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.