Mesmerism and Hawthorne: Mediums of American Romance

Mesmerism and Hawthorne: Mediums of American Romance

Mesmerism and Hawthorne: Mediums of American Romance

Mesmerism and Hawthorne: Mediums of American Romance

Synopsis

The author explores the profound influence the mesmerist and spiritualist craze of the 1840s and 1850s had on Hawthorne's artistic vision and fictional techniques. Despite abhorring the pseudosciences as incarnations of witchcraft, their effect on the creation of his romances can be traced.

Excerpt

With the publication of In Hawthorne's Shadow:
American Romance from Melville to Mailer
in 1985, I presumed that my obsession with Nathaniel Hawthorne and his elusively tantalizing tales and romances had been vanquished. I saw that book as the culmination of my pursuit of and interest in him as a graduate student under Hyatt H. Waggoner at Brown University and my work as a teacher for several years at Wheaton College. And yet something still haunted me, hounded me. The first chapter in that book had summarized Hawthorne's themes and structures, but I felt that more was there. In exploring dusty old tomes at Brown and Wheaton, I stumbled on mesmerism and its powers. Hawthorne had insistently castigated and rejected this phenomenon, protesting over and over how insidious and false it was. And yet in looking through this material, I suddenly became aware of the similarities between descriptions of mesmerists' trances and performances and Hawthorne's process of writing and structuring his romances.

This topic has become such a part of my working and writing life that it is impossible to know exactly where it began. I seem to have been always working on it, a reality to which my beleaguered family can testify. It pursued me to conferences and classes in Poland, the Czech Republic, the former Yugoslavia, India, Pakistan, and Brazil--turning up in lectures, diatribes, classroom discussions, and graduate seminars. Eventually I began to write pieces that became articles that became chapters that became long, complicated manuscripts that I sent out to various publishers, all the while revising, rethinking, and reconstructing. I even remember late nights in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, bending over my Power- book revising the blurred pages yet again.

The piercing eyes and bearded visage of Hawthorne--which I first came upon as a child at my grandmother's house in New Haven, on a . . .

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