Book Reviews -- Nathaniel Hawthorne: Tradition and Revolution by Charles Swann

Article excerpt

The latest volume in Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture, this book explores Hawthorne's complex attitude towards the powerful and invariably conflicting claims of history and change. Mercifully avoiding the kind of critical jargon that has befogged similar scholarly discourse, Swann differs sharply from what he argues is a growing consensus that sees Hawthorne vision as exclusively conservative and incapable of appreciating any sort of revolution or rebellion. While acknowledging the importance and authority of tradition in shaping personal and cultural values, Hawthorne was "fascinated" by revolution and the vital, often seductive forces of change. However, his fictional dramatizations of the attractiveness of "new beginnings" and "revolutionary moments," as Swann ably demonstrates in discussing such key examples as Hester's story, Major Molineux's humiliation, Holgrave's career, and the Blithedale experiment, more often than not strike an ambivalent, tragic tone.

What saves this study from being just another addition to the familiar debate over whether Hawthorne was a "conservative" or "democrat" is the inclusion of several undervalued and, in some instances, unfinished works. …