Academic journal article Nathaniel Hawthorne Review

Introduction: Haunted Hawthorne, Hawthorne's Hauntings

Academic journal article Nathaniel Hawthorne Review

Introduction: Haunted Hawthorne, Hawthorne's Hauntings

Article excerpt

From the time that Hawthorne's earliest tales were published, he was perceived by his critics as being, for better or for worse, connected with American history. In fact, an image of a haunted Hawthorne first emerged when his contemporary and late nineteenth-century critics attempted to place him within the framework of his Puritan forebears. We find, for example, a spectral Hawthorne in the following assessment, penned in 1871:

And do we not see in his writing traces of early community with sorrow, of contact with moods most alien to childhood and youth, of the weird impression and haunting mystery of Puritan life which he drank in during those night rambles in Salem, and plenteous evidences, too, of the deep hold which the beauty and terror of nature had laid upon his soul in those days and nights of solitude in the Raymond woods, on the ice, on the water? (Japp 482)

Just as Melville, in "Hawthorne and his Mosses (1850)," appreciated Hawthorne's "power of blackness" and described Hawthorne as imbibing the spirit of dark Calvinist thinking and representing the landscapes of New England, the critic Alexander P. Japp actually stated that Hawthorne was formed by the dour Puritan legacy and the wildness of the frontier (in this case, Maine). The horrors that supposedly haunted Hawthorne--the dark episodes in American history and the terrors of the American wilderness--would become the stuff of Hawthorne's fiction, and the two would become inseparable. And these motifs or concerns would pervade Gothic criticism of Hawthorne into the twenty-first century.

Beyond the Gothic strands of history and landscape, there would be another terrain for Gothic critics, namely the human psyche. This notion of the haunted Hawthorne was promulgated by such commentators as his first biographer (and son-in-law) George Parsons Lathrop. He praised Hawthorne for being the first author of note in the United States nourished in the New England spirit, but also referred to his incubation period in his "haunted chamber" in his mother's house on Union Street. Lathrop quotes from Hawthorne's Oct. 4, 1840, letter to his fiance Sophia in order to focus on an image of an alienated Hawthorne: "If ever I should have a biographer, he ought to make great mention of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind and character were formed" (Lathrop 130-31). The reviewer Alexander P. Japp goes so far as to identify Hawthorne with the protagonist in "P's Correspondence" by quoting from the fictional P's letter: "More and more I recognize that we dwell in a world of shadows; and, for my part, I hold it hardly worth the trouble to attempt a distinction between shadows in the mind and shadows out of it. If there be any difference, the former are rather the more substantial" (483). Japp concludes that "the pervading ghostliness of [Hawthornes] conceptions" comes from this shadowy existence that weighed upon Hawthorne. Certainly, that early assessment of a reclusive Hawthorne has been displaced by recent critics and biographers, (1) but the psychological approach to the haunted mind has promoted another strand of the Gothic that critics would favor. For example, the New Critic, Neal Frank Doubleday asserts that "In Hawthorne's work the familiar resources of the Gothic romancer are not used primarily to awaken terror or wonder but to embody a moral ... to make imaginatively concrete a truth of general and permanent significance or to symbolize a condition of mind or soul" (250). (2) Marjorie Elder describes Hawthorne's Gothic as building "on terror and horror" and moving "from physical terror to psychological horror" (84). Rita Gollin analyzes the Gothic dreamscapes of Hawthorne's protagonists and so delves into the psychological context of the Gothic.

Although the "haunted mind" motif could also be the focus of European Gothic, the unique blend of the troubling history and ferociously wild landscape of New England could not be analogous to the history and landscape of old England with its feudal castles and social castes, or so some critics have thought. …

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