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.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Ambitious Guest

The Ambitious Guest

Spoiler alert: you will read the ending here. It's a quick read...3280 words.

I hear this story as a teleplay, as I have heard other stories of Hawthorne's that way in my recent reading. Particularly in the last paragraph of this story, like that of Wakefield, I hear the cadences of spoken word. I expect I encounter the narrator's voice more on television than in modern short stories. Is it that stories in the past were written to be read aloud to a degree that they are not today, though teleplays are, and perhaps that is what I hear?

Whose was the agony of that death moment? Strange last line. Why whose?

More like WHAT was the agony at that death moment? We are to think it wasn't so much the agony of death, that he could bear. But dying unknown, perhaps unidentified, oh what tragedy for the youth and his ambitions.

I suppose "Whose was the agony..." is the author's sly wink and acknowledgment of his own ambitions.

There were circumstances which led some to suppose that a stranger had been received into the cottage on this awful night, and had shared the catastrophe of all its inmates.

Circumstances? Like bones?

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Wedding Knell

The Wedding Knell

Again, I find it easy to imagine Hawthorne in his attic room dreaming about his future wife. This time one who got away and married twice before returning to her first true love. I like that he tells us she is the initiator in their belated trip to the altar. Sad how she married a southern gentleman who abused her. Pity the fool who let Nathaniel get away.

On to the next story.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Village Uncle

Read The Village Uncle here.

I loved this story. I kept reading it over and over this week. I love the cadences of so many sentences, I cannot begin to choose a representative passage. I want to read the whole story aloud.

What a brave story to have written and published. In light of Hawthorne's reticence in person, I am amazed at how much he spilled in this story. Imagine a thirty year old man admitting he spends hours staring at the fire fantasizing about his future spouse and children like a schoolgirl. I imagine him jumping up, For I am a patriarch! And then sheepishly coming to his senses.

I love it. What more can I say? Read it. This is the truest thing I have read this week.

I can see why Longfellow felt Hawthorne very in touch with his feminine side. I think I also understand why Elizabeth Peabody was all a flutter over Nathaniel when she learned he was the author of such a revealing and poignant confession of longing for wife and family.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Legends of the Province House - Old Esther Dudley

IV. Old Esther Dudley

Ah, he saved the best for last. Thank you, Mr. Hawthorne, for such a satisfying finish to a story for which I managed to extend my pleasure over a week's time. All these days wondering where is this story going and ah, there. Very nicely done, Sir.

and old Esther Dudley was left to keep watch in the lonely Province House, dwelling there with memory; and if Hope ever seemed to flit around her, still was it Memory in disguise.

Actually, that very last bit resonates with me. ...and if Hope ever seemed to flit around her, still was it Memory in disguise. Sounds like it could be a tagline for the final credits of The Time Traveler's Wife.

I was lukewarm about the first sketch in this series, but this examination of the grip memory has on people and places that was dying with the last of the living colonists in 1838 becomes a fully fleshed story in the end.

Poe nails it so well in his famous assessment: every word tells. The author serves up a paragraph in phrase. If a picture paints a thousand words, Hawthorne is a genius whose 329 word paragraph that begins Yet Esther Dudley's most frequent and favored guests... can create a whole series of thousand word pictures in my mind.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Legends of the Province House - Lady Eleanore's Mantle

III. Lady Eleanore's Mantle

I can picture an impatient uncle waving these stories in Nat's face, "I don't think you're trying to make a living writing stories. I think you're trying to make a living sitting around drinking all day."

Aren't we all?

A little more meat to this story. I am surprised at the amount of venom directed at the aristocracy of colonial times. What would antebellum Americans have made of the cultural anglophiles we're proving to be?

This story, first published in 1838, makes reference to the second Asiatic cholera pandemic which hit the east coast in 1832. Hawthorne reminds the reader who still remembered this threat, There is no other fear so horrible and unhumanizing as that which makes man dread to breathe heaven's vital air lest it be poison, or to grasp the hand of a brother or friend lest the gripe of the pestilence should clutch him.

Words as true in the 1980s as they were in the 1830s.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Legends of the Province House - Edward Randolph's Portrait

II. Edward Randolph's Portrait

These sketches recreate historical situations and attempt to weave in rumors of supernatural events, but fall short of actual stories somehow.

I like that Hawthorne reminds me that Boston is a city that was already rebuilt many times before his time. I smile to picture him in taverns cadging stories out of the few remaining men with memories of colonial times. I wonder what he would have made of the Prudential building and the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Legends of the Province House - Howe's Masquerade

I. Howe's Masquerade

Hawthorne writes of conjuring the memory of this tavern's heyday amid the bustle and decay of "modern" Boston.

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago in Plymouth, MA when I visited the Mayflower II. Actors in period clothes and strange accents tried to help tourists imagine life on the ship nearly 400 years ago. I guess this is the challenge we all face when visiting historical sites. We strain to see the ghosts of the past gliding through the old buildings. We try to imagine the splendor of the old days when the finishes were vibrant and new. And then we step back into the everyday.

I also visited the Pilgrim Hall Museum while in Plymouth. Huge stained glass windows hung over the lobby. The docent explained that all the stained glass had recently been cleaned and restored. She pointed out details in the leaves that no one knew were there; the glass had appeared solid black for years. Someone removed all the bits of glass, cleaned them, releaded the windows and now they are restored to their original glory.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dr. Heidegger's Experiment

Dr. Heidegger's Experiment

I can't think of much to comment on this story. Brain dead tonight.

Widow Wycherly, rather obvious. I hope named more for her ability to bewitch suitors in her day than for her age in this story.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fancy's Show Box

Read Fancy's Show Box here

A bit of a story, more of an essay. I might have shared this piece with my father. I remember in my childhood reading Little House on the Prairie and feeling compelled to discuss the scene where Laura nearly unties Jack, the dog, against her father's orders. Indians came to her home in Papa's absence, Jack was excited, and Laura thought that maybe she should release Jack on the uninvited, perhaps life-threatening guests. Somehow the visit turned non-threatening and the scene ended safely with Jack secured. Later when Laura confessed her almost sin, her father told her that thinking about sinning is as bad as actually committing the deed.

Whoa, ho, ho. My dad disagreed. He had apparently wrestled this topic with priests, even Jesuits. He came down firmly in the camp of an earthly judge. "If you go to a police station and try to turn yourself in because you thought about killing someone but did not, they will not arrest you because no crime has been committed. And if you keep on insisting you're guilty, they'll think you're crazy. If there is no act, there is no crime." He was an agnostic at the time.

In Fancy's Show Box, Hawthorne wrestles with this question of guilt in thought but not deed. He provides a fanciful scene with three apparitions and a victim paying for his sinful thoughts. Then he switches to essay format and dismisses this absurd possibility. He finishes with a sermon that none are guiltless and worthy of heaven.

I would have liked to discuss this story with my father, because he and Hawthorne and Wilder had different visions to illustrate this question of conscience, and because I think this is an example of moral dilemma we must each wrestle and settle for ourselves. The wisest parents, teachers, and counselors encourage us to seek our own answers for questions of faith and conscience. The best authors give us new ways of looking at old questions.

My take? Certainly nothing as eloquent as Hawthorne or even Wilder. I would argue that humans have the ability to imagine the future and consider the impact of their actions in advance. Our technology, our culture, all our creations and progress depend upon this ability. And as responsible, thinking beings, we must each be able to contemplate actions and their possible repercussions without retribution so that we can stop ourselves before we embark on an undesired path.

That said, I also don't think it is helpful to spend a lot of time imagining yourself committing crimes against others. I believe my quality of life and that of everyone around me are improved when I focus on positive solutions than when I stew about unpleasant confrontations and violent behaviors.

A footnote for anyone curious when Dickens wrote his famous tale of three apparitions and conscience: Wikipedia shows A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, Fancy's Show Box in 1837.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Hollow of the Three Hills

The Hollow of the Three Hills

This story, even shorter than the last, packs a powerful punch. My first reading impressed me with the vivid dreamscapes Hawthorne creates with such an economy of words. With 1749 words he conjures not only the setting of the story, but also three other fantastic scenes.

Thinking on this, I realized that Hawthorne didn't include any personal details. He achieves his economy by telling us only what we need to know about the characters and no more. We see an old crone, but we see nothing that would distinguish this crone from any other. We are presented with the torment of a cuckold, but beyond the husband's solemn voice...a manly and melodious voice it might once have been, we have no description of this man. No "red riding hood" or "goldie locks", this story has no physical detail we can fix on to visualize these people; the author leaves them wholly to our imagination. And somehow he gives all we need to see the story, to imagine the characters and feel their despair.

But it's only half a story. Hawthorne doesn't offer us anything but the wife's remorse. We don't know what might have prompted the anguished situation. Hawthorne seems to have no sympathy for the mother who had sinned against natural affection. Do I detect abandonment issues? His mother lived as a virtual recluse, was she emotionally unavailable to him?

Another possibility is that this isn't the wife/mother's story. Perhaps this is the story of the crone and her sweet hour's sport, in which case the younger woman's agony matters most and any excuses she might have offered in the past were not part of the present scene.

This phrase resonated for me: there were revilings and anathemas. Reminds me of Paul Simon's phrase, hints and allegations.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

David Swan

David Swan

This one is very short, but it's philosophical and I will still be thinking about it tomorrow. Are we as sleepers, unaware of the opportunities that pass us by? Hawthorne would have us believe that every day we are exposed to myriad chances for fortune or misfortune. And then he takes the idea further by suggesting that the fact that amidst all this unknown possibility, some things occur that can be expected and predicted, therefore that proves a superintending Providence. Well, he doesn't say "proves", he says argues a superintending Providence...

A statement like that will fix in my brain. All night long I will be thinking of ways to dispute this argument. What did he mean? When he writes, is Hawthorne presenting a thought or belief he holds, or is he merely throwing a provocative theory out there for argument's sake?

There is chaos. There is some order. Therefore there is supernatural design.

No, I don't buy that logic, and I don't think he did either. But I will think about it for a couple of days nonetheless.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Prophetic Pictures

The Prophetic Pictures

Great story. This is the third Hawthorne story of the six I have read recently that features newlyweds. Marriage weighed heavy on the author's mind, eh?

So, what did I like? I liked that maybe this couple did not live happily ever after. I would say I wish this artist had painted my portrait before I married in haste, but perhaps Hawthorne is correct that my passionate desires would have swept me along despite prophetic pictures.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Great Carbuncle

Read The Great Carbuncle here

I looked up carbuncle before I read because I thought it would be helpful to understand a carbuncle. Boy, I was wrong. I went with the first definition on Wikipedia, which turned out to be more confusing than just reading the story and letting Hawthorne explain. For the record, there is not a party of adventurers searching for an oversized boil that is oozing pus in the White Mountains. This carbuncle is not a staph infection in an episode of TNT's new series, Hawthorne. I don't think I'm spoiling anyone's enjoyment of the story when I point out that the carbuncle in this story is a red gemstone.

Have you read the story? If not, go read. I'll be here when you come back.

I'm still smiling about the Cynic's fate. You might as well be blind if you won't see the beauty around you. Believing is seeing.

The Great Carbuncle. I suppose I should go look for it too.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What is Hawthorne Reader?

I love Hawthorne's writing. I chose The Scarlet Letter off the bookshelf decades ago. I was in eighth grade and I needed a book for a book report. I thought I would show off and choose a classic from my father's small collection. I told people I wanted to read the book for fun before eleventh grade reading assignments crushed all the life out of the story.

I don't know how I endured The Custom-House (TCH) introduction the first time. I plodded through, as one did during school years, forcing my eye across each line trying to keep myself from succumbing to the tedium. I was commited by then. I had told everyone I was reading The Scarlet Letter (TSL). My teacher was skeptical, he had just assigned this book to his junior class and they were all struggling with the material. I knew I could read it. But I hoped the story would improve.

At some point, I suspect I gave up on TCH, always intending to go back and read it some other time. I skipped to the first page of real story and from that very moment I fell in love. I loved the story. I loved the strength of the heroine. I loved the way Hawthorne spoke to the reader, most of the time (occasionally it was weird). I loved the way he could give you two sentences that summed up a character entirely.

My parents were censoring my books back then. I was thirteen and had already been punished for reading Jaws and The Flame and the Flower. It was nearly impossible in the promicuous seventies for an advanced reader like myself to find books that challenged my reading skills which my parents would allow me to read. I loved that TSL dealt with an adult situation with an adult vocabulary and sentence structure that never offended this reader's parents with scenes of sexual passion.

Okay, so a long time ago I fell in love with Nathaniel Hawthorne's writing. And for many years I have thought he hasn't received the acclaim he deserves. There ought to be movies about him. There ought to be movies about Emerson, Thoreau, Elizabeth Peabody, all of them, but especially Nathaniel and Sophia because theirs is a beautiful love story.

Somebody is going to have to write the screenplay. If it will be me, then I need to immerse myself in his words until I find the voice for the story.

I hope this blog helps me to be accountable to myself, I plan to keep reading through all the extant Hawthorne writings and other resources I find from time to time. I will read and then I will post a thought here, no matter how inane, to prove I did my reading.

I'm hoping that maybe there are other Hawthorne readers out there who may stop by from time to time to share their thoughts. It's a lonely world loving Nathaniel Hawthorne all by myself. I am hoping I will change his fame in my lifetime, but for now any like minded souls are welcomed.

Mr. Higgenbotham's Catastrophe

Mr. Higgenbotham's Catastrophe

I enjoyed this story.

A few things struck my notice.

Especially was he beloved by the pretty girls along the Connecticut, whose favor he used to court by presents of the best smoking tobacco in his stock; knowing well that the country lasses of New England are generally great performers on pipes.

Sly dog, did he really say that?

At one point, the pedlar swore that Daniel Webster never spoke nor looked so like an angel as Miss Higginbotham...

This contemporary cultural reference excited my curiosity about Mr. Webster's life in relation to Hawthorne's. And I wondered when Stephen Vincent Benet wrote The Devil and Daniel Webster. Daniel Webster (1782-1852) preceded Hawthorne (1804-1864) by a generation and was a US Senator during the 1830's. Benet's story was published a century later and received the O. Henry Award in 1938. In Benet's story, Hawthorne's infamous ancestor, John Hathorne, judges the suit Daniel Webster brings against Scratch.

One last musing on the statement that Higgenbotham's dwelling stood beside the old highway, but had been left in the background by the Kimballton turnpike. I always think of shifts of this sort as being a symptom of modern progress in the 20th and 21st centuries. I appreciate that Hawthorne reminds me that this land, New England, already had a 150 year history before the USA was founded, and much that people bemoan today (new highways and racism and religious intolerance and even country lasses performing on pipes) was going on here right from the start.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Gentle Boy

The Gentle Boy

I procrastinated with this story and spread the reading over a couple of weeks. I'm always sorry to see the poor child persecuted. I do not enjoy contemplating the way people will abuse others in the name of the Lord.

One passage interests me. Hawthorne is describing a Quaker: In person he was tall and dignified, and, which alone would have made him hateful to the Puritans, his gray locks fell from beneath the broad-brimmed hat, and and rested on his shoulders.

Quakers were hippies too?


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Maypole of Merry Mount

The Maypole of Merry Mount

Merry Mount is the original name of Quincy, MA. There's a bit of trivia I feel I ought to retain.

Who were these folk at Merry Mount? They sound like a bunch of hippies, born 240 years early on the wrong coast. Peter Palfrey asks whether they should cut the hair of the Lord of May. Absolutely, and let's get rid of all this gayety while we're at it.

I love the paragraph of backstory that begins "Two hundred years ago, or more..." Sounds like we almost had San Francisco next door to South Boston but for the intrepid intervention of Endicott and his bunch. I wonder did they ship all the green warriors off to Vermont?

Faced with their protestations of love and sacrifice, Endicott relents and shows mercy on the newlyweds (certain they will raise their children in the faith). I don't know about that. Maybe in moment of his own twisted mirth, the venerable puritan decided marriage was punishment enough.

Hawthorne disagrees. Although they never experienced the gay life again, the couple "never wasted one regretful thought on the vanities of Merry Mount."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Read Wakefield here

I like this story if only for the soothing W throughout. This line resonates with me, "when she had been more years a widow than a wife..." I feel like I approach that day myself.

Of course, in the story it's all a cruel caprice and Wakefield's wife is no more a widow than I am. Wicked man, that Wakefield. Worst sort of procrastinator he turned out to be. What did he do all that time? That's what I wonder whenever I read this story. How did he earn his bread? What sort of credentials did he provide his new landlady?

Hawthorne would have us believe Wakefield set off on a tangent and could not find his way back for twenty years. And if I knew where he went to work, maybe I could believe that.

The ending caught my attention this time around. I feel Rod Serling's cadence and can well imagine him speculating about Wakefield becoming, as it were, a denizen of the Twilight Zone. Can you hear it too?

Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another, and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever. Like Wakefield, he may become, as it were, an Outcast of the Universe.

I imagine Hawthorne in an attic more years than miles from where I sit trying to wrest a living from his writing. Oh, what teleplays he might have written.