The Death of the Artist: A Study of Hawthorne's Disintegration

The Death of the Artist: A Study of Hawthorne's Disintegration

The Death of the Artist: A Study of Hawthorne's Disintegration

The Death of the Artist: A Study of Hawthorne's Disintegration

Excerpt

The image of Nathaniel Hawthorne which may be pieced out of the facts and documents of his life is complicated in fascinating ways; so is the image of him that a sensitive and imaginative finger may trace out in his art. In a more marked degree than is usual among artists, there are many Hawthornes instead of one; and out of the relations among them, the hidden warfare in the cellars, of which there struggles up to the casual observer only an occasional suffocated outcry, while all the time the house itself sits level with windows to the sun, out of this emerges whatever about him is of interest. I wish to proceed in this brief study upon these two premises: that Hawthorne's art represents to a very large extent an obsession with his inner life, and that the excellences and the faults of the art can be directly attributed to the state of health, if that word be read in a loose way, of the inner life.

There are writers in whom a profound inner tension, a state of dysphoria which, in others, would be called unhealth, is the mainspring of successful art: I would instance Melville, at the time he was composing Moby-Dick , or Dostoevski throughout much of his career, as examples of this. Other writers, however, are merely hamstrung by the agonies that burst the dam for the Melvilles and Dostoevskis; in them tension eventually brings about a general paresis; and among these I wish to show Hawthorne as taking, with only rare exceptions, his place. The role of neurosis in the artist's fate cannot be generalized: some it saves and some it damns, to some it is a goddess, to some a demon. And to Hawthorne, it is my feeling, it was by and large a demon.

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