Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sunday at Home

Sunday at Home

In this essay Hawthorne meditates on the church he can see from his home, explains why he does not attend services, and describes the people he sees. The musings I found most interesting involved oral sermons, race, and maiden dress.

I sympathize with Hawthorne's admission that he cannot follow an oral sermon as well as a written one. The first strong idea, which the preacher utters, gives birth to a train of thought, and leads me onward, step by step, quite out of hearing of the good man's voice... I have never been able to listen to audiobooks for this reason and I am frustrated with webinars, podcasts and video blogging. One pithy comment distracts me and I get lost in my own reveries. I need a written transcript so when my mind wanders I will have the chance to come back and pick up where my attention wandered. Once again, Hawthorne affirms I am not alone, though apparently we are part of a minority.

I had been wondering where Hawthorne stood on the subject of abolition and then I read this reaction to the black members of the congregation leaving the service: Poor souls! To them, the most captivating picture of bliss in Heaven, is--"There we shall be white!" I am not sure what I make of that, but at least I have a statement which doesn't purport to be from the mouth of a fictional character.

Finally, Hawthorne commented on the clothing pretty girls wear to church. In a few short sentences he suggests that the girls should dress more demurely because even a saint would be distracted by their displays. He notes that the girls are flashing their ankles and attracting attention with white socks rather than black.

On to the next story...

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Gray Champion

The Gray Champion

This story reminds me of Endicott and the Red Cross (I commented briefly here) another of Hawthorne's snatches of colonial history that demonstrate a recurring theme of imperial tyranny and colonial insurrection.

This time the Catholic (or as Hawthorne is wont to say "popish") King James II has dispatched a new governor who imposes harsh laws and taxes on the colonists. When the locals begin to assert their disrespect for the new authority, Governor Edward Andros marches his troops to town to intimidate them. Just in time an original settler of the colony (a ghost?) shows up to face down the governor and announce the abdication of James (which of course will not be known for some time in Boston). The gray champion's proclamation is believed and causes the overthrow of the governor.

Hawthorne reminds his New England readers that at their heart they are folk who bristle at being told what to do by Great Britain and the pope. I am intrigued with this nationalism and revolutionary theme that recurs not only in The Gray Champion and Endicott and the Red Cross but also in the Legends of the Province House series.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Blithedale Romance - Finished At Last

The Blithedale Romance

Having misplaced this book a half dozen times, I finally sat down this week and read it through to the end.

I am letting my musings settle while I figure out what I believe about the novel - what Hawthorne meant to say and whether he succeeded.

One passage I read echoed with a conversation I had this week. A friend mentioned that she has no plans for St. Patrick's Day because despite her Irish surname, when she was growing up her father was adamant they were "Americans" and definitely not Irish.

I can vouch for the fact that for the generation before mine in Massachusetts, it was still undesirable to be Irish. We did not celebrate St. Patrick's Day in my family either. My dad's mother was Scottish. Growing up Catholic in Boston with fair skin and Celtic features, my dad was often mistaken for Irish, and he staunchly defended himself against these allegations. When we were young he would not let us celebrate the Irish holiday and discouraged wearing of the green on that day by anyone not Irish.

Enough about me, the passage from chapter 22 refers to the flight of "Fauntleroy" .

He had fled northward to the New England metropolis...There he dwelt among poverty-stricken wretches, sinners, and forlorn good people, Irish, and whomsoever else were neediest.

I know it is no secret the Irish were relegated to the worst living conditions during the Industrial Revolution in New England, but still, I find it interesting that Irish is the only racial/cultural reference in that passage.

I enjoy Hawthorne's descriptive passages. I liked this from chapter 5 about the Native American name for the site of their community:

...it chanced to be a harsh, ill-connected, and interminable word, which seemed to fill the mouth with a mixture of very stiff clay and very crumbly pebbles.

Stiff clay and crumbly pebbles - I love it.

Friday, January 1, 2010

What's it all about?

What are my goals with this blog?

First and foremost, I intend to hold myself accountable to continue reading my way through all of Hawthorne's work instead of reading the same bits over and over again. When I have read all his published work I will read it again and again, as well as seeking out his journals and correspondence.

Why do all that reading? Because I want to know Hawthorne more completely. I want to hear his voice in my head. I want to write about him and I want to encourage others to write about him.

Second, I want to raise Hawthorne's visibility because I think he does not receive the recognition he should. Oh yes, most Americans meet him briefly in the classroom, but there is this perfect love story between Nat and Sophia Peabody, it has all the ingredients the right screenwriter could mold into a blockbuster romance, and yet almost no one knows the story. I would like to tell that story in a great big blockbuster movie culminating with the wedding July 9, 1842.

And then I imagine Hawthorne's entire life story would lend itself well to a three part mini series. So perhaps a synchronous producer would make that mini series.

And then I think the whole thing would snowball and there could be a series about the lives of authors in the early 19th century who were helping America forge a literature of her own. Hawthorne, yes, but also Irving, Poe, Melville. Maybe Cooper.

And I imagine another biographical series about other famous people of the time spiraling out from Hawthorne, to Elizabeth Peabody, Emerson, Thoreau, Horace Mann, Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller.

And of course, there is the whole body of Hawthorne fiction that could be brought to the screen. I want to see a flowering of media about Hawthorne and his friends and his stories and his novels.

I know, these are wild and crazy, grandiose thoughts. But I think there's enough material there. I think certain historical periods are in fashion from time to time, and now it's time to consider the early antebellum, the birth of transcendentalism, the Manifest Destiny generation. I consider how America fawned over Jane Austen in 2008, we watched all her movies on PBS, and paid to see The Jane Austen Book Club and Becoming Jane in the theaters. Is it farfetched to believe we might become thus enamored of Nathaniel Hawthorne someday?

So I am sending a little ripple out to see if I can infect the world with a Hawthorne meme.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Sister Years revisted

In honor of New Year's Eve I read "The Sister Years" again. I am mulling over the paragraph about the opening of the railroad and considering Nathaniel Hawthorne's word choice. Old Year calls day trippers a transitory diurnal multitude. I guess she expects any lurking about will not understand her. She predicts - An immense accumulation of musty prejudices will be carried off by the free circulation of society. Many musty prejudices have been carried off over the years, but some run so deep the process of erosion continues. At the end of the paragraph Old Year posits, there will be a probable diminution of the moral influence wealth, and the sway of an aristocratic class. Again, I look back and see that we keep moving forward but never getting there. Still this push and pull between immigrant and native continues to play out here in New England in the 21st century.

Which brings me back to transitory diurnal multitude. I believe Nathaniel Hawthorne chose those words to clearly identify the speaker as one of the aristocratic class aiming to speak above the understanding of the ignorant masses. I am reminded of an elderly aunt who discouraged shopping at the local supermarket, in a loud stage whisper, "because the demographics have changed."

Transitory diurnal multitude - can you hear the disdain?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Young Goodman Brown

Young Goodman Brown

Perhaps the most read story Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, it is the story I've read most often. A favorite of American middle school teachers, "Young Goodman Brown" is used to demonstrate and define terms like short story, allegory, and symbolism.

What can I add to a topic covered so well by others?

I found an interesting article here by Michael McCabe. He reminds us Goodman Brown's comprehension that everyone shares a sinful nature was taught in his Puritan catechism and should not have required his being led astray by the devil.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Roger Malvin's Burial

Read Roger Malvin's Burial here.

Whenever I read this story, I can't help but think that the first year must have been the worst for Reuben. I imagine Reuben lived in fear that someone saved Roger who might yet return after months of recovering in somebody's cabin and Reuben would have to explain that someone he said he buried was still alive.

I can imagine Dorcas at the end, "Oh for heaven's sake, I could have forgiven you the unburied bones, but this is too much."

It's a story about guilt, expiation of guilt, blood sacrifice, echoes of Abraham and Isaac. I like that Hawthorne rejects the possibility of supernatural influence in this passage: Unable to penetrate to the secret place of his soul where his motives lay hidden, he believed that a supernatural voice had called him onward, and that a supernatural power had obstructed his retreat. I can believe we are all inclined to attribute to a supernatural cause those motives we do not dare examine and own.

Here we have another story with a marriage as the centerpiece. After all, if Reuben did not marry the girl the lie would not have figured so prominently in his life. We see how this secret sin poisons married life for Reuben, though apparently Dorcas learns to overlook his moods and love him despite his demeanor.

This is a pithy story I will read again soon. Is it a warning that we can become so obsessed with our past transgressions that we can not properly attend to the present? Does sin require a blood sacrifice to expiate it? I think Dorcas would disagree. I think she would cry out for confession and repentance.

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Kinsman, Major Molineux

My Kinsman, Major Molineux

I love this story. It's not where you're from and thank God it's not who you know, here in America every man gets his own shot at making a name for himself.

I like that this story has so many period details - Ramillies wigs and such. I was intrigued to learn about the parchment three-penny. I could not find a photo of one online. Best I could find was a parchment 1 penny. According to Hawthorne the parchment three-penny was six-sided.

Nicotian was a new word for me. Apparently you could smoke in Boston bars back then.

I found an interesting interpretation by Bartlett C. Jones here. I also came across a fragment comparing Robin's entry to Boston to Ben Franklin's entry to Philadelphia as recorded in Franklin's Autobiography that bears consideration.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Blithedale Romance

The Blithedale Romance

I am enjoying this book slowly. I love the sound of the words when he says he is a frosty bachelor and tries to summon nostalgia in the reader for the loveliest fire after a long drive in the snow. Every word so carefully chosen, pleasant and poignant.

I'm still thinking about The Threefold Destiny too, about how lucky one feels at the moment when all three areas of one's life - fame, fortune, and romance - coincide and appear on the rise.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Help with The Threefold Destiny

Someone asked.

Summary - local boy circles the globe in search of the grand flourishes he has imagined will reveal his even grander destinies for romance, treasure, and public influence. Upon his return, a man of thought and care, weary with world-wandering, and heavy with disappointed hopes, Ralph Cranfield encounters all three signs right there in his hometown. In fact, two of the signs he placed himself. So he went all the way around the world looking for what he had left behind.

This "Faery Legend" was first published in 1838, when Hawthorne was wooing Sophia Peabody. It could be Hawthorne was congratulating himself on finding his mate so close to home. Or perhaps he was exploring his response to pressure to go out and find his fortune. I find so many of these early stories wrestle with questions of marriage, destiny, and making one's way in the world.

But about the story...Why did Ralph leave? When struggling with Hawthorne, I always go back to the words. He begins describing the signs and destinies as, The first of these fatalities... Fatalities, of course, these things are fated to happen. But Connotations 101 reminds us to hear the finality of death in that phrase. Ostensibly Cranfield went in search of his destiny when in fact he was dodging it. Later we will learn he knew Faith was his beloved even before her faith was proven.

I do not like Ralph Cranfield, I wonder if I am not meant to. He arrogantly ignores his beloved when he meets her in the street, though I am sure every mother reading the story agrees he was right to present himself to his mother before anyone else. I would wish he lost something in the leaving, were my wishes of anyone's concern here.

I wonder about the whole "Hail the Conquering Hero" bit. What did Cranfield do to merit the local authorities' trust? How fortunate to have been away so long and then succeed in being in the right place at the right time, which is why it is a fairy tale I suppose. But still, Hawthorne worked in a bit of reality to soothe the skeptics on the other two aspects: Cranfield carved EFFODE in the tree and fashioned the brooch on Faith's bosom, planting his own seeds for the mystical deja vu later on. But this bit where he comes home and then next morning the town fathers knock on his door and hand him a job of some importance without any effort on his part, I do not understand how that fits.

Unless, the job is not a blessing. Is the charge of the local schoolchildren a role the selectmen were at a loss to fill, and was this unemployed prodigal son an answer to their prayers? Did they fulfill his dream or did he fulfill theirs?

I stray too far from the story I fear. In the end, I consider what I know of going away and coming home and believe we are to understand this story must be a fairy tale because you will never return to find things just as you left them, only better.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Moving on

I completed the Reader's Digest Edition of Twice-Told Tales from 1989. What was my favorite story? Maybe The Hollow of the Three Hills, I found that story nearly perfect. I also enjoyed the complete cycle of Legends of the Province House.

Marriage seems to have been a recurring theme. When I read the rest of Hawthorne's original Twice Told Tales I will consider whether this particular collection was chosen to highlight marriage was much on the mind of this bachelor.

Meanwhile, I am moving on to The Blithedale Romance.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Threefold Destiny

The Threefold Destiny

Remember that awkward speech Dorothy gives about "your own backyard" right before she clicks her heels in the original movie, The Wizard of Oz? I suppose none of us are surprised Hawthorne better articulated the concept, though his story is hardly more believable than Baum's.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Edward Fane's Rosebud

Edward Fane's Rosebud

Another look at the reunion of old sweethearts long after the bloom has left the rose, if I am permitted to belabor the metaphor. Reading this story adds a new layer to my interpretation of Citizen Kane.

The Bridal Knell was more supernatural than this tale. This could all be the befuddled meanderings of the widow's alcoholic internal monologue. I would be interested in seeing this performed in the first person.

Widow Toothaker, I found it hard to keep a straight face with that name, likely the author's intent.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Endicott and the Red Cross

Endicott and the Red Cross

Notable for introducing the "A" on which Hawthorne would later base his masterpiece, this story has a nice twist at the end when the narrator recognizes the roots of the American revolution in an early act against the crown. Hawthorne displays a begrudging respect for Endicott despite his distaste with the Puritan fathers' intolerance.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Shaker Bridal

The Shaker Bridal

Another story with a wedding theme.

The narrator does not have a high opinion of Shakers, whose members are generally below the ordinary standard of intelligence. Not pulling any punches there, Nat.

I learned of the Shakers during a visit to the Fruitlands museum back in high school. As I recall, the Shakers were credited with many innovations (clothespins come to mind) that belie the narrator's assessment of their faculties. I wonder what is at the heart of Hawthorne's disdain.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Chippings With a Chisel

Chippings With a Chisel

I was struck here with the passage about a tombstone for an Indian from Chabbiquidick. Of course, the reference to Chappaquiddick caught my eye as this is a place with only one association for most of us who lived in the late 20th century. But my mind circles round the ensuing exchange. The inanity of the sculptor asking "how can Cupid die when there are such pretty maidens in the Vineyard?" is matched by the youth's distraction from tombstones for a day. I feel I can hear the old man's frustration with this kid who keeps hanging around questioning everything. How can Cupid die when there are such pretty maidens in the Vineyard? He gestures toward the girls on the beach. How true. And then the youth is lost in reverie for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Peter Goldthwaite's Treasure

Peter Goldthwaite's Treasure

I like how Hawthorne sums up the difference between the former partners: Brown never reckoned upon luck, yet always had it; while Peter made luck the main condition of his projects, and always missed it.

Not much I can add.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Seven Vagabonds

Read The Seven Vagabonds here.

From the first Hawthorne draws us in with his merry in the spring of my life and the summer of the year...

He seems to experiment with word choice and cadence much as musician plays with notes and tempo to create at most times a merry mood in this piece, but at others a more subdued air.

Again the author is just laying his hopes out there for all the world to see. I had none of that foolish wisdom which reproves every occupation that is not useful in this world of vanities. If there be a faculty which I possess more perfectly than most men, it is that of throwing myself mentally into situations foreign to my own, and detecting, with a cheerful eye, the desirable circumstances of each. I chuckle at that and then think of the frustration he presented to the adults around him. I love his assertion: his faculty is not better, nor does he possess it in greater quantity, but he possesses it more perfectly. Ah, the self-assurance of youth.

This was a pleasant story to read, merry at times, exuberant and young until the author turns somber at the end.

I learned a new word: bibliopolist.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The White Old Maid

The White Old Maid

Similar to The Minister's Black Veil, this story leaves much unsaid and unexplained. I wonder if Hawthorne was experimenting with how much to reveal in a ghost story. As filmmakers have found that what isn't shown, what is only hinted at, can be more frightening and impressive than full revelation, so too I think Hawthorne was testing how much the reader needed to see and understand in order to appreciate this supernatural story.

I like the way we are shown the speculation and various testimony of the witnesses. Like so many ghost stories and legends, this story will never be completely understood and the reader will ultimately have to decide for herself what is believable. In this way, this little supernatural tale became very true to life for me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Sister Years

The Sister Years

Brian informs me today is Rosh Hashanah, which makes it rather fitting that I read a New Year story.

New Year comes tripping down the road and meets a world weary Old Year in Salem, MA in the final hour of December 31, 1838.

I enjoyed this, but I enjoy most everything Hawthorne.

Old Year reflects on all the busy tasks we are involved with that never seem to make the world a better place. "There has indeed been a curious sort of war on the Canada border, where blood has streamed in the names of Liberty and Patriotism; but it must remain for some future, perhaps far distant, Year, to tell whether or no those holy names have been rightfully invoked. Nothing so much depresses me, in my view of mortal affairs, as to see high energies wasted, and human life and happiness thrown away, for ends that appear oftentimes unwise; and still oftener remain unaccomplished."

I went looking for information about the skirmish in Canada in 1838 and found naught but a brief reference to a conflict over the New Brunswick/Maine border. Tragically, 1838 is the year the US forcibly relocated the Cherokee tribe in the Trail of Tears.

Old Year also takes credit for opening the railroad in Salem, "and half a dozen times a day, you will hear the bell (which once summoned the Monks of a Spanish Convent to their devotions) announcing the arrival or departure of the cars. Old Salem now wears a much livelier expression than when I first beheld her. Strangers rumble down from Boston by hundreds at a time."

I would like to read the Salem Gazette Old Year clutches in her hands. Next year, perhaps.