American Transcendentalists 248-50.

Colacurcio, Michael. "'Artificial Fire': Reading Melville (Re-)reading Hawthorne." Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, vol. 33. no. 1. 2007, pp. 1-22.

--. "Better Mode of Evidence." ESQ, vol. 54, no. 1. 1969, pp. 1-22.

--. "Cosmopolitan and Provincial: Hawthorne and the Reference of American Studies." Studies in the Novel, vol. 23. no. 1, 1991, pp. 3-19.

--. Emerson and Other Minds. Baylor UP. forthcoming 2019.

--. Introduction. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Harvard Library ed., Belknap P of Harvard UP, 2009.

--. "'Life within the Life': Sin and Self in Hawthorne's New England." Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, vol. 30, no 1/2, 2004, pp. 1-31.

--. "Nobody's Protest Novel: Art and Politics in 'The Blithedale Romance.'" Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, vol. 34, no. 1/2. 2008, pp. 1-39.

--. Province of Piety: Moral History in Hawthorne's EarlyTales, Harvard UP. 1984.

--. '"Red Man's Grave': Art and Destiny in Hawthorne's 'Main-street.'" Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, vol. 31. no. 2, 2005, pp. 1-18.

--. "Religion and the Lonely Subject: A Note on Emerson's Idealism." The Turn Around Religion in America: Literature. Culture, and the Work of Sacvan Bercovitch, edited by Nan Goodman and Michael P. Kramer, Ashgate, 2011, pp. 107-22.

--. "Supernal Loveliness and Fantastic Foolery." Nathaniel Hawthorne Review, vol. 44. no. 1-2, 2018, pp. 1-13.

Duban, James. Melville's Major Fiction: Politics, Theology, and Imagination. Northern Illinois UP, 1983.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Emerson: Essays and Lectures, edited by Joel Porte, Library of America, 1983.

Foucault. Michel. "Quest-ce qu'unauteur?" 22 Feb. 1969, College de France. Bulletin de la Societe francaise de philosophic, vol. 63, no. 3., 1969.

Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Norton. 2012.

Gittleman, Edwin. Jones Very: The Effective Years, 1833-40, Columbia UP, 1967.

Gordon, Adam. "The Critic on Main Street.: Hawthorne and Critical Allegory." A Passion for Getting It Right: Essays and Appreciations in Honor of Michael}. Colacurcio's 50 Years of Teaching, edited by Carol M. Bensick, Peter Lang, 2016, pp. 233-40.

Green, Gregory. "Show-Man." Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 14, no.3, 1980, pp. 385-92.

Hawthorne. Julian. Hawthorne and His Wife, vol. 1, Boston, 1887.

Hawthorne. Nathaniel. "The Hall of Fantasy." The Pioneer, vol. 1, no. 2, Feb. 1843. pp. [49]-55.

--. Hawthorne: Tales and Sketches, edited by Boy Harvey Pearce, Library of America, 1996.

--. The Letters. 1813-1843, The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, vol. 15, Ohio State UP, 1984.

--. The Letters 1843-1853. The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, vol. 16, Ohio State UP. 1985.

--. The Letters. 1857-1864. The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, vol. 18. Ohio State UP, 1987.

--. Preface to 1851 edition. Twice-told Tales, The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, vol. 9, Ohio State UP. 1974.

Hirsch. E. D., Jr. Validity in Interpretation. Yale UP. 1973.

Hoeltje, Hubert H. Inward Sky: The Mind and Heart of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Duke UP, 1962. Johnson, Thomas H. Selected Letters of Emily Dickinson. Harvard UP, 1986.

Jorgensen, Bruce. These True Madmen of the Nineteenth Century. 1978. Cornell U. PhD dissertation.

Khan, Jemshed A. "Atropine Poisoning in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter." New England Journal of Medicine. vol. 311, 1984, pp. 414-16.

Lang, Hans-Joachim. "How Ambiguous Is Hawthorne?" Hawthorne: A Collection of Critical Essays, edi ted by A. N. Kaul, Prentice-Hall, 1966.

Lawrence, D. H. Studies in Classic American Literature. Bpt. Penguin, 1971.

--. Studies in Classic American Literature. 1923. rpt. Penguin. 1977.

Levin, David, editor. America in Literature. Wiley, 1978.

--. History as Romantic Art: Bancroft. Prescott, Motley, and Parkman. Stanford UP. 1959.

Martin. Jay. Who Am I This Time? Uncovering the Fictwe Personality. Norton, 1988.

Mellow, James B. Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times. Houghton Mifflin, 1980.

Melville, Herman. "Hawthorne and his Mosses." 1850. Moby-Dick, Norton. 2018. pp.


Miller. Edwin Haviland. Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. U of Iowa P. 1991.

Miller. Harold P. "Hawthorne Surveys His Contemporaries." America Literature, vol. 12, no. 2. 1940, pp. 228-35.

Miller. Perry, editor. American Thought: Civil Warto World War I. Holt. Binehart and Winston. 1954.

--, ed. The American Transcendentalists. Johns Hopkins UP. 1957.

Millington, Richard H., editor. Cambridge Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Cambridge UP, 2004.

Newberry, Frederick. "The Artist of the Beautiful": Crossing the Transcendent Divide in Hawthorne's Fiction." Nineteenth-Century Literature, vol. 50. no. 1, 1995. pp. 78-96.

Reid, Alfred S. "Hawthorne's Humanism: 'The Birthmark' and Sir Kenelm Digby." American Literature, vol. 38, no. 3, 1966, pp. 337-51.

Stewart. Randall. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a Biography. Yale UP. 194.8.

Turner, Arlin. Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Biography. Oxford UP. 1980.

Whicher. Stephen. Selections from Balph Waldo Emerson. Riverside. 1957.

Willette, Jeanne. "Michel Foucault: 'What is an Author?'" Art History Unstuffed, 24 Jan. 2014.

doi: 10.5325/nathhawtrevi.45.2.0099
COPYRIGHT 2019 Nathaniel Hawthorne Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2019 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Colacurcio, Michael
Publication:Nathaniel Hawthorne Review
Article Type:Report
Date:Sep 22, 2019
Previous Article:From the Editor's Gable.
Next Article:"What Sort of Man Was Wakefield?": Selfhood and Sovereignty in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice-told Tale.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters