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.