Monumental Anxieties: Homoerotic Desire and Feminine Influence in 19th Century U.S. Literature

By Scott S. Derrick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1 Gender and the Scene of Writing
HOMOPHOBIA, THE FEMININE, AND NARRATIVE IN NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE'S THE SCARLET LETTER

It is sweet to be remembered and cared for by one's friends . . . sweet to think that they deem me worth upholding in my poor walk through life. And it is bitter, nevertheless, to need their support. It is something else besides pride that teaches me that ill-success in life is really and justly a matter of shame. I am ashamed of it, and I ought to be. The fault of a failure is attributable--in a great degree, at least--to the man who fails. I should apply this truth in judging of other men; and it behooves me not to shun its point or edge in taking it home to my own heart. Nobody has a right to live in this world, unless he be strong and able, and applies his ability to good purpose.

-- Hawthorne, letter to George Hilliard

This chapter is the consequence of a long process of thinking about Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter, a text that to a large extent has served as the genesis of this project as a whole.1 Hawthorne's introductory "The Custom-House" manifestly sets up the interrelations of masculine anxieties, feminine identifications, and authorship as subjects for consideration.2 He links an introduction that angrily advertises its alienation from conventional masculinity to the narrative that follows by establishing Hester Prynne's threatening A, which he finds in the Custom- House, as the origin of his writing project. The novel that follows constructs itself as a successfully completed and masculinity-confirming project by establishing mechanisms of exchange through which the cultural goods Hester's femininity signifies can eventually be commodified, misremembered, and absorbed by masculine literary culture. Prior to the text's reconsolidation of

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