War and union in little America: the space of Hawthorne's Rome.
Henry James, William Wetmore Story and His Friends
Home to one of the United States' earliest expatriate communities and an important overseas center for artistic creation, nineteenth-century Rome was simultaneously a physical locus for the production of American arts and letters, an iconic symbol of America's Republican heritage, and a setting onto which Americans projected their hopes and fears for the contemporary United States. Rome was, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "the capital of the ancient & of the modern world" (372), and for Nathaniel Hawthorne, no less than for sculptors like Thomas Crawford and William Story, it was a space in which to fashion American symbols. The Marble Faun (1860) offered descriptions of exotic foreign landscapes to an American readership eager for firsthand views of both contemporary and historic Europe, and for cues as to their own developing national identity. This article suggests how Hawthorne's descriptions of (or as James might have said, imaginations of) Rome tell a story of national identity and national schisms during a period of civil turmoil, unification and territorial expansion on both sides of the Atlantic.
As Emerson noted, "Every traveler must describe not what is, but what he sees," for "the best things we learn" from travel in Italy are "confirmation in unexpected quarters of our simplest sentiments at home." "[N]ames and places" being "of small importance," he supposed, a "well regulated mind will attain to the same thoughts and feelings in Sicily, in Rome, in New England" (Lectures 90). Much as Michel de Certeau imagined that "we travel abroad to discover in distant lands something whose presence at home has become unrecognizable" (50), Henry James wrote in 1867 that Americans in Europe were able to "pick and choose and assimilate and in short (aesthetically &c) claim our property wherever we find it" (A Life in Letters 17). This "aesthetic claiming" of cultural markers in a landscape already rich with its own systems of meaning is an act de Certeau dubbed a tactic, a technique many critics have noted in American writings of the period set in Rome. Paola Gemme, for example, has outlined Risorgimento-era comparisons of Italians with American slaves, and of Austrian rulers with American slaveholders, a paradigm used to support arguments both for and against U.S. slavery. Dennis Berthold, meanwhile, has suggested that connections between foreign politics and American domestic issues influenced the writings of Herman Melville, whose fictional characters may have been inspired by contemporary Risorgimento leaders (122) and who drew parallels between Italy's unification and the North's struggle to end slavery while maintaining the union. Such transatlantic transferences may also map geographic metaphors found in Italy back onto the United States. Annamaria Formichella Elsden notes how critics have identified passages from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Agnes of Sorrento (1861), contrasting "southern" Italy with "northern" Europe, "as evidence of a neat north/south parallelism that can be imported back to U.S. soil" (67). Elsden cites Nathalia Wright's reference to "an echo of the nineteenth-century American sectional conflict over slavery in the contrast established between the voluptuous south of Italy and the north, with its reforming impulse" (Wright 93), and Jenny Franchot's suggestion that Agnes of Sorrento "offers an expatriate justification for American northern assertions of superiority over the American South ... and its enslaved population of African Americans" (Franchot 247).
This geographic binarism of South and North in the antebellum United States was also being "exported" in the other direction and projected onto Rome by American writers. As Gemme has shown, "antebellum America's negotiation of internal power differential had a transnational component" (161) in which Italy played a major role. Gemme outlines how Young Americans and Democrats, driven by commercial interests, promoted images of American history as being replayed in Italian landscapes, to argue for U.S. military intervention in the Risorgimento. Mazzini's struggle with Austria, the French army in Rome, and papal sovereignty were painted, she explains, as analogous to the American colonies' fight against Britain during the American Revolutionary War (80-82). (1) For purposes of opening trade with Italian ports for which the United States competed against Britain, America's own revolutionary past was projected onto contemporary Italian landscapes. While Rome had up to then represented the roots of America's own proud Republicanism, as Gemme explains, "a prior, legitimizing [American] national narrative in which the newly founded American republic was cast as the inheritor of ancient Rome" was replaced mid-century by "a revised, aggrandizing one wherein it [America] figured instead as the progenitor of Mazzini's Roman republic" (161).
Hawthorne's novel is less directly political. But as Nancy Bentley has pointed out, its "thematics of Rome spring out of an antebellum matrix, a moment preoccupied with the destinies of races, with revolution and rebellion, and with new consolidations of power" (902), and its "task is to structure a past that confirms the American future" (931). "Living overseas," Bentley continues, "seemed to make Hawthorne all the more sensitive to social upheaval at home" (931). Hawthorne's personal concerns for the United States in his final years were, like his novel, largely centered on a conflicting North and South, a landscape mingling the modern present and backward-looking anachronisms, and on a means of securing unity between them, real or rhetorical. (2) Writing on the Civil War less than two years before his death, Hawthorne lamented that "the matter" having "gone so far," there seemed "no way but to go on winning victories, and establishing peace and a truer union in another generation, at the expense, probably of greater trouble, in the present one, than any other people ever voluntarily suffered" (23:442). Hawthorne's Rome proved an ideal fictional screen for the projection of this future "truer union." Sociologist Georg Simmel, writing some decades after Hawthorne's stays in Rome, theorized the city as the greatest unifying space in Western culture, a physical example of art's imperative to unify the diverse. Nowhere but in Rome, Simmel wrote, are so many diverse objects gathered across such immense distances "into such a complete unity." Rome, "the one focal point of such divergent rays ... stretches all oppositions to the utmost in order to reconcile them with such masterful force" (35--36). If Rome's unifying force leaves "an indissoluble impression in our memory" (Simmel 35), it is perhaps hardly a wonder that Hawthorne, as the Civil War began, would write that no place he had visited "ever took so strong a hold of [his] being" as did Rome (qtd. in Brooks 105).
Certainly, odd Italian tones ring through Hawthorne's descriptions of wartime America after his return in 1860. In an 1862 Atlantic Monthly article, Hawthorne imagined the Capitol dome's collapse as the wreckage of Rome; likened Harpers Ferry to "Etruscan cities" he had "seen among the Apennines" and captured Rebel soldiers to European "peasants"; and compared escaped slaves with "fauns and rustic deities of olden times" (23:420). He was soundly criticized by the Atlantic Monthly's editors for concluding a draft of his article with hopes for a peaceful end to the conflict: "We woo the South 'as the Lion woos his bride'; it is a rough courtship, but perhaps love and a quiet household may come of it at last. Or, if we stop short of that blessed consummation, heaven was heaven still, as Milton sings, after Lucifer and a third part of the angels had seceded from its golden palaces,--and perhaps all the more heavenly" (23:442). After clashes with editors over the dubious political meaning of these lines, Hawthorne, resigned to and at times even supportive of eventual secession, (3) was not persuaded to change his words, instead adding italicized text feigning the voice of the Atlantic Monthly's editor: "We regret the innuendo in the concluding sentence. The war can never be allowed to terminate, except in the complete triumph of Northern principles.... We should be sorry to cast a doubt on the Peaceable Man's loyalty, but he will allow us to say that we consider him premature in his kindly feelings towards traitors and sympathizers with treason" (23:442). Hawthorne's personal correspondence with the Atlantic Monthly, meanwhile, traces his frustration at not being able to address a wider audience of American readers: "The political complexion of the Magazine has been getting too deep a tinge, and ... there is a time pretty near at hand when you will be sorry for it. The politics of the Magazine suit Massachusetts tolerably well (and only tolerably) but it does not fairly represent the feeling of the country at large" (23:455). In retrospect, Hawthorne's mock "editorial" comments might be read not as calling into question his respect for the Union's major power brokers and media strategists, but as underlining his attempt to address both New England and a more general American audience at once. If Northern war machinations sought union through firepower, Hawthorne, too, sought union, in perhaps the most effective way an author may--by addressing a single broad audience, a union of readers, like that to whom he wrote with admitted uncertainty in The Marble Faun's preface.
Hawthorne's Rome provides not an allegory for Americas revolutionary past, or a symbolic medium for expressing contemporary American democracy, but a darker mirror to reflect on America's future. To do this, it transposes contemporary America into a heterotopic or liminal "poetic or fairy precinct" (4:3), avoiding overt criticism of present-day politics or explicit predictions. Robert S. Levine has pointed out that The Marble Faun is allegorical--perhaps in a confusing abundance of ways that are, if various, also quite pointed. (4) Perhaps The Marble Faun isn't more often read as an allegory for antebellum U.S. politics because it is a conflicted allegory, and the period of American history it describes remains unfinished, still hanging in the balance. Perhaps we also back away from concise allegorical readings because of Hawthorne's well-documented ambivalence about the American South's secession and our own possible reluctance to remember Hawthorne as an anti-abolitionist.
Many critics have hinted at an allegory of American politics in The Marble Faun only to avoid pointing too close a finger at where this allegory might lie. (5) I maintain that spatial structure--setting itself, rather than "plot"--is where we might profitably outline such an allegory. While he was abroad--traveling spatially--Hawthorne was very concerned with events in contemporary America, as his correspondence reveals. And if his previous work had "interpret[ed] America to itself by means of its past" (Becker 8), using temporal displacement to allegorize contemporary American identity, I would suggest that here, he uses spatial displacement to project its future.
Hawthorne's earliest impressions of Rome display a tendency to imagine history not as a temporal sequence of events, but as spatialized. "If an antiquary were to accompany me through the streets," he mused in his journal in February 1858,
no doubt he would point out ten thousand interesting objects that I now pass over unnoticed, so general is the surface of plaster, white-wash and shabbiness; but often I can see fragments of antiquity built into the walls, or perhaps a church that was a Roman temple, or a basement of ponderous stones, that were laid above twenty centuries ago. It is strange how our ideas of what antiquity is become altered here in Rome; the sixteenth century ... seems close at hand, even like our own days; a thousand years ... is but a modern date; ... the Egyptian obelisks that stand in several of the piazzas, put even the Augustan or the Republican antiquities to shame. (14:57)
If in Rome "complete organic unity" grows from "the greatest oppositions into which high culture could have split" (Simmel 32), in Hawthorne's earliest descriptions of the city, history must be read spatially. In much the same way, his fictional narrative forgoes the project of making sense of Rome's sites by plotting them temporally, and instead turns to the project of ordering Rome (and its allegory) in a "surface" where past, present and future lie spread in a single landscape of juxtaposed spaces.
The spatialized time Hawthorne found in Rome hints at a fundamental problem narratives face in describing places. Narratives' dependence on time, and the impossibility of revisiting past events, are essentially at odds with the basic fact that places, as points in space, exist simultaneously, while events experienced by specific characters logically cannot. Indeed, for de Certeau, place itself is the order "in accordance with which elements are distributed in relationships of coexistence," an "instantaneous configuration of positions" implying "an indication of stability" (117)--and perhaps a stability more psychic than geographic. Rome may be made to represent America's roots or that from which America has freed itself. Yet with the nineteenth century's increasing ease and speed of transatlantic transportation, traveling Americans were increasingly faced with the continued physical presence of the city itself, and with its contemporary state as much as with what it had been made to symbolize. Rome is not temporally distant from contemporary America, but synchronous, separated only spatially. "A real, electric, present day Rome laughs at America's attempts to contain it through the rhetoric of time," as Bentley writes (934). This thus opens the fearful realization that, its physical relegation to the past being impossible, Rome might well be found embodied, physically or psychically, here in the present, there in the future, or, more radically, anywhere, at any time. That both the classical and modern city
could occupy the same space at the same time was only a seeming paradox. For the antithetical figure the novel shares with travel writing is ultimately a temporal trope--the two Italies don't share the same time. They coexist but are separated by a temporal difference that travelers saw everywhere in the face of the country. To put it another way, time is spatialized. (Bentley 909)
Given critics' difficulty pinning The Marble Faun down as a specific allegory, one might review the term's basic definition. Paul de Man's "The Rhetoric of Temporality" proposes that in symbolism, symbol and signified are in a relationship "of simultaneity ... in which the intervention of time is merely a matter of contingency." Symbolism is a negation (or repression) of temporality allowing the self to identify with the symbol. In allegory, however, "time is the originary constitutive category," for allegory "establishes its language in the void of this temporal difference" (207). This is a key not only to an allegorical but also to a symbolic reading of The Marble Faun, for, as John E. Becker has noted, nothing prevents Hawthorne from using both. Hawthorne frequently plays on the tension between where, in time, to place certain characters, who may be ancient Romans or contemporary figures. Yet if allegory implies "an unreachable anteriority" (Becker 222), it is also, de Man writes, a prefiguration. As Fredric Jameson notes, an important point about allegorical interpretations is that the "literality of the original texts" is preserved, "taken as historical fact," while being at the same time glossed "for signs and traces" of a prophetic message "inscribed within it" (14). Hawthorne, likewise, treats Roman history not only as a symbolic world whose characters may overlap with our own, but as a narrative holding prophetic messages for nineteenth-century Americans--not through a temporal narrative structure, but in terms of spatial structure. Both allegorical and symbolic "plots" of The Marble Faun might thus be read in terms of its settings' spatial relationships which, like Hawthorne's flattened "surface" of history, both mask time and invite its organization.
Contemporary thinking and that of Hawthorne's time have produced two very different ideas on space. On one hand is the Romantic notion of a place's power to affect those inside it (a notion clearly influencing Hawthorne's earlier fiction). In his essay "The Spirit of Place" (1918), D.H. Lawrence insists that all art "partakes of the Spirit of place in which it is produced," and suggests that what makes work like Hawthorne's not English but "American" is the American landscape's own effect on the author. In the same vein, Simmel insists that Rome has its own particular, inherent "spirit" with the power to create a "fusion of the most different things in view of unity," a power emanating from Rome's unique topography (33). This "unity" naturally has a strong resonance in terms of national identity prior to the Civil War. Contrasting the notion of power as inherent to space is the more contemporary notion of space as a screen for the projection of socio-political conflict. In the mid-twentieth century Henri Lefebvre suggested space "has no power 'in itself,' nor does space as such determine spatial contradictions" which are contradictions "between one thing and another within society ... that simply emerge in space, and so engender the contradictions of space" (358). In this view, spatial tension is always tension we (and our socio-political stances) bring to it: "spatial contradictions 'express' conflicts between socio-political interests and forces; it is only in space that such conflicts come effectively into play, and in so doing they become contradictions of space" (365). These two very different views of the "power" that space holds are important in exploring how Rome's "spatial configuration" (Simmel 33) both influenced Hawthorne's views of the contemporary American situation, and provided a screen for the projection and narration of domestic issues the author already had deeply in mind during his 1857-1859 visits to the city.
Any narrative, as Slavoj Zizek reads Lacan, attempts to resolve opposition between incompatible "terms" by separating them in time. (6) The result of "repressed antagonism" between two or more "terms" (Zizek 197), narrative is, as Lacan saw it, "a kind of package deal in which one gains meaning at the price of accepting temporal order, coherence and unification," while "[t]he very existence of such a package deal testifies that it strives to cover something repressed" (Biberman 244). Narrative thus pretends to solve uneasy and contrasting coexistences by imposing a temporal order on them. Yet "one [temporal] event does not cause another event but rather the opposite," explains Biberman: "initially, fixation on an object occurs, and only as a result of that fixation does the phantasmatic narrative emerge as a way of explaining the choice of the specific object of fixation" (245). When two contradictory "terms" present themselves to consciousness at once, we tend to fixate on one and repress the other by projecting a temporal relationship onto them, supposing that one follows another both temporally and as a result, in a causal chain. These imagined temporal chains of causality, our repression of antagonism between coexistent "terms," offer us a narrative. Let us imagine these antagonistic but coexistent "terms" as antagonistic, coexistent "places," telling a "story" by their arrangement in space. Looking at any narrative as an arrangement of co-existing places might help us get a clearer view of "social contradictions" "resolved" through narrative which, as Jameson writes, "however reconstructed, remain an absent cause," and "cannot be directly or immediately conceptualized by the text" (68). If these "social contradictions" cannot be "conceptualized" by a text's "plot," they can perhaps, nevertheless, be uncovered through its treatment of space, precisely where, Lefebvre writes, societal "contradictions" emerge to play themselves out. A narrative's basic building blocks could, in fact, be seen as spatial, prior to the repression of its places' opposition through an "artificial" imposition of the temporality forming event-based plots. "There are sermons in stones," as one of Hawthorne's characters will remark, "and especially in the stones of Rome" (4:151).
Examining a narrative in terms of its places' topographic antagonism might then be a useful means of interpreting repressions inherent to narrative, particularly for those set in "foreign" space and, like Hawthorne's, largely based on travelogue-like character movement. Studies of such narratives might profit from a focus not only on the causal relationship of acts and events that, once undertaken or experienced, are temporally removed from the possibility of characters' revisitation. They might also look at "causal" relationships between co-existing, atemporal locations, whose "temporal relationships" are largely sustained by characters' movements between them. In such writings, a cataloguing of movements in space could be read as a narrative in and of itself, sometimes complementing the hermeneutics of an event-based plotline, while at other times undermining its most obvious tenets.
In The Marble Faun, time, polarized as the past and the present/future, finds narrative embodiment in space, both in Rome's heights and depths and in its circular unity. In this way, the real "transformation" in the novel is one of temporal narrative logic into one of spatial logic. Below are three ways Hawthorne's treatment of Roman space reflects social and political America prior to the Civil War: first, as a collection of fragmented yet "hopelessly intermingled" urban spaces; second, as a binary set of polarized spaces in a vertical relationship, violently disjoined; and third, as a circular arrangement of spaces looping back on themselves in union.
Though The Marble Faun opens in the Capitoline museum, Hawthorne's Rome is less a pedagogical museum than a collection of historic elements threatening to take living form in contemporary space, just as Praxiteles' sculpted faun has (perhaps) become flesh in the person of Donatello. (7) The Capitoline, set high above its surroundings at the Republic's historic center, is a raised point of observation, offering the Americans panoramic views of the "battered" jumble of the "desolate" modern city below, full, as Hawthorne noted in his journal, of "the bad odor of our fallen nature--which there is no escaping in any nook of Rome" (14:135). Hawthorne's journals, like The Marble Faun's opening, call mocking attention to the vertical tensions of Rome's topography: "[T]hrough the forum," he wrote, "you must look well to your steps.... If you tread beneath the triumphal arch of Titus or Constantine, you had better look downward than upward, whatever be the merit of the sculptures aloft" (14:87). In the late Thomas Crawford's studio in March 1858, Hawthorne saw "parts of the [Richmond] Washington Monument, ready to be forwarded to its destination"--an
illogical piece of work,--Washington, mounted on an uneasy steed, on a very narrow space, aloft in the air, whence a single step of the horse backward, forward, or on either side, must precipitate him; and several of his contemporaries standing beneath him, not looking up to wonder at his predicament, but each intent on manifesting his own personality to the world around. They have nothing to do with one another, nor with Washington, nor with any great purpose which all are to work out together. (14:130-31)
Here we have an image of the nation's founder elevated, but threatening to topple into disjointed figures sharing entirely disconnected lower spaces.
Topography in Hawthorne's fictionalized Rome is likewise quickly given a polarized tension as his characters move from this high point above the city (the Capitoline) to its underground catacombs, a change of scene neatly coinciding with an analeptic jump backward in time. (8) As the protagonists had descended into the catacombs months earlier, the narrator intones, they risked separation and "going astray into this labyrinth of darkness" (4:26), for the Catacomb of St. Calixtus is a "sort of dream" where memories seem "broken into fragments, hopelessly intermingled" (4:24). If, as Becker proposed, the "dream quality" of Hawthorne's fiction "has been noted as an allegorical technique" (7), this is our first hint that this space is to be read allegorically. (9) As the three expatriates and Donatello move backward in time and spatially into "deeper and deeper recesses of the earth," Miriam (rumored, among other things, to be a Southern planter's daughter (10)) separates from the others and is lost, then rescued by "the Spectre of the Catacomb" (4:30), "the old pagan Phantom" (4:30-31), presumably an ancient Roman's spirit. This "ghost" from the (topographically lower) past will later serve as a model for Miriam's paintings, then begin to dog her in her movements through Rome, a "haunting" particularly noxious to her as she follows her New England and British companions through the city. One might recall Hawthorne's The Tanglewood Tales, in which Proserpina finds a father-figure in the underworld, much as Hawthorne hints Miriam escapes a paternal figure by coming to Rome, only to find it in ghostly form under the city's surface. Indeed, this "pagan ghost" or "model" is later properly named Father Antonio. "Has any one ever been lost here?" asks Kenyon in the catacombs, to be answered by their guide, "Surely, signor; one, no longer ago than my father's time" (4:26). '"Father's time, mother's species,"' wrote Kristeva, quoting Joyce: "when evoking the name and destiny of women, one thinks more of the space generating and forming the human species than of time, becoming, or history" (15). For when associated with time, "female subjectivity would seem to provide a specific measure that essentially retains repetition and eternity" (Kristeva 16).
Indeed, the novel's next scenes offer detailed descriptions of the personal spaces of the two female protagonists. We follow Miriam from her "shadowy" studio (where reference to an "unnatural father" is made in the description of the well in her building's courtyard below) through the "intricacies of the city," as she climbs the tower housing her chaste and idealistic New England counterpart, Hilda. In this "airy region," Hilda explains, her room, "some fifty feet above the roofs of Rome," offers the same advantages of "fifty miles of distance," while the air "so exhilarates" her spirits that she sometimes feels "half inclined to attempt a flight from the top" of her tower "in the faith" that she "should float upward" (4:54). Height in Rome (and its association with flight still higher), is equated with distance from Rome, both geographically and, we begin to suspect (in as much as Rome symbolizes history), temporally. Miriam descends the tower alone. Hilda blows a kiss from the window above.
Each of these scenes, shifting from high to low and back again, emphasizes vertical poles of opposition, while movement through the streets is left without description. "Narrow" and "intricate" are, surprisingly, the only qualifications the streets receive. Space is delineated largely in terms of height and depth, corresponding gradations of light and obscurity, and inferences that a (complex) past lies beneath a (simplified, rarified, pure) present and future standing above. If almost everywhere in Rome, Simmel wrote, "constructions are in a relationship of opposition between the high and the low," Rome's unity existing "only in the reciprocal action of its [upper and lower] parts" (32), in Hawthorne's first chapters, recurrent shifts between these two poles are emphasized.
We next follow Donatello through the Porta del Popolo to the Villa Borghese gardens. Yet any potential third pole of space outside the city is quickly subsumed into the trope of high and low spaces, as Donatello, once beyond the city's gates, after first kissing the ground, climbs "to the tip-top of the tallest tree" to view "the whole circuit of the enchanted ground; the statues and columns pointing upward from among the shrubbery, the fountains flashing in the sunlight, the paths winding hither and thither," so that "his first glance had taken in too wide a sweep, and it was not till his eyes fell almost directly beneath him, that Donatello beheld Miriam" (4:75-76). Hawthorne, likewise, had, "taken in too wide a sweep" of Rome in his own descriptions, according to contemporary critics. In the words of one, The Marble Faun was less a novel than "a newsletter sent to the American public" ("Contemporary Literature" 626). While Rome's sites and settings are departure points for the philosophical musings forming a major portion of the novel, not much actually "happens" in Hawthorne's plot. Characters thus far move from place to place engaged in dialogue as a narrator analyzes the surrounding scenery. Each new episode changes location, action is entirely secondary to setting and dialogue (the latter heavily weighted with discussions of setting), and the theme of upward and downward positions is reiterated. Yet just as the Borghese Gardens is "an ideal landscape" seemingly "projected out of a poet's mind" (4:72), setting here serves as a space for the projection of the author's national identity and the conflicts inherent to it.
The Roman passages of The Marble Faun not only hesitate to assign a specific temporality to certain characters, but they often portray protagonists wandering Rome with little conscious direction, stopping to "find themselves" at various highly symbolic sites that seem to provoke narrative events. If events seem guided by the layout of the city, the novel was also often used by late nineteenth-century readers as a narrativized guidebook to Rome. And if theory has largely had to abandon Romantic notions of space as a spirit acting "in itself," notions of space as a screen for projection of socio-political conflict owe much to theorization of the unconscious in the intervening years. It was a mapless walk through Rome that inspired Freud's early theory of the unconscious. Surprised to find himself "accidentally" returning to a certain ill-famed street in Rome, and faced with the possibility that Rome itself had been laid out to direct a pedestrian toward particular areas, thus somehow exerting a foreign will on his movement, Freud famously posited instead that his movements were the result of his own unconscious desires (Armstrong 112-13). (11) Hawthorne's wandering characters might thus be seen as reflective of America's own wanderings through narrative models of its domestic and international affairs. For in reiterating images of the national "self" in spaces treated as "descriptions" of Rome, Hawthorne repeatedly brings his characters' musings back to America.
Descriptions (of space and sites) like Hawthorne's are traditionally seen as filler in narrative and, as Susan Stanford Friedman notes, narrative theory often emphasizes "description" as the opposite of "narrative." Citing H. Porter Abbott's maxim that narrative "gives us what could be called the shape of time" (Abbott 3), Friedman counters by proposing "a compensatory emphasis on space ... as an active agent in the production of narrative." She suggests we need "a topochronic narrative poetics" foregrounding "topos in an effort to restore an interactive analysis of time with space in narrative discourse" (194), which might see space itself as "the generator of story" (203). One model for this poetics might be found in Freud's first reading of a literary narrative, treating a tale set partially in Rome, to show how repression initially supposes a disjunction in time, only to reveal this disjunction as being one of space. Indeed, while there may be "places" of symbolization in the unconscious, there was, famously, for Freud, no time, and his Delusion and Dream in Wilhelm Jensens Gradiva shows how "disfigurement by displacement" functions (192). Unable to recognize the "forgotten" object of desire at home, Jensen's protagonist displaces himself to find it abroad in Italy. His self-displacement is just that--a displacement, and not, as it would first seem, travel backward in time. (12) In explaining how a domestic object of desire's "meaning" is disguised and unrecognizable until found abroad, Freud underlines that the object of desire at first appears to be a ghost from the ancient past, only to reveal herself as part of the protagonist's contemporary domestic world displaced. Like Gradiva, The Marble Faun presents the problem of "placing" ghost-like or mythical Roman characters in contemporary time. While they finally prove to be in the present, it is the tension between ancient and modern which provides part of the story's intrigue. Hawthorne's travelers transport themselves to a place traditionally symbolizing the past; seek to free themselves from this past by movement through space; and finally show that this past-symbolizing place is the disguised present, calling to mind Freud's central analysis of Gradiva--the "uncovering" of the object of desire through archeological wanderings in Rome.
In Hawthorne's next scene, Miriam, confronted by the "pagan Phantom" bound to her as by an "iron chain," is urged to leave Rome (4:93). It is her own "reappearance" in contemporary Rome, the ghost insists, that "has destroyed the work of years." Miriam bows before the "ghost," but "had Miriam raised her eyes" at this moment, "she might have seen Hilda and the sculptor leaning on the parapet" (4:98) above her, to whom the focalization quickly shifts as Hilda and Kenyon gaze down on the scene below. At the foot of an obelisk pointedly associated with slavery, having "supplied one of the recollections which Moses and the Israelites bore from Egypt into the desert," Kenyon watches Miriam "kneeling to this dark follower there in the world's face!" (4:106-08). Kenyon and Hilda next, " [l]ifting their eyes" from this scene, gaze upward at the dome of St. Peters, "floating" over the city (4:106-07) and the mountains above it, before falling again to Miriam and her ghost/model at the obelisk before she disappears in the streets below, "fettered and shackled more cruelly than any queen of yore" (4:108). Kenyon has noticed Miriam's bow to her "pagan ghost," but Hilda sees only that she dips her fingers into the obelisk's fountain. Kenyon at this point disputes Miriam's Americanness, while Hilda supports her. After suggesting that Rome is not a "New England village" where one must choose one's companions carefully to avoid societal judgment, both note the "ever-open eye" of the Pantheon in the distance. From the top of the Spanish steps, they again gaze down on Miriam in the piazza below before their paths separate. "I am going down the stairs, and will join Miriam," says Hilda (4:112). In answer, Kenyon, remaining on the hill above, bids her farewell.
Miriam's ghost/model attaches itself to her again as she joins a party of Americans and English expatriates at the Trevi Fountain--a place whose legend promises the visitor's return to Rome, and whose water flows from "old subterranean aqueducts, and sparkles forth as pure as the virgin who first led Agrippa to its well-spring, by her father's door." Miriam declares, "'I shall sip as much of this water as the hollow of my hand will hold,"' again dipping her fingers into a fountain suggestively linked both to a father and the underground (4:144). As in Hawthorne's tale of Proserpina, taking this small mouthful seems enough to doom her to joining her ghostly father figure. We are distracted from Miriam by a lively conversation going on among the other expatriates at the fountain's edge: "'What would be done with this water power,"' muses one, "'if we had it in one of our American cities? Would they employ it to turn the machinery of a cotton mill, I wonder?"' Kenyon replies that Americans would remove the fountain's "'rampant marble deities'" and replace them with "'one-and-thirty (is that the number?) sister States, each pouring a silver stream from a separate can into one vast basin, which should represent the grand reservoir of national prosperity. " To this, an Englishman counters that they might better "'set those same one-and-thirty States to cleansing the national flag of any stains that it may have incurred. The Roman washerwomen at the lavatory yonder ... would serve admirably as models'" (4:145-46). Kenyon's uncertainty as to the then-growing number of U.S. states and his English counterpart's implicit criticism of American slavery both call attention to an "actual allegory" which, according to Northrop Frye, is present "when a poet explicitly indicates the relationship of his images to examples and precepts, and so tries to indicate how a commentary on him should proceed" (90).
Each of these scenes might be read as self-standing allegorical or symbolic episodes: a Republic's governing center as isolated and elevated from its own jumbled landscape; a well-to-do southerner first "rescued" by an ancient pagan and patriarchal practice now bound to it with an "iron chain"; a New Englander's dreams of progressive distance from the past; the southerner bowing to historical tradition while criticized from "above," and drinking from a polluted fountain while watched by the international community. Yet they also form a broader allegorical narrative. Donatello's murder of the model and ghostly father-figure haunting Miriam finally brings "a Gothic horror into this peaceful, moonlight scene" (4:156) of Victorian tourism, adding what the novel's early critics often found lacking--action. It is an action solving previous tension between Miriam and her "ghost," yet provoking all future tensions between characters.
Miriam's ghost/model follows her as she turns from the fountain to follow the Americans and Englishmen climbing the Palatine Hill's peak to gaze over a moonlit Forum. At the Tarpeian Rock, (13) from which, during the early Republic, traitors to the Republic were thrown in execution for their crimes, Miriam incites Donatello to throw down her "pagan ghost." Here, a violent solution to the antagonistic heights/depths dichotomy of Rome clearly links action and place. The past haunting Miriam (perhaps the "offspring of a Southern American planter" with "one burning drop of African blood in her veins") is thrown down before she can follow her New England and British companions (4:23). Nancy Bentley and Kristie Hamilton have pointed out that Donatello has features common to African Americans described by Hawthorne in other works. If so, and if the pagan ghost is an "unnatural father," one might here read a hopeful allegory for slaves rising up and rebelling, an event some in the contemporary United States naively imagined as a potential solution to slavery.
This throwing down of the ghostly, anachronistic model/father removes his figure from the present. Yet it also represents a fall and fragmentation of Rome (or of America), as Hawthorne writes:
It was a foolish piece of heroism in Curtius to precipitate himself there [off the cliff], in advance; for all Rome, you see, has been swallowed up in that gulf, in spite of him. The Palace of the Caesars has gone down thither, with a hollow, rumbling sound of its fragments! All the temples have tumbled into it; and thousands of statues have been thrown after! (4:162)
This allegorical dismemberment of the group of characters to rid Miriam of her "haunting" echoes (and presages) the fall of Rome. It is clear from Hawthorne's journals that he was well aware of the Tarpeian Rock's political associations and saw them with some ambivalence, for he tellingly mused that the Rock was the spot "adown which the old Romans used to fling their traitors, or sometimes, indeed, their patriots" (14:224). Finally, as Hilda, worried at Miriam's absence from the group, turns back to rejoin her, Hilda's and Kenyon's differences finally become more clear. Hilda remains united with Miriam despite her shady history. Kenyon moves on without her, even as this scene of violent disunion on the Rock is taking place. Hilda, in a sense a "unionist," turns back to keep the group together. Kenyon separates, turning his back on the scene and walking on with his British companions.
A final polarization of high and low space appears the morning after the murder, as the characters are reassembled for a visit to the Capuchin Church, where they discover Miriam's Roman ghost/model laid out for a requiem mass. Miriam now realizes that her intellectual rejection of a haunting historical "spirit" has become a very real and bloody murder in the present, much as Americans in the coming years were to view the "spirit" of defeated slavery in images of very physical bodies laid out on battlefields. (14) At last it is revealed that the novel is not set in a mythical world, but in the real world, and it is precisely when the two are confused--when action becomes symbolic--that tragedy ensues. The Capuchin Church is soon divided into upper and lower spaces. After the shock of seeing the dead "pagan ghost"--now described as a "reverend Father" (4:186)--the characters descend to the church's crypt, their own movement echoing the murdered monk's fall from the precipice to the Forum below.
Yet what at first seems another reiteration of high and low space is given a cyclical turn, as the narrator explains that bodies buried in the church's crypt only lie in their graves for twenty-five years before being exhumed. The "lower" space of the crypt is linked not only to the past but also to the future, offering a "deeper" hermeneutic level, with bodies buried and raised in a continuous circular motion. While Hawthorne presents Rome's heights and depths as antagonistic, pulling characters physically and morally upward, then downward, he also hints at their connection, presenting them as parts of a cyclical chain. This is a very different model of how antagonistic spaces, Roman or otherwise, might be reconciled circularly, rather than through a violent divorce of the high from the low.
One circular, unifying space for Hawthorne is the "huge, black rotundity of the Pantheon." It sits "almost at the central point of the labyrinthine intricacies of the modern city," where his characters stand in "that great circle, around which are ranged the arched recesses and stately altars, formerly dedicated to heathen gods, but Christianized through twelve centuries gone by"--a metaphor for ancient and modern Rome (4:456-57). In scenes like this, Hawthorne's characters try to centralize themselves both geographically and socially. Centers, of course, always marginalize something, just as marginalization points to a center. So, where is the center of this circular Rome? What other spaces of the city does Hawthorne centralize in terms of architecture and topography? And how are oppositions between places inside Rome's space temporalized and reconciled into narrative? These questions go together, and need to be asked together, in order to arrive at a sense of how a place-based reading differs from an event-based reading of narrative.
Edgar Allan Poe had asked several decades before if nothing more than "grey stones" were "Ail of the great and the colossal left," to be answered with a resounding "no" by an eerie echo from an empty coliseum: "Prophetic sounds, and loud, arise forever / From us and from all ruin, unto the wise" (Poe). Hawthorne's description of the Roman Colosseum repeatedly notes Miriam's "pagan ghost"/model making a circular tour of the stadium "in his revolution round the orbit of the shrines" (4:159). (15) Meanwhile, Hawthorne cites Benvenuto Cellini's autobiography, in which a magician draws a circle out of which demons rise from the past, and wryly comments that tourists in the Colosseum "paying the inevitable visit by moonlight" exalt themselves "with raptures that were Byron's, not their own" (4:155). What Hawthorne's treatment of the Colosseum seems to suggest is that the past and present might be imagined not one as the result of another, but as a palette. As he draws the reader's attention to various periods of the past, then to the present, and back again, and as characters continue in their circular, seemingly undirected perambulations of the city, it's easy to be reminded of E.M. Forster's use of Percy Lubbock's Roman Pictures to illustrate the "grand chain" pattern of certain novels (151), as a protagonist moves from Rome's tourist sites to its cafes, to its artists' studios, and finally to its inner sanctum of high society, only to meet the character who set him in this loop in the first place. "Orbis and urbis: always the circular, non-geometric form," Lefebvre wrote of Rome. "The resulting rationality, whether spatial or juridical, is detectable everywhere in the essential and most concrete creations of the Roman mind: vault, arch, circle (circus, circulus)--even the Roman toga ..." (Lefebvre 244). Simmel wrote that Rome's collection of "curiosities" do not "present themselves as isolated poles of attraction," but as "members of a whole ..., all being connected by the inclusive unity of Rome," each "an organ of the unity which includes them all" (32-33). As, during Hilda's absence, Kenyon pieces together a broken sculpture imagistically linked to their union, Hawthorne seems to finally portray unity between their opposing views: Hilda, seeking union above all else, and Kenyon, the abolitionist and separatist who, in piecing together the sculpture, likewise comes around to a position of unifying diverse and fragmented parts.
A third and culminating center of this circular and circularizing Rome, the Vatican, reappears in Hawthorne's second edition of The Marble Faun (though it is a place where Hilda has earlier twice made a "circuit" [4:353, 357]). Having left Rome and now writing from Leamington, England, Hawthorne concluded this edition with a postscript added to explain loose ends left in the novel's first edition. Atop the dome of St. Peter's, with a panoramic Rome spread both around and beneath them, the novel's hero and heroine look "down upon the Rome" they are "soon to leave ... being so remote in the upper air [from the] lower earth" (4:464), Hilda again gazing upward toward the mountains beyond the city, recalling her earlier fantasy of using height to disengage herself from Rome. Yet a final symbol of circularity is her bridal gift from Miriam, which Hilda pointedly fondles in the novel's final chapter. This is an Etruscan bracelet, whose chain forms "the connecting bond of a series of seven wondrous tales" (4:462). Miriam's gift distracts Hilda's gaze from the mountains above and her expectations of leaving the diverse spaces of Rome for some higher, northern place, seemingly predicting that her narrative cannot extend indefinitely higher, but must inevitably turn back on itself. Like Hawthorne's bracelet of "wondrous tales," extending infinitely by turning back on themselves in repetition, the novel's chapters formally loop back on themselves, the first and last bearing the same titles. (16)
The Marble Faun stylizes a Rome separate from and opposite to America's present. Views of the city are often shown as seen from above, spread beneath its protagonists, almost as if Rome lay on some lower substrate in the streets beneath the chambers reserved for expatriates and travelers. Yet if height allows separation from Rome's narrative of historic fall, the towers Hawthorne's Americans scale and the domes on which they perch are all, finally, as round as the faces of ticking clocks. His Americans dream of flying above Rome's history, fear losing themselves in the lower reaches of its past, and finally imagine themselves safe from history only to find themselves contaminated by it. On one level, Hawthorne's narrative suggests an America that will escape Rome's worst pagan practices and its unsettling fate. This schism of American space was a vision Hawthorne certainly entertained, but which his editors and readers, no more than we ourselves today, were not eager to consider--and which Hawthorne, realizing he could not know the end of his own country's conflict, chose to depict through an open-ended allegory. His recurring images of circuits through circular stadiums and churches, domes, linked bracelets, insistently elliptical wanderings and ancient statues incarnated subvert surface oppositions in space, portraying the novel's space as ultimately one of "truer union." Yet this spatial, geographic unity also hints at a temporal unity, elliptically linking ancient history and contemporary U.S. politics, to offer a darker narrative of Rome's ruins not only as those of a foreign past, but as America's own possible future.
University of Salzburg
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(1) Gemme's examples include Edmund Farrenc's serialized novel Republican Sketches: Ciceroacchio; or, The Roman Patriot (1852), whose hero "speaks in Rome the words that eighteenth-century Americans had spoken when rejecting the authority of the king of England" (81).
(2) For an outline of the importance of "unity" in rhetoric of the early American Civil War, see Gary Gallagher.
(3) In a letter to William Ticknor of 1860, Hawthorne wrote, "when I consider the miserable confusion in which you are involved, I go for a dissolution of the Union; and on that ground, I hope the Abolitionists will push matters to extremity" (21: 227). In the same year in a letter to Henry Bright, he advanced that "the Union is unnatural, a scheme of man, not an ordinance of God" (21:355). Cf. Levine 32.
(4) "The most interesting of Hawthorne's structural techniques is the use of multiple levels. These are not the multiple levels of interpretation familiar to us in the famous four senses of medieval scripture exegesis, nor the levels of interpretation, such as religious and political, appropriate to Spenser. Hawthorne's allegories are, rather, allegories within allegories" (Becker 175). More technically, to use Erich Auerbach's terminology, Hawthorne employs not allegoria ("in which a figure is feigned to illustrate a given proposition"), but figura, a metaphor "in which both terms, the figure and the figured, are deemed real" (Nuttall 68).
(5) Ullen's analysis insists that Hawthorne's works should be read allegorically, as opposed to symbolically.
(6) Zizek explains that narrative "emerges in order to resolve some (binary) antagonism by way of rearranging its (two or more) terms into a temporal succession. It is thus the very form of narrative which bears witness to some repressed antagonism" (197).
(7) Hawthorne met almost daily with former U.S. President, General Franklin Pierce in March and April of 1859 while the latter was in Rome, often more than once in a single day. On March 11 Hawthorne records walking to St. Peter's with Pierce. On March 16, he accompanied Pierce to "the top of the Capitol-tower" (14:650-51).
(8) following Hawthorne's first visit to the Capitoline Hill museum, he was led by a woman to a "mysterious staircase" descending "through twilight into utter darkness ... Down we went, farther and farther from the daylight" into the Mamertine Prison where, he wrote "there cannot be in the world another such an evil den, so haunted with black memories and indistinct surmises of guilt and suffering" (14:103-04), a description similar to that of the catacombs in the novel.
(9) "Hawthorne falls somewhere between the eighteenth-century allegorist's effort to make the surface fiction mimetically consistent and the neo-romantic's concern to alert the reader to allegory by violating the mimetic surface, giving it instead the unreal surface of dream or ritual. Hawthorne cultivates an ambiguous surface reality ... violating their mimetic consistency in favor of the non-mimetic techniques of allegory" (Becker 171).
(10) Miriam is also rumored to be a German princess, an English aristocrat, or a Jewish banker's daughter-all images linked in contemporary American thought to stereotypes of undemocratic, exploitive classes that might be imagined as more or less European equivalents to the figure of a Southern planter.
(11) Armstrong takes this passage from Freud's letters.
(12) Thanks to Professor Jessica Burstein for her comments in a personal email, December 31,2010.
(13) Cooper, treating Rome by comparing it to New York (the Tiber's width as compared to the Hudson's, the baldacchino's height to Trinity Church's spire, Augustan Rome's square footage as compared to that of lower Manhattan), is also fascinated by the history of Tarpeian Rock, one of the first sights mentioned in his description of the city (Letter XXI). Fredrika Bremmer, the Swedish feminist activist, lived at the top of the Tarpeian Rock, and showed it to Hawthorne by moonlight, before leading him to its base, where she left him, Hawthorne felt, rather coldly (14:223-27).
(14) Hawthorne's journal explains he did see a dead monk in the Capuchin church, described, as in The Marble Faun, with "blood oozing from his nostrils," perhaps, mused Hawthorne, at the moment his murderer "had just then come into the church and drawn nigh the bier" (14:81).
(15) Hawthorne found the Colosseum "turned into a sort of Christian church, with a pulpit on the verge of the open space" (14:55).
(16) Hawthorne's journals describe another "bridal gift": "William Story recalled a newspaper paragraph respecting a ring, with a stone of a new species in it, which a widower was observed to wear upon his finger. Being questioned as to what the gem was, he answered, 'It is my wife.' He had procured her body to be chemically resolved into this stone. I think I could make a story on this idea: the ring should be one of the widower's bridal gifts to a second wife; and, of course, it should have wondrous and terrible qualities, symbolizing all that disturbs the quiet of a second marriage" (14:205). Here, instead of a stone creature brought to life, we have a living human turned to stone.
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|Publication:||Nathaniel Hawthorne Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2014|
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