The Production of Personal Life: Class, Gender, and the Psychological in Hawthorne's Fiction

The Production of Personal Life: Class, Gender, and the Psychological in Hawthorne's Fiction

The Production of Personal Life: Class, Gender, and the Psychological in Hawthorne's Fiction

The Production of Personal Life: Class, Gender, and the Psychological in Hawthorne's Fiction

Synopsis

This book aims both to demystify and to reconstitute 'Hawthorne' as an object of study by rereading Hawthorne's fictions, mainly those from the early 1840's to 1860, in the context of the emergence of a distinctively middle-class personal life (the domestic emotional revolution that accompanied the industrial revolution. Recent histories of middle-class private life, gender, the body, and sexuality now enable us to bring a more encompassing grasp of history to our reading of the 'psychological' in Hawthorne's writing. Rather than taking the conventional view that Freud explains Hawthorne's psychological themes, the author draws on the history of personal life to suggest that mid-century psychological fictions help, historically, to account for the surfacing of a bourgeois Freudian discourse later in the century. The production of Personal Life also asks why it was that women in mid-century fiction, especially that written by men, were represented as psychological targets of male monomaniacs in the home. By connecting the enforcement of middle-class 'feminine' roles to psychological tension between the sexes, Hawthorne's fiction at times implicitly critiques the sentimental construction of gender roles on which the economic and cultural ascendancy of his class relied.

Excerpt

My intent in this book is both to demystify and to reconstitute "Hawthorne" as an object of literary, cultural, historical, and political study by rereading Hawthorne's fictions, mainly those from the early 1840's to 1860, in the context of the history of personal life. Studies of the emergence in the mid-nineteenth century of a personal life characterized by intense emotional bonds have suggested to me that Hawthorne's much celebrated preoccupation with the "psychological" in his fiction should not be thought of solely in a conventional way, as an expression of authorial insight into a transhistorical "human nature" or timeless personal relations. Rather, his persistent thematic focus on subjectivity and personal life can be read as a literary expression of historically specific cultural and ideological concerns.

Of course, the dominant theory that those of us in the late-twentieth-century academic middle class have at hand to think about subjectivity and personal life is still psychoanalysis, a distinctly individualistic and often ahistorical vision. Indeed, Frederick Crews, in his classic psychoanalytic study of Hawthorne, The Sins of the Fathers (1966), suggests that Hawthorne anticipates Freud's genius as an explorer of the psyche, quoting, for example, the preface to Snow-Image (1851), in which Hawthorne imagines himself as one "who has been burrowing to his utmost ability into the depths of our common nature, for the purposes of psychological romance." By implication, Hawthorne and Freud were "burrowing" into the same "depths of our common nature."

My work on Hawthorne departed from such assumptions as I began to focus on the question of why Hawthorne's writing is so psychologi-

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