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?