Hawthorne, Nathaniel 1804-1864
American novelist, short-story writer, and author of children's history, biography, and mythology.
The following entry presents an overview of Hawthorne's career through 2002.
Although Hawthorne is best known for his classic American short stories and novels, such as The Scarlet Letter (1850), he also played a valuable role in the evolution of children's literature in America. He was the first significant American author to retell classic Greek myths for children—as collected in the volumes A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys (1851) and Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys: Being a Second Wonder-Book (1853)—and also published his "Grandfather's Chair" series that depicted American history and biography for a juvenile audience. Expressing his appreciation of young readers, Hawthorne commented that "[children] possess an unestimated sensibility to whatever is deep or high, in imagination or feeling, so long as it is simple, likewise. It is only the artificial and the complex that bewilder them." Though Hawthorne's distinct literary style, marked by his use of symbolism and fascination with the macabre, is evident throughout his children's works, scholars have noted Hawthorne's skill at addressing young audiences without condescension. Jon C. Stott has asserted that, "Hawthorne was the first major American author to approach the [children's literature] genre seriously."
Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1804. He read extensively as a child and knew from adolescence that he wanted to be a writer. Initially influenced by Shakespeare's plays and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Hawthorne's own writing was shaped by the moral allegories he found in these and other works. After graduating from Bowdoin College in Maine, he anonymously published his first novel, Fanshawe, in 1828. Fanshawe was ignored
by both readers and critics, and Hawthorne entered what biographer Randall Stewart calls the "Solitary Years." During this twelve-year period, Hawthorne travelled throughout New England, reading extensively and publishing over fifty short stories and sketches, mainly about the history of the region and the lives of its occupants. Though Hawthorne wanted to focus on more serious, adult texts, he began writing children's stories to reach a popular, established audience and to financially support himself as a writer. His first story for a juvenile audience was "Little Annie's Ramble," which was published in Youth's Keepsake in 1835. In collaboration with his sister, Elizabeth, Hawthorne contributed to Peter Parley's Universal History (1837) and published sketches in various juvenile periodicals. In 1838 Hawthorne proposed to poet Henry Wordsworth Longfellow that together the two could "revolutionize the whole system of juvenile literature" by collaborating on a book of children's stories, but nothing came of Hawthorne's proposal. Instead, Hawthorne worked at the Boston Custom House and lived one summer in the utopian community of Brook Farm. He did not publish children's literature again until 1841, when he released three children's works concerned with American history and biography—Grandfather's Chair: A History for Youth, Famous Old People: Being of the Second Epoch of Grandfather's Chair, and Liberty Tree: With the Last Words of Grandfather's Chair. In 1842 Hawthorne married Sophia Peabody, with whom he had three children. That same year, the couple moved to Concord, Massachusetts, and Hawthorne published a collection of youth-oriented biographical sketches titled Biographical Stories for Children. He served a political appointment in the Salem Custom House from 1846 to 1849, until the Democrats went out of power, and Hawthorne then began writing his most recognized work, The Scarlet Letter. After the popular success of The Scarlet Letter and amid a newfound self-confidence, Hawthorne entered a four-year period of extensive writing and publishing, which produced two novels, a collection of short stories, and his most popular children's works—A Wonder-Book for Boys and Girls and Tanglewood Tales. Referring to the latter two works, Hawthorne told his friend Richard Henry Stoddard, "I never did anything else so well as these old baby stories." Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864, allegedly from the symptoms of stomach cancer.
Writing children's stories provided Hawthorne with the artistic freedom to explore history, mythology, and truth through a completely different perspective than his adult fiction. In the preface to the original Grandfather's Chair, Hawthorne admits that he "sometimes assumed the license of filling up the outline of history with details, for which he has none but imaginative authority." This edition, along with Famous Old People and Liberty Tree, was collected as The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair, or, True Stories from New England History, 1620-1808 (1851). In order to make his history of the colonies up to the time of the Revolution interesting to children, Hawthorne utilizes three techniques. First, he tells the story through a narrator, an old man speaking to his grandchildren. Such a framework provides a setting similar to that in which his audience would most likely have been used to hearing stories—seated around a revered grandparent. Moreover, the children are characterized as representative types: the older two, Clara and Laurence, are sensitive and thoughtful; Charley is rambunctious and often inattentive; the youngest, Alice, is easily moved emotionally. Second, Hawthorne creates specific incidents, often domestic, to bring his historical personages to life. Hawthorne unifies the story around the old chair in which Grandfather is sitting, connecting the historical elements with the history of the chair, which was brought across the Atlantic by America's first Puritan settlers. In the preface to Biographical Stories for Children—which contains six sketches of such historical figures as Sir Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, and Queen Christina of Sweden—Hawthorne comments that the stories were written with "a deep sense of responsibility." This book was reissued along with The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair in 1851 as True Stories from History and Biography.
However, Hawthorne's retellings of Greek myths and legends for children, A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales, were his most popular juvenile works and represent what Jon C. Stott calls Hawthorne's "major achievement in children's writing." The release of both collections coincided with the Romantic revival that was peaking in America during the mid-1800s. While Hawthorne relied almost exclusively on Charles Anthon's 1842 reference work A Classical Dictionary to craft the myths, he allowed himself substantial liberties in editing and interpreting them. Hawthorne strove to make the stories accessible to children by modernizing them and injecting the tales with domesticity and characteristics of New England society. As Daniel Hoffman notes, the United States was still a young country at the time, and Hawthorne "was consciously attempting to provide his native land with a moralized mythology." Indeed, in the preface to A Wonder-Book, Hawthorne comments that the myths "are legitimate subjects for every age to clothe with its own garniture of manners and sentiment, and … imbue them with its own morality." Generally regarded as Hawthorne's most accomplished children's text, A Wonder-Book unfolds through framed scenes at a manor in the Berkshires called Tanglewood. Before he began composing A Wonder-Book, Hawthorne told his publisher that he planned on utilizing "a tone in some degree Gothic or romantic," and declared, "I shall purge out all the old heathen wickedness, and put in a moral wherever practicable." The stories are told to a group of children by their eighteen-year-old cousin Eustace Bright, a student at Williams College. He retells six myths, including the stories of Pandora, King Midas, and Hercules and the Golden Apples. In Tanglewood Tales, Eustace is still present but the framed narrative is abandoned, and the stories appear more as a collection than a unified book. One of Hawthorne's significant achievements was his ability to remove the generally disparaging, epic nature of the tales by softening or simply omitting evil, violence, and sexual references. As Jon C. Stott explains, whereas "the Greek myths often contained such intense emotions as jealousy, lust, and revenge, Hawthorne never allows these to appear," instead Hawthorne "often trivializes the negative drives of characters by referring to them as 'naughty.'"
Hawthorne's children's stories were well-received by popular audiences as well as his contemporaries, and critics of the era particularly commended the moral tendencies of his juvenile works. As one reviewer of Grandfather's Chair stated in 1841, "[w]e are glad to see this gifted author employing his pen to raise the tone of children's literature." An 1851 review of A Wonder-Book further praised, "[w]hether he write Scarlet Letters to the world, or disclose the remarkable inventions of wonderland to children, [Hawthorne's] resources are alike adapted to the occasion." Exploring the parallels between Hawthorne's children's literature and his adult fiction, some scholars have suggested that Hawthorne employs a personal mythology and revisits similar themes throughout his oeuvre. Yet as Hugh McPherson has noted, "[c]riticism has generally taken it for granted that the tales … are so simple" that they have "usually been ignored altogether, or dismissed with a genial nod…." However, all of Hawthorne's children's works have continued to be reprinted for modern audiences. Hawthorne's mythological works have received the most critical attention, while his historical and biographical stories have been largely overlooked by reviewers. A continuing debate has arisen around whether Hawthorne simply "garnished" the original myths in A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales, or if he actually molded the stories into something different through his revisions. As Annie E. Moore noted in 1934, Hawthorne "is still considered by some the arch offender in forcing classic grace and purity of form into what seems to them a sort of harlequin garb." Some recent critics, however, have argued in favor of Hawthorne's substantial revisions of classic legends. Gillian Avery has asserted that, "the transformation of these savage sagas of incest, rape, cannibalism and murder into gentle tales about children is unique." Of Hawthorne's two works of mythology, A Wonder-Book has been the most widely critiqued. Some, most notably Hawthorne scholar Nina Baym, have claimed that the book displays a harmony between author and audience that is rare throughout Hawthorne's works. Ellen Butler Donovan has also argued that A Wonder-Book contributed to a shifting reading culture that encouraged children to read for pleasure instead of scholastic reasons, noting that Hawthorne's implication that "children have and should cultivate the same aesthetic and imaginative power as adults" was revolutionary.
Fanshawe (novel) 1828
*Twice-Told Tales (short stories) 1837
Famous Old People: Being of the Second Epoch of Grandfather's Chair (children's history) 1841
Grandfather's Chair: A History for Youth (children's history) 1841
Liberty Tree: With the Last Words of Grandfather's Chair (children's history) 1841
Biographical Stories for Children (children's biography) 1842
The Scarlet Letter (novel) 1850
The House of the Seven Gables (novel) 1851
‡True Stories from History and Biography (children's history and biography) 1851
†The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair, or, True Stories from New England History, 1620-1808 (children's history) 1851
§A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys (children's mythology) 1851
The Blithedale Romance. 2 vols. (novel) 1852
Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys: Being a Second Wonder-Book (children's mythology) 1853
*Includes the short story "Little Annie's Ramble," which was originally published in 1835 in the journal Youth's Keepsake.
†Collects Famous Old People, Grandfather's Chair, and Liberty Tree.
‡Collects The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair and Biographical Stories for Children.
§This work was published in 1851 but is dated 1852.
Richard D. Hathaway (essay date spring 1961)
SOURCE: Hathaway, Richard D. "Hawthorne and the Paradise of Children." Western Humanities Review 15, no. 2 (spring 1961): 161-72.
[In the following essay, Hathaway explores Hawthorne's intentions and techniques in retelling classic Greek myths in A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys and Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys.]
Although Hawthorne's A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales seem to bear the considerable distinction of being our first versions for children of the classic myths, most critics, after a word of praise, pass over them as somehow beneath detailed consideration. Only Hugo McPherson has accorded them more than the paragraph or two usually found in histories of children's literature.1
Yet, as Arthur H. Quinn observes, Hawthorne's myths are more than just stories for children. In his preface to the Tanglewood Tales , Hawthorne tells us that he was trying to recover something of that "pure childhood of the world," that Golden Age before evil had yet existed. "Children are now the only representatives of the men and women of that happy era; and therefore it is that we must raise the intellect and fancy to the level of childhood, in order to re-create the original myths."2
Such celebration of innocence in Hawthorne's mythological books perhaps provides other reasons besides their artistic imperfections for the critics' passing them by. They do not fit into the picture of Hawthorne as the saturnine Paul Pry of the human heart, as the great nay-sayer amid the Concord Saturnalia of faith. But Hawthorne himself saw embodied in his total work a principle of balance and tension: balance between sunlight and shadow, innocence and experience, nature and art, country and city, Eden and civilization. Hawthorne expressed his awareness of this principle in writing to Horatio Bridge, after the completion of A Wonder-Book , that in his next book, "Should it be a romance I mean to put an extra touch of the devil into it, for I doubt whether the public will stand two quiet books in succession without my losing ground."3
That Hawthorne's mature work rejected the great American myth, the dream of Edenic bliss, is important.4 What is also important is that the myth, the generous hope, had a strong attractive power over his mind. This tension kept him from the unalloyed blackness of cynicism, gave his vision of life depth and warmth; like Melville's, also pulled taut between dreams of paradise and disillusionment, his mind sparkled with a strange, chiaroscuro fire. That the image of The Garden was in Hawthorne's mind at least during his honeymoon years in the Old Manse can be seen not only in the story "The New Adam and Eve" but also in the journal for those years. Despite Sophia's conviction that she felt a ghost haunting the place, they often referred to themselves as the new Adam and Eve frolicking in Eden; the abundance of their laden fruit trees, the generosity of kindly nature, seemed to symbolize the inward condition. "I seem to have cast off all care, and live on with as much easy trust in Providence as Adam could possibly have felt before he had learned that there was a world beyond Paradise. My chief anxiety consists in watching the prosperity of my vegetables…. It is as if the original relation between man and Nature were restored in my case…."5
Hawthorne, then, placed a higher value than have the critics on his holidays in Arcadia, his efforts to "raise the intellect and fancy to the level of childhood." The diffidence with which he handed Fields the manuscript of The Scarlet Letter and remarked that it was either very good or very bad was entirely absent in his confident remarks about his children's books. In his letters to his publisher, William D. Ticknor, references to Tanglewood Tales outnumbered those to The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables , and The Blithedale Romance combined. He spoke of his children's books in letters to several other friends with a distinctly complacent tone. To Richard Henry Stoddard he wrote just before the publication of the Tanglewood Tales that his retelling of the myths was "done up in excellent style, purified from all moral stains, recreated as good as new, or better, and fully equal, in their own way to Mother Goose. I never did anything else so well as these old baby stories."6 And in his story "Earth's Holocaust" it had been a copy of Mother Goose which had outshone, in brilliance and duration of its combustion, all other quarto volumes of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In Hawthorne's view of life and art, children were important.
In June 1851, when he sat down to write A Wonder-Book , Hawthorne had already established a place as one of our best and earliest writers of children's literature. He had written ephemeral pieces for the Peter Parley series and had adapted early New England history for children in the Grandfather's Chair stories. But a project of writing fairy stories or myths had lain in abeyance for a dozen years.
In 1838 Hawthorne had responded enthusiastically to Longfellow's suggestion of collaborating on a book of fairy stories and had already envisioned the device of a "slender thread of story running through the book as a connecting medium" which he was to employ in A Wonder-Book and elsewhere. Hawthorne proposed to play second fiddle in the enterprise and let Longfellow take the major share "of the fame which is to accrue. Seriously, I think a very pleasant and peculiar kind of reputation may be acquired in this way. We will twine for ourselves a wreath of tender shoots and dewy buds instead of such withered and dusty leaves as other people crown themselves with…. Possibly we may make a great hit, and entirely revolutionize the whole system of juvenile literature." When Longfellow backed out of the joint enterprise, Hawthorne replied, "Really, I do mean to turn my attention to writing for children." Despite Longfellow's refusal to let Hawthorne "blow a blast upon the 'Wonder Horn'" because of Longfellow's preference to "make all the music on his own instrument," Hawthorne threatened to "set up an opposition,—for instance, with a cornstalk fiddle or a pumpkin-vine trumpet."7 But Longfellow never did get around to the project, and Hawthorne had not yet found sufficient stimulus to do the work by himself.
The times were indeed propitious for such a book, as Hawthorne had judged. The romantic movement with its idealization of the child, the revolution in religious and secular education which was making school and church more child-centered and was softening the rigors of copybook memorizing, paved the way for one who would soften the cold outlines which had hitherto clothed the classic myths. Furthermore, the Greek revival of this period extended beyond architecture to other arts as well. Flaxman's drawings of classical subjects, which Sophia Hawthorne had carefully traced and which directly stimulated A Wonder-Book , were in fashion. "Plaster casts were in demand. The intellectuals were diverting the attention of the educated New Englander from exclusively Christian and Renaissance writings and iconography, and introducing Greek mythology as a subject which, considered afresh and with sympathy, would throw light upon the nature of the spiritual world."8
In the summer of 1851, Hawthorne was ripe, thawed by the success of his two masterpieces to the warmer mood he had known on his honeymoon. In the garden of the Lenox countryside and amid the clamorings of his two children, he was ready for a romp in Arcadia. Always a family man, he employed the four months following the completion of The House of the Seven Gables in a luxurious leisure, which his children recalled years afterwards as a children's paradise. "He made those spring days memorable to his children," wrote son Julian:
He made them boats to sail on the lake and kites to fly in the air; he took them fishing and flower-gathering, and tried (unsuccessfully for the present) to teach them swimming. Mr. Melville used to ride or drive up, in the evenings, with his great dog, and the children used to ride on the dog's back. In short, the place was made a paradise for the small people…. Our father was a great tree-climber, and he was also fond of playing the role of magician. "Hide your eyes!" he would say, and the next moment, from being there beside us on the moss we would hear his voice descending from the sky, and behold! he swung among the topmost branches, showering down upon us a hail-storm of nuts…. My father had mechanical talent, and with an old door-knob and some strips of shingle he would make a figure of a man with a saw; you fixed it to the edge of a table, set the door-knob swinging, and the creature would saw with the most absurd diligence.9
Out of this holiday emerged A Wonder-Book. Violating his usual rule of not writing during the summer months, Hawthorne dashed the book off in forty days in June and July of 1851. The White Whale was in his death-flurry a few miles away. Both books told of knightly quests and of hideous monsters; but, despite the romantic and gothic elements in both, no greater contrast in spirit could be imagined. Hawthorne's tales are not broiled in hell-fire: the wine in Baucis and Philemon's pitcher is changed to temperate milk; the miraculous pitcher overflows; and dragons melt at the touch of a heroic arm.
In writing, Hawthorne had a very specific audience in front of him. Una, aged seven, and Julian, aged five, had often pored over their mother's tracings of Flaxman's outline drawings of the ancient Greek myths and had heard their father tell the stories. Now, as fast as Hawthorne finished a story, he brought it forth from his study to read to his children, "nor did he disdain to listen" to their criticisms. They "approved of them, and wept over some of them, and got them all by heart."10 Never had Hawthorne been so conscious of his audience in writing; he had never read one of his books to Sophia until it was completed, lest, we suspect, he be swerved from his stern purpose by the one who later toned down the language in his notebooks before publishing them.
If we keep the ages of Una and Julian in mind and note Hawthorne's conscious surrender to his audience, we find much explained—the chattiness, the colloquial tone, the oversimplifications of complex stories. Critics like Lander MacClintock and May Arbuthnot complain of this violation of the original Greek spirit, but Hawthorne's prefaces show that he knew what he was doing. When Richard Henry Stoddard wrote some fairy stories, Hawthorne told him frankly that they were too complex for the comprehension of his youthful audience; Stoddard admitted his error.11 Charles Kingsley, retaining many of the complexities of the ancient myths and writing with more loftiness of language, won the plaudits of the purists with The Heroes, written in 1855; but Kingsley, whose children were ten and eight years of age at the time, was writing for an older audience than was Hawthorne. Even so, no one can defend such lapses of Hawthorne's taste as his frequent use of the words "naughty" and "gormandizer."
Everywhere, in both A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales , Hawthorne simplifies. By simplifying, he felt he could allow his theme to soar, for children "possess an unestimated sensibility to whatever is deep or high in imagination or feeling, so long as it is simple likewise. It is only the artificial and the complex that bewilders them."12 Rather than confuse the child with a quick succession of inadequately developed details, Hawthorne dwells on each event until he evokes a vivid image of it in the reader's mind. The more complex and lengthy stories of Jason, Theseus, or Perseus, with their fast action and multitudinous dragons, are ruthlessly cut down that the major events may be fully developed. The rescue of Andromeda by Perseus, which occupied Ovid for pages, is passed over in a sentence; the adventures of Jason subsequent to the capture of the Golden Fleece are completely eliminated. But Pegasus capering in the grass keeps us for a page, Proserpina pulling up the flower shrub for two, Europa playing with the white bull for four. Violence is subordinated to tableaux in pastel colors. The simpler stories, told by Hesiod and Ovid in a paragraph or two, gave Hawthorne's imagination freer scope; the tales of Midas, Baucis and Philemon, Pandora, the Pygmies swell to many times their original length.
Hawthorne's chattiness of manner reminds us constantly of his audience and draws us deliberately out of the past into the present. Gone are the stately rhythms, the rolling recitals of places, gods, and heroes, the epic tone that Kingsley tries to achieve, as in the following passage from The Heroes:
So they rowed on over the long swell of the sea, past Olympus, the seat of the immortals, and past the wooded bays of Athos, and Samothrace, the sacred isle; and they came past Lemnos to the Hellespont, and through the narrow strait of Abydos, and so on into the Propontis, which we call Marmora now.13
In contrast, Hawthorne keeps before us the image of his young audience, Primrose, Periwinkle, Cowslip, etc., circling the storyteller, a student from Williams College:
Was Theseus afraid? By no means, my dear auditors. What! A hero like Theseus afraid! Not had the Minotaur had twenty bull heads instead of one. Bold as he was, however, I rather fancy that it strengthened his valiant heart, just at this crisis, to feel a tremulous twitch at the silken cord, which he was still holding in his left hand.14
In writing to James T. Fields of his intentions regarding A Wonder-Book , Hawthorne said that "I shall aim at substituting a tone in some degree Gothic or romantic, or any such tone as may best please myself, instead of the classic coldness, which is as repellent as the touch of marble." He added that "of course, I shall purge out all the old heathen wickedness, and put in a moral wherever practicable."15 In accomplishing his purpose, Hawthorne creates a world both miraculous and modern, a world of sunshine and moonlight, a paradise of children. In this miraculous world only the eye of faith, of the little child, sees the wondrous Pegasus; monsters swell to unseemly size though they are always slain; yet the gods are cut down to human proportions, their dignity deflated by humor that goes far beyond the Homeric laughter.
Such liberties with the stories have aroused critics like May Arbuthnot to statements about the travesty of thus trifling, for example, with "the dignity of the gods."16 Hawthorne anticipated such barbs in the frames surrounding the stories by having Mr. Pringle hurl them at Eustace Bright, the young storyteller:
Pray let me advise you never more to meddle with a classical myth. Your imagination is altogether Gothic and will inevitably Gothicize everything that you touch. The effect is like bedaubing a marble statue with paint. This giant, now! How can you have ventured to thrust his huge, disproportioned mass among the seemly outlines of Grecian fable, the tendency of which is to reduce even the extravagant within limits by its pervading elegance.17
Eustace replies with Emersonian self-reliance that "an old Greek had no more exclusive right to them than a modern Yankee has," that he has a right like their ancient authors to hold the stories "plastic" in his hands, to have an original relation to the world of fable, and to infuse warmth of heart into the "cold and heartless" perfection of the classical shapes that "have done all subsequent ages an incalculable injury." Hawthorne thus adds one more pronouncement to the declarations of American literary independence. He might have said, too, that Gothicism was the height of modern fashion and was beginning to crowd out the Greek revival: thus were united the Gothic, the romantic, and the contemporary.
Why, Hawthorne seems to ask, should he worry about preserving "the dignity of the gods," those vengeful and bickering deities who were a part of the system of "old heathen wickedness" that he had promised Fields to purge and to replace by modern morality. Accordingly, Hawthorne ignores the gods wherever possible. When they do appear, they are never called gods, but are merely miraculous and mysterious characters on a level with other magical elements. The voice of Athena guiding Cadmus is an unidentified voice from nowhere. When Jason encounters Juno in the form of an old crone at the river bank, we are not told her real identity, and there is only a hint that she is a supernatural personage. Hawthorne's preternaturalism, the familiar shadow-boxing with the supernatural, appears often. Perseus sees, out of the corner of his eye, wings on Mercury's cap which disappear when Perseus gazes straight at them. Mercury himself has become a jolly and helpful sprite named Quicksilver who reappears in several of the stories with such touches as the suggestion that the snakes twined about Quicksilver's staff reached out to lap up some of the milk spilled from the miraculous pitcher.
Hawthorne's relaxed approach carries over into some of his high-spirited characterizations. Phoebus Apollo, to whom Ceres appeals for help in finding Proserpina, is an elegant but cowardly dilettante who spends his time thrumming on his lyre. He turns the heartaches of others into sentimental songs, very tender and touching, but "when a poet gets into the habit of using his heartstrings to make chords for his lyre, he may thrum upon them as much as he will, without any great pain to himself." Sweet singers of Hartford take notice.
"Proserpina! Proserpina, did you call her name?" answered Phoebus, endeavoring to recollect; for there was such a continual flow of pleasant ideas in his mind that he was apt to forget what had happened no longer ago than yesterday. "Ah, yes, I remember her now. A very lovely child, indeed. I am happy to tell you, my dear madam, that…. You may make yourself perfectly easy about her. She is safe and in excellent hands…. Gold, diamonds, pearls and all manner of precious stones will be your daughter's ordinary playthings … even in spite of the lack of sunshine she will lead a very enviable life.
Phoebus, who as he spoke "kept touching his lyre so as to make a thread of music run in and out among his words," concludes by asking the distraught mother to stay a moment "and hear me turn the pretty and touching story of Proserpina into extemporary verses."18
Humor is injected into the myths in other ways. The three Grey Sisters become old crones named Scarecrow, Nightmare, and Shakejoint, and the ensuing buffoonery is straight from Disneyland. For the adults looking over the children's shoulders, there is an occasional satiric thrust, such as the satire on Mexican War jingoism which runs through the story of the Pygmies:
Then the Pygmy army would march homeward in triumph, [after the giant had routed their enemies, the cranes, for them] attributing the victory entirely to their own valor, and to the warlike skill and strategy of whomsoever happened to be captain-general; and for a tedious while afterward nothing would be heard of but grand processions, and public banquets, and brilliant illuminations, and shows of waxwork, with likenesses of the distinguished officers, as small as life.19
This story, the last of the series to be written, is perhaps the best of them all. Replete with a sample of spread-eagle oratory and vignettes of the pygmies playing hide-and-seek in the giant's beard, this opéra bouffe owes more to Gulliver and the Lilliputians than to Ovid.
More subtle as satire is the description of some of the Argonauts. Atalanta, who "talked much about the rights of women, and loved hunting and war far better than her needle," is a Boston bluestocking; the sons of the North Wind are symbolic of puffers and quacks of all sorts. Transcendental seers appear as
prophets and conjurers, of whom there were several in the crew, and who could foretell what would happen to-morrow, or the next day, or a hundred years hence, but were generally quite unconscious of what was passing at the moment…. Lynceus saw a whole day's sail ahead, but was rather apt to overlook things that lay directly under his nose. If the sea only happened to be deep enough, however, Lynceus could tell you exactly what kind of rocks or sands were at the bottom of it; and he often cried out to his companions that they were sailing over heaps of sunken treasure, which yet he was none the richer for beholding. To confess the truth, few people believed him when he said it.20
In the process of bringing the stories down, or up, to a child's level, Hawthorne has sentimentalized them considerably. The stories chosen often emphasize the parent-child relationship; the relationship of mother and child, usually de-emphasized in Greek myths, here becomes primary. The theme of separation of mother and child, one of the stock themes of the sentimental writers of the 1850s, recurs again and again. The mothers of Europa and Proserpina search sadly through the Wide, Wide World for their lost daughters; the mothers of Perseus and Theseus watch their sons go off to make their way in the world, with Pluck and Luck, amid monstrous dangers. The separation of King Midas from his daughter Marygold, an element that accounts for half the charm of that story, is original invention.
Although Hawthorne emphasizes the parent-child relationship, he ignores or even suppresses the husband-wife relationship. Never a wedding bell rings. Is the discreet omission of the marriage of Perseus and Andromeda merely for greater simplicity? We are willing to grant that, even if the results are a bit ludicrous to adults, the rape of Europa and Proserpina cannot be dealt with openly. But when Theseus and Jason leave Ariadne and Medea behind with their cruel fathers as they sail away into the sunset, we think of the sentimental novels of the 1850s that harped on a daughter's duty to her elders. There was no Byronism for the young. And most desperately coy is the conclusion of "The Dragon's Teeth," in which Cadmus settles down to dwell in his new palace with "his new friend Harmonia." "Before many years went by there was a group of rosy little children (but how they came thither has always been a mystery to me) sporting in the great hall…."21
One result of this emasculation of the stories is the transformation of the heroes into adolescent boys with big muscles and courage but little else. Take away the Greek sense of an overarching fatality which puts man at the mercy of the gods, take away the passions which drive men to action, and this is what is left. Into only one of the stories of the monster-slayers, that of Bellerophon and Pegasus, does Hawthorne manage to breathe something of the "ardor, the generous hope, and the imaginative enterprise of youth." In this, one of the best of the tales, Hawthorne's imagination soars and there are no obvious flaws to thump us back to earth.
In changing Pandora, Proserpina, and Europa from young women into little girls, Hawthorne not only skirts the pitfalls of sex, but helps his young readers achieve that imaginative identification necessary to fullest enjoyment. Hawthorne transports us to an innocent Eden where Europa, Marygold, Proserpina, and Pandora frisk in the sun-drenched meadows, laden with flowers; where even Ovid's feast of Baucis and Philemon becomes a meagre meal, flowing with milk and honey instead of flesh and wine.
In creating this land of innocence, Hawthorne was adding his bit to one of the great American myths. That here in this new world civilization was being reborn, purged of its corruptions, a phoenix rising out of the ashes of the past, a new Eden in the wilderness, was an image that determined the framework for much thought about the nature and destiny of America. In the symbol of Eden were summed up all the romantic yearnings for escape from the burden of the past, of time, of original sin, of the hard, implacable fact. The dream of an uncorrupted human nature, with its freedom from anxiety and the dark necessity, was epitomized in the celebration of childhood and its innocence. Children, good Emersonians all, live in the present and have no sense of history. In the minds of children, then, Hawthorne would create afresh the new Eden, the wonderland, reborn in a new form, as in the childhood of the world.
Hawthorne, unlike many other romancers of his time, is notable for the degree to which children figure in his stories. We could hardly dispense with Pearl or Ned Higgins. Though childhood is often treated realistically, as in the imps who torment Ilbrahim and Pearl, in these Greek myths childhood becomes instead a symbol of unspoiled innocence. "Unless ye become as little children ye shall not see the kingdom of God," might have been the motto of certain aspects of the romantic movement. Significantly, in the story of Bellerophon and Pegasus the elders cannot see the winged horse; only the little child by the fountain of Pirene and Bellerophon, the guileless youth, can see him. The elders cannot believe in this symbol of aspiration and soaring hope. When Bellerophon, innocent of all meanness, offers Pegasus freedom, Pegasus returns his trust by refusing to leave. And when Medea escapes from the palace, showering precious stones down on the heads of the people, the children take them dutifully back to the king. The gospel of childhood innocence never received more astounding affirmation.
When Hawthorne turns to the Pandora myth, his garden of Eden appropriately becomes a paradise for children. Porter Lander MacClintock, endorsed by May Arbuthnot, speaks of the "mere babble, the flippant detail, under which he has covered up the grim Titanic story of the yearnings and strivings of the human soul for salvation here and hereafter, the very deepest problems of temptation and sin, of rebellion and expiation …" and goes on to call the original version "a complex and mature myth."22
On looking at Hesiod, who gives us the original myth in its only detailed form, we marvel at Mr. MacClintock's ability to identify with the eighth century B.C.'s idea of maturity. Hesiod's story tells of a vengeful Zeus who plans to get even with Prometheus by plaguing man with an evil creature called woman; Zeus gives her bewitching charms but a "deceitful nature" within: she is a "sheer, hopeless snare." Epimetheus makes the mistake of taking Pandora, as a gift from Zeus, and the fatal opening of the lid is entirely her fault. Her act is an expression of the mischief-making nature given her by the gods, apparently unmotivated even by the curiosity which later authors injected into the story. The moral of the story is dark: "Earth is full of evils and the sea is full…. So is there no way to escape the will of Zeus." Later tellers of this tale, including Hawthorne, softened the fatalism by having Hope escape last from the jar to be a comforter to mankind; but in Hesiod, Hope is imprisoned firmly by Zeus's will "in an unbreakable home within under the rim of the great jar, and did not fly out at the door" and there is no record that she ever did escape. Hesiod's conclusion, that from Pandora sprang "the deadly race and tribe of women … no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth," provides a challenge to the pious, unwealthy classicist's complexity and maturity—and to his ability to keep a straight face. Children and other innocents may find themselves preferring even Hawthorne's sentimentalized and more Christian version of the tale.23 Here, Epimetheus fully acquiesces in Pandora's disobedience, thereby bringing the story closer to the Biblical version of the Fall.
Hawthorne's dramatic equivalents for the fall of man make it emotionally comprehensible to children that man's entry into time should be both an evil and a blessing. The garden of eternal children symbolizes a timeless world which has no thought of tomorrow or yesterday, no cares, and no sin. The penalty of the children's curiosity is the introduction of time, growth, and death. Here Hawthorne has an equivalent for the paradox of the Tree of Knowledge that children can understand. Growth, like knowledge, is both penalty and compensation. As children well know, curiosity is both the joy and dismay of parents. And every child is anxious to grow up, though he often envies his younger brother and wants occasionally to revert to the simpler life of infancy. The mature dilemma of the nineteenth-century romantic, torn between primitivism and Progress, is foreshadowed in childhood.
The idea which R. W. B. Lewis finds at the heart of Hawthorne's mature thought, that of the Fortunate Fall, the Return into Time, finds in the Pandora story an expression which, although disturbingly colloquial in its language, is at once simple and profound; it serves as a fitting example of what Hawthorne meant when he said that "we must raise the intellect and fancy to the level of childhood" in recreating these myths. Hawthorne concludes, when Hope, "a cheery little body," pops out of the box, that though it was uncommonly wrong for Pandora to do so, "I cannot help being glad that our foolish Pandora peeped into the box." Despite the Troubles that "have increased in multitude rather than lessened," "Hope spiritualizes the earth; Hope makes it always new."24 Theologians had tried for centuries to make emotionally convincing the idea that man's fall from innocence had been both a great sin and a good thing.
Despite the fascination which childhood and paradise held for Hawthorne, he realized that responsibility and the dead weight of the past are the price of growing up, that sin and evil are the lot of man. But his realism was ever balanced against a consciousness of sunshine. Witness this passage from his notebook for August 30, 1842:
And behold! the sun came back to us, and brought one of the most perfect days that ever was made since Adam was driven out of Paradise. By the bye, was there ever any rain in Paradise? If so, how comfortless must Eve's bower have been! and what a wretched and rheumatic time must they have had on their bed of wet roses! It makes me shiver to think of it. Well, it seemed as if the world was newly created yesterday morning, and I beheld its birth; for I had risen before the sun was over the hill, and had gone forth to fish. How instantaneously did all dreariness and heaviness of the earth's spirit flit away before one smile of the beneficent sun! This proves that all gloom is but a dream and a shadow, and that cheerfulness is the real truth. It requires many clouds, long brooding over us, to make us sad, but one gleam of sunshine always suffices to cheer up the landscape. The banks of the river actually laughed when the sunshine fell upon them….25
That Hawthorne could be generous as well as realistic in his estimates of human nature is shown in the sentence which Julian Hawthorne, who perhaps wanted to make his father over in his mother's image, quotes as taking us "deep into the secret places of Hawthorne's spirit": "But I want the earth—her great, round, solid self—to endure interminably, and still to be peopled with the kindly race of men, whom I uphold to be much better than they think themselves."26
Hawthorne, for all his realization that man must return from eternity into time, that Eden must be lost, that children must grow up, that Carlyle's "world out of clothes" must be clothed, could not keep his imagination from returning to that more idyllic state. He imagines Zenobia "clad in Eve's earliest garment," and he creates the fantasy of a New Adam and Eve returning to Boston, mysteriously emptied by the last trump, and there poking among the useless products of man's artifice: gold and silver and silks, so much rubbish. The end of time is thus connected with man's origins in Paradise. The end is the beginning: the fire, the garden, and the rose are one. In another of his visions of "the world out of clothes," "Earth's Holocaust," Hawthorne sees a great bonfire on the western prairies in which all the dead weight of the past perishes—books, gallows, wine barrels, ecclesiastical paraphernalia, law. But even as he silently approves of the spectacle and enjoys, as in his children's tales, the moral holiday from time, he adds that the whole project is useless unless the human heart also be purged in the fire. One cannot escape so easily from the past; Hester and Dimmesdale cannot run away. As the saying goes, for every sin rooted out, a New Englander will invent a new one.
Hugo McPherson, "Hawthorne's Major Source for His Mythological Tales," American Literature, XXX (November, 1958), 364-365.
"Hawthorne's Mythology: A Mirror for Puritans," University of Toronto Quarterly, XXVIII (April, 1959), 267-278. Most of this article concerns works other than Hawthorne's mythological tales.
The present study was written at the suggestion of George N. Kummer of Western Reserve University.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, Works (New York, 1923), VII, 171.
- Horatio Bridge, Personal Recollections of Nathaniel Hawthorne (New York, 1893), p. 127.
- Charles L. Sanford has examined this myth in "The Garden of America," Modern Review, XCII (July, 1952), 23-32 (Calcutta, India). His subsequent articles on this subject are supplemented by his book, The Quest for Paradise: Europe and the American Moral Imagination (Urbana, Illinois, 1961). See also R. W. B. Lewis, The American Adam (Chicago, 1955).
- Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. American Note Books (Boston, 1870), II, 78. Entry for August 13, 1842.
- Julian Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife (Boston, 1885), I, 462.
- Samuel Longfellow, The Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Boston, 1886), I, 280, 298.
- Edward Mather, Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Modest Man (New York, 1940), p. 205.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, I, 396 f; also Julian Hawthorne, Hawthorne and His Circle (New York, 1903), pp. 29, 26.
- Julian Hawthorne, Hawthorne Reading (Cleveland, 1902), p. 123.
- Hawthorne and His Wife, I, 460.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, Works VII, vi.
- Charles Kingsley, The Heroes (New York, 1954), p. 90.
- N. Hawthorne, Works, VII, 201.
- James T. Fields, Yesterdays with Authors (Boston, 1881), letter of May 23, 1851.
- May Arbuthnot, Children and Books (Chicago, 1947), pp. 265, 284.
- Hawthorne, Works, VII, 108.
- Ibid., p. 315 f.
- Ibid., p. 214.
- Ibid., 348 f.
- Ibid., p. 262.
- Quoted in Arbuthnot, Children and Books, from Porter Lander MacClintock, Literature in the Elementary School (1903), p. 122.
- Hesiod, translated by H. G. Evelyn-White, Loeb Classical Library (London, 1914), pp. 9, 123.
- Hawthorne, Works, VII, 78.
- Hawthorne, American Notebooks, p. 93 f.
- Hawthorne Reading, p. 98.
Daniel Hoffman (essay date 1964)
SOURCE: Hoffman, Daniel. "Myth, Romance, and the Childhood of Man." In Hawthorne Centenary Essays, edited by Roy Harvey Pearce, pp. 197-219. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1964.
[In the following excerpt, Hoffman examines Hawthorne's view toward the enduring nature of myths and the significance of this perspective on Hawthorne's children's literature and adult fiction.]
"No epoch of the time can claim a copyright in these immortal fables…. Certainly, so long as man exists, they can never perish; but, by their indestructibility itself, they are legitimate subjects for every age to clothe with its own garniture of manners and sentiment, and to imbue with its own morality." So Hawthorne confidently introduced his A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys in 1851, a redaction of myths so popular that he offered a sequel, Tanglewood Tales , two years later. Hawthorne had timed his myth books shrewdly, for the romantic revival of myth reached its height in America in the 1850's.1 As Douglas Bush has said, speaking of English poetry, "The fundamental impulse of the mythological renascence was contained in the romantic protest against a mechanical world … stripped, as it seemed, of imagination and emotion, of beauty and mystery…. The old allegorical tradition, which had never quite died, took fresh root in romantic idealism and flowered again in rich mythological symbols."2 Hawthorne in his own tales combines myth with the allegorical tradition; in his children's books he allegorizes myths and substitutes "a tone in some degree Gothic or romantic" for what seemed to him "the classic coldness … as repellant as the touch of marble,"3 Toward his young readers, Hawthorne professed little condescension, saying that "children possess an unestimated sensibility to whatever is deep or high, in imagination or feeling, so long as it is simple likewise." Yet sometimes he treats them with such ponderous coyness as, "The king's palace attained to the stupendous magnificence of Periwinkle's baby-house." Nonetheless, these tales still have power to hold children from play, if not the old from the chimney corner. The trials, conflicts, and triumphs of myths are indeed indestructible.
Hawthorne's statement on the imperishability of myths may serve as one wedge by which to split apart some of his other works to observe the grain to which their narratives conform. Like his Yankee woodcarver in "Drowne's Wooden Image" —a tale that garnishes the myth of Pygmalion—Hawthorne is likely to try to liberate the form he finds inherent in his materials. The narrative structures provided by myths were a source of strength in his best writings. As his fables of artists alone would show, his is a mythopoetic art: an art precariously poised between the opposing claims of allegory, romance, and realism, between the "morality" and the "manners" of the age. A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales engaged Hawthorne's fancy rather than his imagination; for in them, he undertook only to garnish, not to remake as his own, the stories he chose from Homer or Ovid or Anthon's Classical Dictionary.4 Yet some of the important themes and sources of the imagery in his fiction are sketched in these books of myths for children.
Take, for instance, his attitude toward childhood and toward the Age of Myth as the childhood of man. The latter notion is, of course, a common place made attractive both by Romantic idealization of the child and by progressive theories of cultural evolution. A confusion of myth with childhood seems a boon to the redactor of ancient legends: Kingsley, whose version for children, The Heroes, appeared only two years after Tanglewood Tales , wrote of the Greeks, "While they were young and simple they loved fairy tales as you do now. All nations do so when they are young."5 The United States, barely three score and ten, was a young country, too; and, as we shall see, Hawthorne in his early tales was consciously attempting to provide his native land with a moralized mythology. To retell Greek myths to American children would seem a blessing of the youth of one nation with the fruits of the youth of another. Yet Hawthorne, speaking of stories similar to Kingsley's, finds them "brimming with everything that is most abhorrent to our Christianized moral sense." Some are "hideous," others "melancholy" and "miserable"; among these the Greek tragedians "sought their themes, and moulded them into the sternest griefs that ever the world saw; was such materials the stuff that children's playthings should be made of?"
But Hawthorne makes these objections only to refute them. One notes, however, that the objections are made in his own voice, the rebuttals by his auctorial persona, Eustace Bright. This fictive narrator of Tanglewood Tales answers Hawthorne,
The objectionable characteristics seem to be a parasitical growth, having no essential connection with the original fable. They fall away, and are thought of no more, the instant he puts his imagination in sympathy with the innocent little circle, whose wide-open eyes are fixed so eagerly upon him. Thus the stories (not by any strained effort of the narrator's but in harmony with their inherent germ) transform themselves, and reassume the shapes which they might be supposed to possess in the pure childhood of the world.
Even at this level of discourse, however, Hawthorne cannot refrain from a gentle ironic peroration, casting doubt on what had seemed as clear as an article of belief:
When the first poet or romancer told these marvellous legends (such is Eustace Bright's opinion), it was still the Golden Age. Evil had never yet existed; and sorrow, misfortune, crime, were mere shadows which the mind fancifully created for itself, as a shelter against too sunny realities; or, at most, but prophetic dreams, to which the dreamer himself did not yield a waking credence. Children are now the only representatives of the men and women of that happy era; and therefore it is that we must raise the intellect and fancy to the level of childhood, in order to re-create the original myths.
In addition to the sinister suggestion that the mind even then created evil, his praise of childhood must be qualified by the inexperience of the youthful Eustace. A mere college student, he has not yet crossed the threshold of his own life into the realm of responsible action. Whether for better or for worse, this is the progress all of Hawthorne's heroes must make. That Eustace Bright's romantic views of both childhood and prehistory are sentimental illusions, we may infer from the way he himself tells the story of Pandora's Box. Characteristically, in A Wonder-Book , Hawthorne has Eustace give his tale of the coming of woes into the world an optimistic title, "The Paradise of Children." We find the infantine Pandora with idle hands and, consequently, about to get into mischief:
But children led so easy a life, before any Troubles came into the world, that they had really a great deal too much leisure. They could not be forever playing at hide-and-seek among the flower-shrubs, or at blind-man's-buff with garlands over their eyes, or at whatever other games had been found out, while Mother Earth was in her babyhood. When life is all sport, toil is the real play. There was absolutely nothing to do. A little sweeping and dusting about the cottage, I suppose, and the gathering of fresh flowers (which were only too abundant everywhere), and arranging them in vases,—and poor little Pandora's day's work was over. And then, for the rest of the day, there was the box!
Hawthorne cannot conceive of the Golden Age without foreboding. In "The May-Pole of Merry Mount," much more powerfully than here, it is a reproach to say, "O, people of the Golden Age, the chief of your husbandry was to raise flowers!" There, too, "the whole colony were playing at blindman's buff, except a single scapegoat, whom the blinded sinners pursued by the tinkling bells at his garments." A paradise of children indeed. In few authors is the longing for paradise as poignant as in Hawthorne. He dramatizes his conviction that the nature of man must have been different before the Fall. Aware that salvation would have been impossible without the commission of sin, he always renders prelapsarian characters as incomplete, wanting in the fatal knowledge whose lack denies them full humanity. This is plain in Hawthorne's treatment of Pearl and of Donatello; both are children of nature and bring into The Scarlet Letter and The Marble Faun (subtitled The Romance of Monte Beni) the equivocal values of Merry Mount. What further makes impossible Hawthorne's unqualified approval of a Golden Age is its very essence, so clearly dramatized in the Maypole story. A Golden Age is, of course, a time outside of time, a living eternity, such as Heaven is and Eden once was, but not a life like ours. In his fiction, Hawthorne's characters must live in our life; and therefore, the maypole is hewn down by iron Puritans, Pearl is received into society at her father's confession of guilt, and Donatello can be transformed from fauna to humanity after his commission of an original sin.
Yet Hawthorne does uphold the purity of childhood in which Eustace Bright believes. This quality is crucial to Bellerophon's pursuit of Pegasus. In "The Chimaera," the hero must bridle the winged horse in order to conquer the monster. Inquiring at the Fountain of Pirene, fortunately "Bellerophon put his faith in the child, who had seen the image of Pegasus in the water, and in the maiden who had heard him neigh so melodiously, rather than in the middle-aged clown, who believed only in cart-horses, or in the old man who had forgotten the beautiful things of his youth."
Again the legend merely imitates what Hawthorne had already expressed with deeper resonance in his own fiction. Yet in his tales the power resides in myths adapted to his needs. In "The Snow Image" (1848), he had offered with sustained charm the fancy of having children named for flowers (as are Eustace Bright's "little auditors") create an imaginary playmate of snow, who lives only as long as her life is believed in. The tale is subtitled "A Childish Miracle," and this indeed it is; for Violet and Peony bring their playmate to life by the power of faith—a faith in the reality of the imagination. Thus far Hawthorne has invented something midway between a Concord fairy tale and a transcendental saint's legend. By placing the imaginative purity and faith of the children against the blundering skepticism of their father, the hardware merchant, he turns his "legend" into a delicate yet dramatic statement of the difficulty of artistic creation in a society ruled by rationalism and materialism.
As was true of the Lindsey children's snow-sister, Owen Warland's butterfly soared or drooped according to the observer's desire to believe in it. But in "The Artist of the Beautiful," it is Baby Danforth who smashes to pieces the artist's supersensual mechanism. There the child is not the possessor of imagination but the inheritor, from his Grandfather Time, of enmity toward the creations that seek to live in eternity. The eternity toward which Owen Warland aspires is indeed as remote from our sufferings as was the Golden Age, but the artist can triumph where the revelers at Merry Mount failed. He does not achieve eternity in life as they thought to do; his transfiguration of time is imaginative and endows his spirit with imperishable blessings. How else could Owen endure such isolation, being left with but a handful of broken spangles?
"The Artist of the Beautiful" well illustrates how Hawthorne made his narrative and its supporting metaphors from mythic prototypes of action and image. As was true in "Drowne's Wooden Image," the origin of artistic creation is the artist's love of beauty. Although Owen Warland does not, like Drowne, try to reproduce the beauty of the woman he loves, the other alternative suggested for Shem Drowne's success is true of Warland: his passion brings to life the image he has made. In Owen's image, however, Hawthorne substitutes for the Pygmalion legend a suggestion from the story of Psyche, that the soul is bodied forth as a butterfly. The life cycle of the insect provides organic imagery in the descriptions of Owen's appearance: his sinking into a stuporous fatness after his setback, and his bursting forth in the glory of his successful achievement. Yet the underlying structure of the story is borrowed from, or rather dramatizes, still another myth, Diotima's account in The Symposium of the ladder of love. When we follow the course of Owen's devotion from Annie Hovenden, his chosen muse, to love of all beautiful things, thence to love of the idea of beauty, we are reconciled, as Owen is, to his losing the hand of the girl to a bluff, simple blacksmith. Annie, the daughter of Father Time, could not have understood what Owen was up to; but by the time he knows this, he no longer needs her. Owen's progress is philosophically consistent, although, like transcendental theory, a little cold on the human side.
Although much of this tale is based upon classical myths, the story is unmistakably localized in New England. This is only partly due to its circumstantial atmosphere, almost local color. Hovenden's is an actual shop with real clocks, Annie a believably flirty village girl, Danforth a stout-hearted blacksmith. Yet these realistic persons are fairly allegorized. Hovenden is called Father Time, and his role surely suggests Hawthorne's aversion to the Newtonian conception of God as the Watchmaker in a mechanistic universe. Annie, the artist's muse, is inescapably Father Time's daughter, while her successful suitor is, like the unsuccessful Owen, an artisan of sorts—a fellow metal-worker at that. These relationships go far toward humanizing and localizing, as well as making allegorical, Hawthorne's fable of the artist's lonely pursuit in opposition to all of society's expectations for him. Imprisoning the artist in a clockshop is one of Hawthorne's happiest inventions, a beautifully complete image of the time-serving, spirit-killing, machine-mastered non-life that is taken as the norm by a materialistic culture. How can the artist escape his servitude to time? Hawthorne's answer, while illustrating Platonic and transcendental aesthetics, also takes advantage of those energies of the local scene that might be pressed into the service of a native myth or an analogue of myth. The industrial revolution of course made fascination with machinery as common an attitude as repulsion by it, and Owen Warland shows both feelings. He is repelled by naked power—his fear of the steam engine perhaps anticipates Henry Adams' recognition of the dynamo as the centrifugal image of the age. Yet Warland is a master mechanician on a scale his feelings and senses can control. He is a sort of Yankee inventor par excellence; though to escape from the prison of time he foregoes all Down-East shrewdness and works with no thought of gain other than that spiritual gain for which one must renounce the goods of this world. And that, too, is a strain that runs deep in the native character. Inventing a mechanical butterfly more perfect than any natural creature—a machine, yet alive—Owen completes this image for the spiritualization of matter. His gadget is perfectly adapted to his purpose, and the artist's pride in outvying the hand of nature—so like that of Dr. Rappaccini or Aylmer, in whom heart and head are fatally separated—is hardly perceptible. For Owen has not worked his will at anyone else's expense; and in the end he can accept the destruction of his handiwork because his joy was in the process of creating perfection, not in possessing it.
- In an appendix to Mythology and the Romantic Tradition in English Poetry (Cambridge, 1937), Douglas Bush has listed American poems on mythical subjects. In the sixty years between 1786 and 1845, there were published but fifteen, while thirty appeared in the next two decades (pp. 577-79). In 1855 appeared both Bulfinch's Age of Fable and Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha.
- Bush, op. cit., pp. 526-27.
- Hawthorne's letter to James T. Fields, quoted by G. P. Lathrop in his Introductory Note to Hawthorne's Works (Boston, 1883), IV, 10.
- See Hugo McPherson, "Hawthorne's Major Source for His Mythological Tales," American Literature, XXX (November, 1958), 364-65.
- Charles Kingsley, The Heroes; Or, Greek Fairy Tales for My Children , (New York, 1882), p. 20.
Nina Baym (essay date winter 1973)
SOURCE: Baym, Nina. "Hawthorne's Myths for Children: The Author versus His Audience." Studies in Short Fiction 10, no. 1 (winter 1973): 35-46.
[In the following essay, Baym asserts that Hawthorne departs from classic mythology to satisfy his audience and to present "a private vision in a public guise" in such works as A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys and Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys.]
Hawthorne wrote two books of myths for children during the most prolific period of his literary career, A Wonder-Book for Boys and Girls in the summer of 1851, and Tanglewood Tales early in 1853. A new study, Hugo McPherson's Hawthorne as Myth-Maker (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969), is the first work on Hawthorne to take them seriously. Besides analyzing at length Hawthorne's use of his source (apparently Hawthorne consulted no ancient or classical texts, but relied entirely on a scholarly reference work, Anthon's Classical Dictionary), McPherson argues that the narratives are central to Hawthorne's work because they are informed by a ubiquitous "personal myth" that is partly autobiographical, partly archetype, and that contributes importantly to the shape of his other writings as well. A critical approach that looks for a private vision in an author's handling of traditional narratives is, of course, unexceptionable. Still, narratives whose patterns are largely fixed may function to release an author from the grip of his own fantasies, freeing his imagination for other literary concerns. The departures Hawthorne made from his source may be ascribed, as McPherson maintains, to the working of a personal vision, but they may also be understood, as I shall attempt to show, entirely in terms of Hawthorne's perceptions of audience needs and tastes.
It is virtually tautologous to say that in designing tales for children the question of audience becomes paramount. If the narratives are not of the author's own devising, then his major technical concern (regardless of his reasons for undertaking the work in the first place—relaxation, income, or the like) must be how to modify these narratives to suit a conception of childish sensibility. This conception may be his own, but if his book is to succeed it must also match a public idea of the mind of the child. Therefore, the audience Hawthorne must consider is not simply composed of children; over the heads of his young readers and listeners he must address the adult reading public. If, as a writer of romances, Hawthorne might demand a certain suspension of audience preconceptions as the condition for experiencing his poetic vision, he certainly could expect no such accommodation in the case of children's stories. Moreover, Hawthorne was always deeply convinced that an author who is to succeed must present his works in a fashion at once acceptable and appealing to his readers. A major literary problem for him was to embody the products of his isolated and unique sensibility in a conventional public rhetoric. Indeed, the various entrepreneurial stylistic strategies that operate throughout his works—the whole apparatus of authorial intervention with its accompanying range of tones—can be understood as methods of presenting a private vision in a public guise. Thus the children's myths, by forcing this problem into particular prominence, isolate a concern of central relevance to Hawthorne's works.
In the prefaces to A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales , Hawthorne divides his task in two: first, to elaborate the basic narratives in a manner suitable to contemporary taste; second, to edit them into compatibility with contemporary morality. Although his two books have the same purported aims, they are strikingly different in format and effect. The differences are owing largely to differing emphases on these two parts of his task. He had written to his publisher before beginning A Wonder-Book that he planned on "substituting a tone in some degree Gothic or romantic … instead of the classic coldness which is as repellent as the touch of marble."1 This idea of gothicizing the myths dominates his handling of them in A Wonder-Book. In Tanglewood Tales , questions of propriety eclipse questions of taste. Hawthorne has gone beyond the surface of the myths to confront their substance, and discovered that they required less embellishment than purification.
A Wonder-Book exhibits a rare sense of harmony between Hawthorne's own view of things and the assumed view of his audience. He seems certain that his readers will share his preference for the gothic. In Tanglewood Tales there is a characteristic posture of tension, strain, and antagonism toward the audience. Hawthorne knows that the changes he is making in the myths will please his readers; he is also aware that they cut out the power and meaning of the myths. Forced by the nature of moral feelings into dealing dishonestly with his material, he suffers the discomforts of hypocrisy.
Structural differences between these works are obvious at a glance. A Wonder-Book has an elaborately developed framing situation that is actually so carefully carried through the whole work that it provides an over-all atmosphere to which the myths contribute, rather than an artificial set of links. The scene opens in autumn at Tanglewood, a manor in the Berkshires, where "not less than nine or ten … nor more than a dozen" children "of all sorts, sizes, and ages,… brothers, sisters, and cousins, and a few of their young acquaintences" are going on a nutting party (p. 16). They are chaperoned by a family cousin, a youth named Eustace Bright, who is eighteen years old and a student at nearby Williams College. During a break in the nutting expedition, he amuses the children by fashioning an extempore version of one of the Greek myths with which, presumably, his college education is familiarizing him. Each of the six myths is similarly placed in a season and on an occasion of frolic at Tanglewood; a full year elapses during the work, and there are scenes set outdoors and within, on the hillside, in the playroom, by the fireside.
Besides connecting the myths one to another, this frame contains a great deal of landscape description—a sort of writing very little found in Hawthorne's works—and much picturing of the comfortable and leisurely ways of a pleasant, affluent style of life. We see the myths, indeed, to be important precisely for what they can contribute to this way of life, and thus they are a significant function of the occasions that call forth their narration. They are importantly related, too, to the youthful energetic optimism of Eustace; and Hawthorne is at great pains to present them as his extempore, spoken tales. Lastly, they are directed in the text toward the group of children whose presence goes far to control their tone. These children are depicted as lively, joyous, and playful beings, and given such names as Blue Eye, Primrose, Sweet Fern, Dandelion, Clover, Squash-Blossom, etc., etc., as though to stress the innocent and blossomy qualities of childhood.
In contrast, Tanglewood Tales has no frame. Having moved away from the Berkshire country in the interim between these two works, Hawthorne was apparently no longer imaginatively engrossed in it, and he describes his new establishment at The Wayside in only cursory fashion in the preface. Eustace too appears in the preface to deliver his manuscript to Hawthorne (the editor) but has no other role. The tales do not in their style bear the impress of his personality, and Hawthorne does not try to pretend that they are oral narratives. Thus divorced from speaker, setting, and audience, the myths become discrete, formal literary entities. There is no evident principle of sequence nor (barring some such subterranean unity as McPherson discusses) a discernible relationship between the tales. Where A Wonder-Book is a unified work, Tanglewood Tales is a collection.
Because A Wonder-Book blends a number of different genres into its totality, it is by far the more technically interesting of the two books. In his collections of short stories, Hawthorne had tried to combine his plotless realistic sketches with his narrative tales in some coherent fashion; he had also been concerned to achieve a variety of tones and moods. But he had not really succeeded in welding the various elements together. A Wonder-Book represents his one success in this manner. The unifying conception holds things together; the random sketches acquire pointedness when they become frames. Within the context of quotidian leisure, Currier-and-Ives renditions of childhood frolics, and extensive wordpaintings of the Berkshires (after Irving's treatment of the Catskills), the myths add a note of the supernatural and fantastic. A slight gothic shiver, a touch of magic, a hint of moonshine, are imparted into the sunny round of homely pleasures. Almost as a by-product, a certain picture of the place of the poet in the comfortable, satisfied, common-sense world of the American gentry emerges in Eustace and his role—half patronized, half patron—within the family.
In this setting, the myths are both gothicized and tamed. Stripped of all their real strangeness, they display instead a kind of fanciful whimsy. They are divested of their emotional ferocity and their archaic moral and religious significances and references, and are turned instead to the function of whiling away the empty hours of children whose parents are well off. A Homeric Greek would have been astonished at the virtues that Hawthorne makes these tales demonstrate. Three of them—the stories of Hercules, Bellerophon, and Perseus—are shaped into adventure stories pure and simple. Their heroes display courage, modesty, ambition, and a gentlemanly competitiveness; they are incipient Horatio Alger characters. The other three tales—of Pandora, King Midas, and Baucis and Philemon—are curiously developed as domestic stories, stressing simplified familial relationships: the childish squabblings of Pandora and Epimetheus (both children in Hawthorne's versions, whose real trouble is an inability to play together nicely), the love between King Midas and his little daughter Marygold (Hawthorne's invention), and the sedate, grandparently, mutual devotion of Baucis and Philemon. It is not difficult to see that the adventure stories are directed toward boys, the domestic stories toward girls, and that they exhibit a conventional socializing didacticism, inculcating feminine and masculine virtues appropriate to the places assigned to the sexes in society.
This didacticism is, however, fairly subdued; on the whole Hawthorne does not distinguish the children by sex but groups them all together as possessors of a certain kind of imaginative sensibility. Appealing to this imagination, Hawthorne used chiefly the technique of embroidering the myths with masses of fanciful yet concrete visual detail. The great bulk of Eustace's narratives is, in fact, description, of such objects as Mercury's staff, Perseus' shield, Pandora's box, Midas' golden roses, until A Wonder-Book becomes, as its title promises, a treasury of wonderful objects. In a sense, Hawthorne does not so much narrate the myths as decorate them. This taste for furnishings becomes the focus of a brief debate between Eustace and the head of the Tanglewood household and spokesman for the older generation, Mr. Pringle. After having listened to Eustace's tale of the three golden apples, Pringle advises the youth "never more to meddle with a classical myth. Your imagination is altogether Gothic, and will inevitably Gothicize everything that you touch. The effect is like bedaubing a marble statue with paint. This giant [Atlas] now! How can you have ventured to thrust his huge, disproportioned mass among the seemly outlines of Grecian fable, the tendency of which is to reduce even the extravagant within limits, by its pervading elegance?" (p. 135). Eustace had described Atlas at length, saying among other things that he was "tall as a mountain; so vast a giant, that the clouds rested about his midst, like a girdle, and hung like a hoary beard from his chin…. An ancient forest had been growing and decaying around his feet; and oak-trees, of six or seven centuries old, had sprung from the acorn, and forced themselves between his toes." (pp. 125-126)
The older man holds traditional Augustan ideas about the classical—its qualities are believed to be balance, order, harmony, abstraction, and above all rationality. Eustace's gothicizing is evident both in his concentration on details at the expense of harmonious outlines, and in the sort of detailing his imagination prefers—detail selected for its "sensational" quality, its picturesqueness, its effect, rather than for intellectual or moral qualities or for esthetic balance. Eustace does not deny the correctness of Pringle's analysis of the Greek mind or his own. He defends himself by maintaining that the "fables are the common property of the world, and of all time," and that no age or nation has an exclusive right to them. This echoes Hawthorne's words in the preface, where he writes that the myths "are legitimate subjects for every age to clothe with its own garniture of manners and sentiment, and to imbue with its own morality" (pp. 135, 13). Thus, Eustace's view is Hawthorne's. Further, Eustace holds that "the Greeks, by taking possession of these legends,… and putting them into shapes of indestructible beauty, indeed, but cold and heartless, have done all subsequent ages an incalculable injury" (pp. 135-136). Without going so far as to say that the Greek forms represent corruptions of a superior original, he goes beyond a simple relativism of taste to suggest that the fables have an intrinsic, original warmth and passion that the classic versions have somehow lost. In the main, his is a routine romantic attack on neo-classicism, couched in familiar Hawthorne polarities: youth against age, present against past, emotion against reason, heart against head. Given the date of A Wonder-Book , Hawthorne can scarcely have imagined that he was breaking any ground in this sort of attack; more likely, Pringle serves as a dramatic foil for bringing out Eustace's more timely and popular esthetic.
There is, however, real disparity between Eustace's theory and his practice. For though he claims to be attempting to reimbue the myths with their original warmth of heart, passions, and affections, his gothicizing achieves nothing of the sort. Where human emotions are concerned, these myths are superficial, and deliberately so. Eustace's imagination expends itself in the invention of wonders: the liveliness of the stories stems from his intellectual ingenuity. His imagination is cunning and fertile, but is a mental rather than an emotional faculty, distinguishing itself by cleverness rather than insight. The gothic imagination, as it is embodied in Eustace Bright, actually works against such romantic ideals as emotional intensity, human warmth, or depth of passion. This disjunction between a theory of the gothic where it represents the return of life to art, and a practice where in fact it is equivalent to surface decoration, is to be explained by the controlling stereotype of the child's imagination.
This imagination is on the one hand more impressionable, intuitive, perceptive, "poetic" than the adult imagination, which has bound itself by rules and which has become deadened by experience and routine. For example, in the story of Bellerophon Hawthorne paints a fascinating sketch of a little boy who waits by the well with the hero—a silent, lonely, intense little boy who alone among the people has once seen Pegasus, and whose faith is largely responsible for keeping up Bellerophon's hopes. This little boy in a sense stands for Bellerophon's own imagination; and it is the belief in the extra-mundane as represented in the imaginative receptivity of the child. But on the other hand this imagination operates in an emotional and experiential void, a void which moreover constitutes its moral quality of innocence and which therefore must not be tampered with. Literature for the child must be purely imaginative in that it has no human substance to work on, is therefore directed away from reality rather than toward it. The imagination here does not enrich reality by fuller awareness of it—as Thoreau and Emerson defined imagination—but rather seeks to escape reality by reaching, like Poe, toward a supernal world. Unlike Poe, however, the child as Hawthorne sketches him is incapable of conceiving of fear or horror; part of its inexperience is the total absence of pain from its world. As Hawthorne suggests in the story of Pandora, suffering is not inherent in the child's life; knowledge of suffering, and the experience of it, signals adulthood. It is no accident that in Eustace, Hawthorne has in fact created the embodiment of such an imagination, for Eustace is himself an inexperienced lad, as Hawthorne laughingly comments, who had reached "the venerable age of eighteen years,' so that he felt quite like a grandfather towards Periwinkle, Dandelion, Huckleberry, Squash-Blossom, Milkweed, and the rest, who were only half or a third as venerable as he" (p. 17). Eustace is different from his young charges only in his greater intellectual store, and his stories therefore emanate from the same sort of imagination as that for which they are designed. From this point of view Eustace is a real technical triumph, for he resolves all Hawthorne's difficulties and is a perfect go-between for Hawthorne and his readers.
This concept of imagination blends Rousseausistic notions common to many romantic works—Blake's songs, Wordsworth's immortality ode, Emerson's Nature—of the intrinsic poetic nature of the child, with the popular notion of the innocence, even angelicisim, of childhood. Hawthorne makes such a blend when he writes in the preface to A Wonder-Book that "children possess an unestimated sensibility to whatever is deep or high, in imagination or feeling, so long as it is simple, likewise. It is only the artificial and the complex that bewilder them" (p. 14). Because of this coincidence of Romantic and Victorian modes of thought (modes which for Hawthorne were generally in total opposition, because he perceived one as stressing self-fulfilment, the other duty) A Wonder-Book represents a rare union of the author with his audience. He had found common ground in a shared idea of children.
The fusion breaks apart, however, in Tanglewood Tales , because Hawthorne has shifted his attention from matters of form and taste to matters of substance. In Tanglewood Tales , as the formal and technical differences between it and A Wonder-Book indicate, Hawthorne has become preoccupied with the myths in and for themselves. His source remains the same; but in the eighteen months that had elapsed since writing A Wonder-Book , his conception of the Greek versions of the myth had undergone a total alteration. These are now characterized as "old legends" which are "brimming over with everything that is most abhorrent to our Christianized moral sense,—some of them so hideous, others so melancholy and miserable, amid which the Greek tragedians sought their themes, and moulded them into the sternest forms of grief that ever the world saw" (p. 209). Gone is Greek lucidity, rationality, seemliness—in its place Hawthorne discerns a literature of suffering and horror. The pervading quality of the classic is no longer elegance but sternness. Far from coldly eliminating the human heart, the Greek versions of these fables everywhere face and seek to master the heart's wildness and woe. Where Hawthorne faulted the Greek myths in A Wonder-Book , then, for their elegant indifference to human life, they are now criticized for their lack of restraint, their passionate extremeness. The classic myths are not "classic" at all—if anything, they are overly romantic. Hawthorne must now admit the entire unsuitableness of these narratives for children, or else relinquish the stereo-typed view of children on which he founded his whole enterprise. The former is the line he takes: "Was such material the stuff that children's playthings should be made of? How were they to be purified? How was the blessed sunshine to be thrown into them?" (p. 209)
The second of these questions recalls Hawthorne's own particular authorial difficulty of sustaining a sunny atmosphere in his romances. The key word purified in his first question suggests a more general problem in writing for Victorian audiences—the difficulties caused by the extreme literary prudishness of the public. This prudery expunged whole areas of human life from literary existence and thus operated (in the opinion of many authors) against realism, against depth, and finally against moral significance in fiction. Problems whose existence could not be acknowledged could not be dealt with. The surgery Hawthorne had to perform on the myths to make them acceptable to his public, he realized now, cut out the quick.
The preface to Tanglewood Tales presents an ingenious version of the theory he had implied in the debate between Pringle and Eustace, the theory of an "Ur-myth" of which the Greek version is an inferior corruption. But where, in A Wonder-Book , Hawthorne imagined the original fables to be full of the life that the classic versions so sadly lack, in Tanglewood Tales the original fables most conveniently turn out to lack all of the moral offensiveness of the Greek stories. In order to eliminate the objectionable elements from the myths, Eustace explains to Hawthorne, narrators need only put themselves in sympathy "with the innocent little circle, whose wide-open eyes are fixed so eagerly upon them. Thus the stories (not by any strained effort of the narrator's, but in harmony with their inherent germ) transform themselves, and reassume the shapes they might be supposed to possess in the pure childhood of the world." So proceeding, the narrator discovers that the myth's immoralities "seem to be a parasitical growth, having no essential connection with the original fable." (p. 209)
The original myths, Eustace explains, were created in the veritable Golden Age when "evil had never yet existed, and sorrow, misfortune, crime, were mere shadows." This age is long since over, and "children are now the only representatives of the men and women of that happy era; and therefore it is that we must raise the intellect and fancy to the level of childhood, in order to recreate the original myths" (pp. 209-210). Raising the intellect and fancy means, not reattaining the warmth of heart and affection in the fables, but divesting them of these same qualities. Of course Hawthorne knew that the concept of a Golden Age had no historical validity; Anthon's Dictionary presents a picture of the myths as slow, historical accretions incorporating narrative threads and ritual elements from the entire Mediterranean region as well as Asia Minor, but says nothing of origins in the Golden Age. Indeed, the author of The Scarlet Letter and "The Gentle Boy" probably knew that neither the race nor the individual had such a pure childhood as he takes for granted in these myths. And he is careful in the preface to attribute this unscholarly and naive theory of the beginnings of myth to Eustace's immaturity rather than his own experienced view. "I let the youthful author talk as much and as extravagantly as he pleased, and was glad to see him commencing life with such confidence in himself and his performances. A few years will do all that is necessary towards showing him the truth in both respects" (p. 210). The disagreement between Hawthorne and his narrator—the touch of contempt, even, which Hawthorne betrays for Eustace's shallowness, is an indication of the conflict that Hawthorne now recognizes between material and audience, for Eustace had been the form of the fusion of the first book, the mediator between content and reader. Once again we see Hawthorne in his characteristic stance of defensiveness and tension toward his readers; once again he is observed in familiar ambiguities and ambivalences. For he asserts that the adjustments necessitated by the moral sensibility of the present age constitute an improvement on the classic versions even as he makes clear that these improvements cut the human heart out of these same classics.
We may sense Hawthorne's new view, and the uneasiness that it leads to, throughout Tanglewood Tales in the altered tone of the second set of stories. A very precarious lightness and sweetness that he had maintained in A Wonder-Book gives way to a sort of sly parody and overt clowning. The sly parody occurs when Hawthorne turns his face toward his audience, and he is mocking their moral expectations even while satisfying them—e.g., when he remarks in the midst of a lengthy description of Europa being beguiled by the bull that "the bull had so much intelligence it is really wonderful to think of" (p. 272), or comments, "well, my stars! was there ever such a gentle, sweet, pretty, and amiable creature as this bull, and ever such a nice playmate for a little girl?" (ibid.). The clowning may be perceived when Hawthorne turns to the myths themselves and attempts to cut them down to the size that he has chosen (perversely, it must have now seemed to him) as appropriate for them.
Without going so far as to say that the tales in this collection were chosen to duplicate elements of the first in order to let Hawthorne repeat his earlier success line for line, we may note that there are almost systematic repetitions. In the event, they show the peculiar warping process to which Hawthorne is now subjecting the stories and the noble themes that they are supposed to illustrate. The mighty Hercules of "The Three Golden Apples" is simply a humorous butt in his adventures among the pygmies, and a buffoon Antaeus replaces the gothic Atlas. The simple if cloyingly sentimental relation between King Midas and his daughter is thrown askew curiously when Hawthorne repeats it in King Pluto and Proserpina. By making Proserpina a little child, Hawthorne avoids having to deal with Pluto's reasons for abducting her; but the anomalous relationship he substitutes (the stereotyped father-lover-protector relationship of so much Victorian fiction) raises, for a twentieth-century reader, more problems than it settles. The poetic relationship between man and magic beast in the story of Pegasus and Bellerophon and their joint victory over the Chimaera are cruelly parodied in the story of Europa and the bull and the fruitless quest of Cadmus. The former is a story of fulfilment and finding, the latter of loss and hopes unsatisfied. At the end of the story Cadmus is rewarded for all his suffering by becoming a king and getting Harmonia, but it was not Harmonia for whom he was seeking.
The theme of hospitality and of enchanted food and drink is wickedly twisted from the simple harmless magic of the story of Baucis and Philemon, where the pitcher refills itself and the loaf is never used up, to the story of Circe, where the hostess is malicious and the guests gluttonous and the banquet a study in decadence. An important motif in the story of Perseus is that of the supernatural helper; the cheerful and lighthearted Mercury (called Quicksilver) and his wise and serene sister Minerva provide the hero with encouragement, aid, and company. This motif becomes ambiguous and full of undercurrents in the story of Jason, who is aided by the dangerous and equivocal Medea. "If Jason had been capable of fearing anything, he would have been afraid of making this young princess his enemy; for, beautiful as she now looked, she might, the very next instant, become as terrible as the dragon that kept watch over the Golden Fleece." (p. 407)
Indeed, viewed in the light of the first set of stories, the second collection has a strange topsy-turvy quality; in a word, it is less innocent. Before he was aware of the dangers these myths posed, Hawthorne handled them with ease; in Tanglewood Tales , his new awareness everywhere impeded him. He cannot resist the temptation to let the reader know what pitfalls he is avoiding, what dangers he is skirting. In so doing, of course, he puts these dangers and pitfalls bodily into his stories. Discussing the relationship of Theseus and Ariadne, he remarks that
some low minded people, who pretend to tell the story … have the face to say that this royal and honorable maiden did really flee away, under cover of the night, with the young stranger whose life she had preserved. They say, too, that Prince Theseus (who would have died sooner than wrong the meanest creature in the world) ungratefully deserted Ariadne, on a solitary island, where the vessel touched on its voyage to Athens. But, had the noble Theseus heard these falsehoods, he would have served their slanderous authors as he served the Minotaur!
Hawthorne's alternative is to have Ariadne reject Theseus out of duty and love for her father. "Hard as you think his heart is, it would break to lose me. At first King Minos will be angry, but he will soon forgive his only child; and, by and by, he will rejoice, I know, that no more youths and maidens must come from Athens to be devoured by the Minotaur. I have saved you, Theseus, as much for my father's sake as for your own. Farewell! Heaven bless you!" (p. 244). Like a "before-and-after" advertisement, this sequence demonstrates the virtues of Hawthorne's version by reminding us of the wickedness of the original. It also encapsulates the process of improving a myth by making its most objectionable passages the occasion for noble sentiments. But the grossness of the sentimentality, and the incredible falsity of its emotions, make the sequence a virtual parody of the process it illustrates.
Evidence from his life and internal evidence in the works combine to suggest very strongly that authorship for Hawthorne even in the best of times was a vocation full of difficulty and strain. The sources of his difficulties were many, but among them was the sense Hawthorne had of being at odds with his public. He sincerely wished to be a popular author in the full sense of the word: he wanted, that is, to write a popular work from his heart. This state of sympathy with the common heart was something, however, that he could not achieve simply by wishing or willing it. Alternately his writings assert the moral priorities of the private poetic vision and of the general consensus; and his work is full of attempts to mediate between the pulls of the private and the public. It is not impossible that, thinking of the myths as no more than a kind of märchen, and standing on common ground with his readers in the idea of an innocent childhood, he saw the task of writing children's stories as one especially well suited to depict the author as a public sort of writer. These books might not merely be financially successful; they would be good publicity, good for Hawthorne's "image." The sourness of the second set of tales might well be the reflection of Hawthorne's dismay as he saw his old ghosts coming back to haunt him, and found in these baby stories the very problems he had thought to escape.
- Quoted in the introductory note to A Wonder-Book for Boys and Girls, in Vol. IV of the Riverside Edition of Hawthorne's Works (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1883), p. 10. This volume also contains Tanglewood Tales and will be the text used for page references.
Carol Billman (essay date spring 1982)
SOURCE: Billman, Carol. "Nathaniel Hawthorne: 'Revolutionizer' of Children's Literature?" Studies in American Fiction 10, no. 1 (spring 1982): 107-14.
[In the following essay, Billman examines Hawthorne's depictions of childhood and the moral and social undertones in his retellings of Greek myths, arguing that Hawthorne "celebrates the innocence of and possibilities before children" in nineteenth-century America "by telling them classical myths."]
The late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries mark the beginning of a tradition of imaginative literature for children. In Europe and Asia such collectors as the Grimms, Asbjornsen and Moe, Jacobs, Lang, and Afanasiev brought native tales to children and adults alike, and original fantastic fiction written explicitly for children appeared as well, as in the British outpouring by such writers as Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, and John Ruskin. In America, however, there was no comparable development. While a plethora of trade (as opposed to text) books were published by mid-century, the stories were for the most part thinly-cloaked parables teaching conventional moral and social standards, from the short tales in McGuffey's tiresome readers to the book-length exempla of Jacob Abbott.1 And the works for children by respected American writers tended to be, although not expressly didactic, at least considerably less magical or fantastic than the contemporary British offerings; The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Leatherstocking books, for instance, are firmly set in the American landscape. Working in this literary context, Nathaniel Hawthorne published two collections of Greek myths for children, A Wonder-Book in 1852 and Tanglewood Tales in 1853. Hawthorne himself spoke of the novelty of this endeavor; writing to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about the potential of such stories as Pandora's box, he admitted,
I am terribly harassed with magazine scribbling, and moreover have had overtures from two different quarters, to perpetrate children's histories and other such iniquities. But it seems to me that your book will be far more creditable, and perhaps quite as profitable; nor need it impede any other labors. Possibly we may make a great hit, and entirely revolutionize the whole system of juvenile literature.2
A sample of Hawthorne's earlier juvenile literature can be examined as a standard by which to measure his retellings of the myths. In 1851, the year before A Wonder-Book was published, True Stories from History and Biography was reissued. An example of those children's stories Hawthorne told Longfellow he found tedious, True Stories includes three works Hawthorne published some ten years earlier with Elizabeth Peabody—Grandfather's Chair, Famous Old People , and Liberty Tree —as well as Biographical Stories for Children , first published in 1842.3 In his Preface to Grandfather's Chair , Hawthorne acknowledges he has "sometimes assumed the license of filling up the outline of history with details, for which he has none but imaginative authority."4 But what his reworkings seem to emphasize, more than the addition of descriptive detail, is moral and social prescription. In his Preface to Biographical Stories , he says "the author regards children as sacred, and would not, for the world, cast anything into the fountain of a young heart, that might embitter or pollute its waters" (p. 214). In fact, he takes care to inculcate lessons to preserve the sacredness of his audience's hearts.
Biographical Stories includes six sketches of diverse historical figures: Benjamin West, Sir Isaac Newton, Samuel Johnson, Oliver Cromwell, Benjamin Franklin, and Queen Christina. Hawthorne's treatment of the child queen of Sweden illustrates his method. As he points out in the link to the tale, "if we have any little girls among our readers, they must not suppose that Christina is set before them as a pattern of what they ought to be. On the contrary, the tale of her life is chiefly profitable as showing the evil effects of a wrong education" (p. 275). Taught by her father, King Gustavus, the political and military knowledge bestowed usually on crown princes, she is tenderly reared by the king until he goes off to war and leaves Christina to the guardianship of five leaders of state. It is at this point, the audience is told pointedly, that trouble begins: "But these wise men knew better how to manage the affairs of state, than how to govern and educate a little girl" (p. 279).
As Christina's life is recapitulated, the narration is broken by evaluation of Christina's inappropriate education and her ill temper:
She grew up, I am sorry to say, a very unamiable person, ill-tempered, proud, stubborn, and, in short, unfit to make those around her happy, or to be happy herself. Let every little girl, who has been taught self-control, and a due regard for the rights of others, thank Heaven that she has had better instruction than this poor little Queen of Sweden.5
When she died in 1689, no one "regretted her death, nor planted a single flower upon her grave. Happy are the little girls of America, who are brought up quietly and tenderly … and thus become gentle and delicate women!" (p. 283). Thus Hawthorne uses Christina's story as a way of educating young girls, represented in the frame of Biographical Sketches by Emily Robinson, a friend of the ailing Edward Temple and among those to whom Mr. Temple addresses his six stories. She is put off by Queen Christina; and while Mrs. Temple assures her that a woman can have a strong business mind "without losing any of her natural delicacy" (p. 284), Hawthorne's didactic biography teaches nothing of the sort.
In his two succeeding children's anthologies, Hawthorne once again adapts rather than creates his material, this time presenting the classical myths. And again he takes the liberty of recasting his chosen subject matter.6 Because of the difference in source materials a new approach might be expected, particularly in view of the fact that Hawthorne regarded the earlier collection as a "school book," while it was the myths that were to "entirely revolutionize … juvenile literature."7 Furthermore, his remarks in the Preface to A Wonder-Book suggest that his reshaping will not take the form of intrusive moralization:
The Author has not always thought it necessary to write downward, in order to meet the comprehension of children. He has generally suffered the theme to soar, whenever such was its tendency…. Children possess an unestimated sensibility to whatever is deep or high, in imagination or feeling, so long as it is simple likewise. It is only the artificial and the complex that bewilders them.8
Hawthorne also indicates in this preface the direction his revisions have taken: "In the present version, they may have lost much of their classical aspect … and have perhaps assumed a Gothic or romantic guise" (pp. 3-4).
By creating a narrator for the six tales comprising A Wonder-Book —Eustace Bright, a college student who tells the stories to a group of children at Tanglewood with such fanciful names as Primrose, Periwinkle, Clover, Dandelion, and Squash Blossom—Hawthorne makes conspicuous the fact that these tales are the refashioned products of a modern-day storyteller. This frame of teller and audience systematically links the stories of Perseus and the Gorgon's Head, King Midas, Pandora, Hercules and the Golden Apples, Baucis and Philemon, and Pegasus and Bellerophon. Bright finds the tale of Pandora a perfect selection for children because it is "a story of … a Paradise of Children" (p. 63). What becomes clear in the tale is that while respecting the purity of childhood, the narrator regards this pure innocence susceptible to dangerous counsel and hence needful of instruction.
Hawthorne's version of the story of Pandora's curiosity does, to be sure, involve Gothic gilding or decoration, for example, the description of the box Pandora cannot resist:
The most beautiful face of all was done, in what is called high relief, in the centre of the lid. There was nothing else, save the dark, smooth richness of the polished wood, and this one face, in the centre, with a garland of flowers about its brow.
But the most notable embellishments are not the decorative descriptions but Bright's editorial comments. He renders judgment on virtually every aspect of the tale, even the box itself: "And many a kick did the box—(but it was a mischievous box … and deserved all it got)—many a kick did it receive!" (p. 71).
Pandora, of course, is chastised:
And then the thought came into her naughty little heart, that, since she would be suspected of having looked into the box, she might just as well do so, at once. Oh, very naughty, and very foolish Pandora! You should have thought only of doing what was right, and of leaving undone what was wrong.
Nor are her playmate Epimetheus' faults overlooked: for one, the audience is told that he was too fond of figs and as a result of his appetite left Pandora alone with the box. More importantly, after lecturing Pandora on the danger of curiosity, he is an accomplice in the fatal opening:
Thus, after all his sage speeches to Pandora about restraining her curiosity, Epimetheus turned out to be quite as foolish, and nearly as much in fault, as she. So, whenever we blame Pandora for what happened, we must not forget to shake our heads at Epimetheus likewise.
Finally, lest the applicability of the truths set forth in the story be missed, Hawthorne, in keeping with contemporary didactic literature for children, has his narrator speak sternly and explicitly to his listeners:
Just imagine, my little hearers, how busy your wits would be, if there were a great box in the house, which … contained something new and pretty for your Christmas or New Year's gifts! Do you think that you should be less curious than Pandora?
In 1853 Hawthorne published more classical myths collected under the title Tanglewood Tales. As is often the case with sequels, Tanglewood Tales does not, in its larger framework at least, show the originality of its predecessor.9 While Eustace Bright and his audience of children are evident within the tales themselves, no links perpetuate the dramatic situation. But there is an introductory note in which Hawthorne, not Bright, questions the project. Can these myths possibly be made suitable for children:
I did not quite see, I confess, how he could have obviated all the difficulties in the way of rendering them presentable to children. These old legends, so brimming over with everything that is most abhorrent to our Christianized moral sense … was such material the stuff that children's playthings should be made of!
The six tales in this anthology—"The Minotaur," "The Pygmies," "The Dragon's Teeth," "Circe's Palace," "The Pomegranate-Seeds," "The Golden Fleece" —point up the fact that Hawthorne's reshaping has taken a decided turn away from romanticizing and gothicizing toward further purifying and preaching. Because it is also a tale of the dangers of curiosity and willfulness, "The Pomegranate-Seeds" offers a useful comparison to the tale of Pandora and Epimetheus in A Wonder-Book. Rather than add ornate description, Hawthorne concentrates on reducing the tale, most evidently the character of Pluto. No longer an abductor in any sexual sense of the word, Hawthorne's king of the underworld is a lonely and not altogether wicked man who would like companionship in his dark quarters. Eager to please in an avuncular way, he asks Proserpina,
Do you see this splendid crown upon my head? You may have it for a plaything. Oh, we shall be very good friends, and you will find me more agreeable than you expect, when once we get out of this troublesome sunshine.
And later he pleads with her, "I wish you could like me a little better. We gloomy and cloudy-natured persons have often as warm hearts at bottom, as those of a more cheerful character" (p. 323).
Hawthorne's moralizing comments (delivered by Bright) complement his bowdlerization of impurities, as is best demonstrated by the actual abduction scene at the outset of the tale. Pluto comes riding out of a hole in the earth and addresses Proserpina politely, "Do not be afraid…. Come! Will not you like to ride a little way with me, in my beautiful chariot?" (p. 300). Before he actually carries her off, the narrative is stopped to allow for remarks on the futility of Proserpina's seeking her mother's help now that the child has wandered away from Ceres. This is only the first instance of Hawthorne's turning his tale into a parable concerning the sin of disobeying parental advice. Later he manages to turn a conventional taboo—the edict that Prosperpina not eat anything while in the underworld—into the context for promoting the good eating habits taught by parents:
Pluto had caused her to be tempted day after day, with all manner of sweet-meats, and richly preserved fruits, and delicacies of every sort, such as young people are generally most fond of. But her good mother had often told her of the hurtfulness of these things; and for that reason alone, if there had been no other, she would have resolutely refused to taste them.
Even in his "book[s] of fairy tales," then, Hawthorne does not forsake the making-over inclinations exhibited in his earlier biographies; and in both collections, but especially Tanglewood Tales , the reshaping primarily takes the form of overt moral and social prescriptions. As Richard Henry Stoddard writes in the January 1853 issue of National Magazine, "there is something of the old Puritan about all he writes."10 Hawthorne once wrote to Stoddard that he read Pilgrim's Progress as a boy on rainy days, and his myths show that he perpetuates the tradition of moral allegory for children.11
Perhaps Hawthorne's aim to be a popular and hence financially successful children's author helps to explain his didacticism.12 He knew what his buying adult audience expected in their children's books, and to make money he gave it to them, moral exempla in True Stories and a sort of modern Ovid Moralise in the collections of myths. To make the myths marketable, a facelift was surely in order. As psychologist Bruno Bettelheim points out, the myths, in contrast to the fairy tales, are pessimistic in tone (there is never the clearly defined resolution of the fairy tales) and epic in mode, the characters are superhuman and grand.13 Hawthorne's revisions rid the original stories of both these problems: particularly in the tales considered above he domesticates characters and situations and draws moral lessons from sometimes inconclusive stories.
In "Little Annie's Ramble," an earlier story first printed in the magazine Youth's Keepsake and later in the collection Twice-Told Tales , Hawthorne's somber, black-clad adult narrator cautions his exuberant child companion as they begin their walk: "But if I moralize as we go, do not listen to me: only look about you and be merry."14 Moralizing aside, then, it must also be recognized that there was nothing revolutionary in the vision of the world of childhood depicted in A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales. The narrator in "Little Annie's Ramble" remarks that "there are few grown ladies that could entice me from the side of little Annie, for I delight to let my mind go hand in hand with the mind of a sinless child." Though Hawthorne, of course, treats childhood less romantically elsewhere, in the collections of myths the child is, as he was in romantic literature from Blake on, the emblem of original innocence. And, as Richard D. Hathaway points out, "in creating this land of innocence, Hawthorne was adding … to one of the great American myths. That here in this new world civilization was being reborn, purged of its corruptions…."15
This last comment leads finally to the nature of Hawthorne's limited originality in his myths for children. Nineteenth-century Americans did not readily import for their children the fairy tales being collected throughout Europe, tales in which the details were often European and the basic situations timeless and placeless. Their own tales, what there were, often underscored the wondrous possibilities in the land of America, where rags-to-riches dreams could come true if one were resourceful and confident.16 Hawthorne celebrates the innocence of and possibilities before children in this infant nation by telling them classical myths. If this choice of subject constitutes Hawthorne's departure from preceding children's literature, it does not signal a revolution in terms of what follows. Despite the very favorable reception of both collections, the American literature for children for several decades to come—that of Alcott, Twain, and Alger, for example—continues to rely on native characters and settings. In this respect A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales are anomalies, not harbingers of a new direction in children's literature.17
- See Anne Scott MacLeod's A Moral Tale: Children's Fiction and American Culture, 1820-1860 (Hamden: Archon, 1975); also her article "For the Good of the Country: Cultural Values in American Juvenile Fiction, 1825-60," ChildL, 5 (1976), 40-51. The didactic was not absent in England, of course, as in the works of the prolific Samuel Smiles.
- March 21, 1838, as quoted by Roy Harvey Pearce, ed., True Stories from History and Biography, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Centenary Edition, VI (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1972), 297-98.
- The collected stories were first published 1841-43 and again in 1851. For the history of publication, see Pearce, True Stories, pp. 287, ff.
- True Stories, p. 6. Subsequent references to this text will be documented parenthetically.
- Hawthorne creates a Mr. Temple as his narrator; Temple tells the stories to his son Edward, who is ill.
- In England in 1857, Charles Kingsley published The Heroes; or, Greek Fairy Tales for My Children. He makes clear in his Preface his didactic intention: "The stories are not all true, of course, nor half of them;… but the meaning of them is true, and true for ever, and that is—'Do right, and God will help you.'"
- Hawthorne's reference to his "school book" is in a letter of 24 March 1844 to Horace Mann, as quoted by Pearce, p. 296.
- A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales, Centenary Edition, VII, 4. Subsequent references to these texts will be documented parenthetically.
- In "Hawthorne's Myths for Children: The Author versus His Audience," SSF, 10 (1973), 34-46, Nina Baym discusses this breakdown of the frame as a reflection of Hawthorne's growing distaste for his audience's desire for didactic literature and hence growing distaste for narrator Eustace Bright.
- Included in Hawthorne: The Critical Heritage, ed. J. Donald Crowley (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1970), p. 290.
- On Hawthorne's earliest reading and his "moral purpose and allegorical method," see Neal Frank Doubleday, Hawthorne's Early Tales (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 32-71.
- Cf. Alexander Kern, "A Note on Hawthorne's Juveniles," PQ, 39 (1960), 243. Hawthorne's success is evidenced by the laudatory critical reviews included in Hawthorne: The Critical Heritage.
- The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1976), pp. 35-41.
- 1837; rpt. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891, p. 114.
- "Hawthorne and the Paradise of Children," WHR, 15 (1961), 169. For other discussions of the image of the innocent child in nineteenth-century literature, see Peter Coveney, The Image of Childhood, rev. ed. (Baltimore: Penguin, 1967) and Robert Pattison, The Child Figure in English Literature (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1978). Neither author treats Hawthorne; both deal primarily with English literature and with the child as an isolated figure standing apart from a corrupt, foreboding society.
- For example, the Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill tales. Hawthorne's own Biographical Sketches, though not all American portraits, illustrates the realistic bent in earlier American children's literature: they are actual success stories. Cf. Selma G. Lanes, Down the Rabbit Hole (New York: Atheneum, 1971), pp. 91-111.
- In A Critical History of Children's Literature, ed. Cornelia Meigs, rev. ed. (London: Macmillan, 1969), Elizabeth Nesbitt writes of the "new era" of children's literature, beginning approximately 1890. During this period some materials that are fantastic or "un-American" flourished, for example, Howard Pyle's four volumes of the King Arthur tales.
Jon C. Stott (essay date 1988)
SOURCE: Scott, Jon C. "Nathaniel Hawthorne." In Writers for Children: Critical Studies of Major Authors since the Seventeenth Century, edited by Jane M. Bingham, pp. 277-82. New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988.
[In the following excerpt, Stott examines Hawthorne's works written for children and their critical reception within the context of his writing career. Stott asserts that, "Hawthorne was the first major American author to approach the [children's literature] genre seriously."]
In retelling significant historical events for children, Hawthorne conceded that he faced a major challenge. In the preface to The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair (the collected version of Grandfather's Chair, Famous Old People , and Liberty Tree ), he writes:
To make a lively and entertaining narrative for children, with such unmalleable material as is presented by the sombre, stern, and rigid characteristics of the Puritans and their descendants, is quite as difficult an attempt as to manufacture delicate playthings out of the granite rocks on which New England is founded.
In order to make his history of the colonies up to the time of the Revolution interesting to children, Hawthorne uses three techniques. First, he tells the story through a narrator, an old man speaking to his grandchildren. Such a framework provides a setting similar to that in which his audience would most likely have been used to hearing stories: seated around a revered grandparent. Moreover, the children are characterized as representative types: the older two, Clara and Laurence, are sensitive and thoughtful; Charley is rambunctious and often inattentive; the youngest, Alice, is easily moved emotionally. Second, Hawthorne creates specific incidents, often domestic, to bring his historical personages to life.
Finally, he unifies the story around the old chair in which Grandfather is sitting, connecting the historical elements with "the substantial and homely reality of a fireside chair. It causes us to feel at once that these characters of history had a private and familiar existence, and were not wholly contained within [the] cold array of outward action." The chair, in fact, becomes, during the course of the three sections of The Whole History , a symbol of the enduring spirit that led to the creation of the republic. Originally crafted in England, the chair came across the Atlantic with the persecuted Puritans, endured many hardships, underwent several alterations, and was sat in by many of the most famous men of the respective eras discussed, including the father of the new country, George Washington: "He sat down in a large chair, which was the most conspicuous object in the room. The noble figure of Washington would have done honor to a throne…. Never before had the lion's head [on Grandfather's chair] … looked down upon such a face and form as Washington's." In writing the stories, Hawthorne had two main objectives: to present to children not only the facts of American history but also a basic understanding of the forces that led to the creation of the republic; and to impress upon them important moral lessons.
The topics discussed in The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair had also been treated by Hawthorne in many of his short stories: the evil results of witchcraft delusion in "Young Goodman Brown," the terrors of persecution in "The Gentle Boy," and the dangers of mob violence in "My Kinsman, Major Molineux." These and other stories reflected the somber mood so characteristic of the author. Yet in the children's stories this tone is greatly lightened, and many of the more terrifying events of New England history are glossed over or omitted. An example of the difference can be seen by comparing a passage in "Grandfather's Chair" with one in The Scarlet Letter. After hearing of the death of Lady Arbella, Clara muses, "How sad is the thought that one of the first things which the settlers had to do, when they came to the new world, was to set apart a burial ground!" In the opening chapter of The Scarlet Letter this statement appears: "The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison." Significantly, the children's version omits mention of the prison. Such a building, Hawthorne implies in The Scarlet Letter , was an inevitable result of the colonists' inability to leave moral evil when they came to the New World. However, discussions of evil do not enter into The Whole History.
Grandfather is aware of the innocence of children and does not wish to introduce them before their time to a basic human reality. The old man is reflecting Hawthorne's own view that stories for children, while they should be morally and educationally valuable, should not delve into darker areas that can be understood only by adults. This attitude was, to a great extent, to pervade his major achievement in children's writing, the retellings of the Greek legends and myths.
In Biographical Stories for Children , Hawthorne introduced young readers to great people by telling them about childhood incidents that presaged greatness. Its purpose was also avowedly moral, as Hawthorne says in the preface: "This small volume, and others of a similar character,… have not been composed without a deep sense of responsibility. The author regards children as sacred, and would not, for the world, cast anything in the fountain of a young heart."
A Wonder-Book contains retellings of six classical legends: Perseus' slaying of the Gorgon Medusa; Midas' acquisition of the golden touch; Pandora's liberation of trouble from a mysterious box; Hercules' quest for the golden apples; Baucis and Philemon's kindly treatment of disguised gods; and Bellerophon's taming of the winged steed Pegasus and the subsequent slaying of the Chimaera. The collection is set within a framework: Eustace Bright, a student at Williams College, tells the stories to a group of young children. Tanglewood Tales includes six more Greek legends, but the framework of storyteller and audience is dropped. The stories are about Theseus' slaying of the Minotaur; Hercules' encounter with the pygmies, Cadmus' search for his sister and founding of a city; Ulysses' rescue of his men from the enchantments of Circe; Pluto's abduction of Proserpina; and Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece. Hawthorne's source for these stories was A Classical Dictionary, published in 1842 by Charles Anthon, a professor at Columbia University.
In his use of this source, Hawthorne adapted freely, omitting some incidents, bowdlerizing others, and changing the tone. For example, he focuses much of the story of Midas on the foolish king's love of his little daughter, Marygold; the story of Perseus omits references to his divine parentage; Pandora is transformed into a somewhat pettish little girl; and Pluto abducts Proserpina because he wants a child to cheer up his gloomy kingdom. The reasons for these somewhat drastic changes are to be found in Hawthorne's view of the quality of the Greek myths and his attitudes about what constituted acceptable reading for children.
Long before he wrote the tales, Hawthorne had faced what he considered two of the basic difficulties in adapting the Greek myths. First, the classics had a "cold moonshine" or "classic coldness, which is as repellent as the touch of marble." Moreover, they were foreign to the knowledge of contemporary children; they needed to be "modernized." A third major difficulty was expressed in the preface to Tanglewood Tales :
These old legends, so brimming over with every thing that is most abhorrent to our Christianized moral sense—some of them so hideous, others so melancholy and miserable, amid which the Greek Tragedians sought their themes, and moulded them into the sternest forms of grief that ever the world saw; was such material the stuff that children's play things should be made of! How were they to be purified? How was the blessed sunshine to be thrown into them?
In order to overcome these difficulties, Hawthorne gothicized (as he termed it), modernized, and severely edited his material. Modern critics are not certain exactly what Hawthorne meant by gothicizing. Certainly, as Nina Baym has written in The Shape of Hawthorne's Career,
the myths add a note of the supernatural and fantastic, imparting a slight shiver, a hint of moonlight, a touch of magic to the sunny round of homely pleasures. All this is achieved without a trace of the macabre and terrifying, which are hallmarks of the true gothic. Indeed, the myths are gothicized but also tamed.
Thus while the human characters generally act like real people, the events have an aura of mysterious wonder about them. Eustace Bright explains to his youthful auditors that "in the old, old times, a great many things came to pass, which we should consider wonderful, if they were to happen in our own day and country." In addition, the stories make a great deal of the emotions experienced by the characters, a quality also found in gothic fiction.
Modernization of the stories first involved providing a framework in which a contemporary storyteller narrated to children who are not unlike typical mid-nineteenth-century readers. In addition, events and characters were modernized. As critics have often noted, King Midas, the day he has acquired his golden touch, sits down to a hearty New England breakfast: "hot cakes, some nice little brook-trout, roasted potatoes, fresh boiled eggs, and coffee." The children in "The Paradise of Children" play games like those of Hawthorne's readers. Perhaps more important, the characters reflect values appropriate to children of the time. Perseus, Belleraphon, and Theseus display an admirable manliness as they prepare to set out for their adventures in the wide world. It is strongly implied that Proserpina's troubles resulted from not being close to her mother, and the other girls experience difficulties when they do not display appropriate feminine behavior.
Avoiding the grim tone Hawthorne found characteristic of the Greeks usually involved removing undesirable elements and modifying others. It is interesting to note that whereas the Greek myths often contained such intense emotions as jealousy, lust, and revenge, Hawthorne never allows these to appear. Indeed, he often trivializes the negative drives of characters by referring to them as "naughty." The adult passions are also removed by making many of the characters much younger than they were in the Greek originals: they are children, maidens, or youths. In this way Hawthorne was able to avoid discussing the sexual themes often found in the originals.
An examination of how Hawthorne retells the story of Perseus in "The Gorgon's Head" shows more clearly how he handled his material. "The Gorgon's Head" begins simply:
Perseus was the son of Danae, who was the daughter of a king, and when Perseus was a very little boy some wicked people put his mother and himself into a chest and set them afloat upon the sea. The wind blew freshly and drove the chest away from the shore, and the uneasy billows tossed it up and down, while Danae clasped her child closely to her bosom, and dreaded that some big wave would dash its foamy crest over them both.
Readers familiar with classical mythology will immediately recognize two major omissions. Perseus was in fact the son of Zeus, who had descended upon Danae as a golden shower of rain; and Danae had been imprisoned by her father and later abandoned at sea because the oracle had foretold that her father would be killed by his grandson. Obviously, Hawthorne has removed the sexual elements from the story. He has also omitted the tyrannical grandfather as a character too violent for his audience. But most important, he has made no reference to the gods, effectively removing the story entirely from the realm of mythology. One final point may be made about Hawthorne's opening. The terrors of the ocean voyage are muted; the wind only blows "freshly" and the waves are "uneasy" and have "foamy" crests. In discussing Perseus' quest, Hawthorne deletes sexual references and transforms Perseus into a youthful hero such as one might find in any number of boys' adventure stories of the time.
The tale that Hawthorne creates is perfectly suited for the intended audience: it does not confront the problems of adult evil and sexuality, its monsters are grotesque but not terribly frightening, there is no discussion of the Greek gods, and Perseus is a model hero. In addition, the tale fits mid-nineteenth-century adult notions of what literature should be for children: entertaining, but also morally edifying.
Hawthorne's stories for children were relatively successful financially. Indeed, making money seems to have been one of his motivations for writing them. Although the historical stories exist now only in a scholarly edition, the retellings of the Greek myths and legends frequently have been reprinted in the twentieth century.
Hawthorne himself was extremely pleased with A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales , telling his friend Richard Henry Stoddard, "I never did anything else so well as these old baby stories." Contemporary reviewers were also enthusiastic. One wrote, "The book will become the children's classic, and, to our taste, is fairly the best of its kind in English literature." A reviewer of Tanglewood Tales approved of the stories' moral tone: "It seems to us that if widely read they should exert an admirable influence, not only on the forming morals but the forming taste of children, refining character as well as conveying lessons." Those modern critics who have examined the retellings of myth consider these two volumes to be significant works. In them, Nina Baym notes, Hawthorne "was able to transcend his own temperamental affinity for the dark side of experience and enter into the simple and sunny world view he desired to represent." Hugo McPherson sees the myths as central in Hawthorne's vision, as "serious formulations of Hawthorne's understanding of the self."
While the historical stories are now generally forgotten and the modern age has retold the mythical tales in its own "garniture of manners and sentiment,"
Hawthorne's place in the history of American children's literature is secure. At a time when the province of writing for children was generally in the possession of inferior talents who almost invariably produced heavy-handed moral tales, Hawthorne was the first major American author to approach the genre seriously. Paperback editions of A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales are still in print, and modern adapters have often used Hawthorne's versions of Greek myths as the basis for their retellings. As his contemporary reviewers noted, he used the sunnier aspects of his talents to produce, in A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales , two books that were not only the first of their kind for children but also well-crafted, entertaining stories that, well over a century after their initial publication, maintain their vitality and interest.
Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne
Famous Old People. Boston: E. P. Peabody, 1841.
Grandfather's Chair. Boston: E. P. Peabody, 1841; New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1841.
Liberty Tree. Boston: E. P. Peabody, 1841.
Biographical Stories for Children. Boston: Tappan and Dennet, 1842.
True Stories from History and Biography. Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1851. (A combined volume of the above four titles.) Republished in a scholarly edition with Hawthorne's preface, The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, vol. 6, edited by Roy Harvey Pearce et al. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1972.
A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys. Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1852.
Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys. Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1853. Republished in a scholarly edition, The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, vol. 7, edited by Roy Harvey Pearce et al. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1972. (Combined text of A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales.)
Critical and Biographical Studies
Baym, Nina. The Shape of Hawthorne's Career. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1976.
Crowley, J. Donald. Hawthorne: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970.
McPherson, Hugo. Hawthorne as Myth-Maker: A Study in Imagination. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969.
Pearce, Roy Harvey. "Historical Introduction." In The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, vol. 7: True Stories from History and Biography. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1972.
Gillian Avery (essay date 1994)
SOURCE: Avery, Gillian. "Liberty of Thought." In Behold the Child: American Children and Their Books, 1621-1922, pp. 121-52. London, England: The Bodley Head, 1994.
[In the following excerpt, Avery claims that Hawthorne captured the essence of classical Greek myths for an American audience in A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys and Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys by situating the tales in New England, "taming and emasculating them, and in certain instances creating something entirely new."]
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BIOGRAPHICAL STORIES FOR CHILDREN (1842)
Laura Laffrado (essay date 1992)
SOURCE: Laffrado, Laura. "The Denial of Invention: Biographical Stories for Children." In Hawthorne's Literature for Children, pp. 41-65. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1992.
[In the following essay, Laffrado asserts that the stories in Biographical Stories for Children are "sketchy and fragmented, and … reflect a lack of care in execution."]
Biographical Stories for Children was first published in 1842 and "reissued, significantly revised, in 1851" (Pearce 296), along with The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair , as True Stories from History and Biography. Biographical Stories features an authoritative adult, Mr. Temple, telling stories about the childhood of famous people to his son, Edward, whose eye disorder keeps him confined, eyes covered, in a darkened room. The audience includes the boy's mother, Mrs. Temple, his adopted sister, Emily, and his older brother, George. Mr. Temple tells stories of Benjamin West, Sir Isaac Newton, Samuel Johnson, Oliver Cromwell, Benjamin Franklin, and Queen Christina of Sweden, all meant to enliven Edward's confinement and to educate and entertain the family audience and the book's intended youthful readers.
Unlike The Whole History , however, Biographical Stories has nothing as distinctive as the chair or as structured as the history of a country to help unite Mr. Temple's stories. The stories in the collection are sketchy and fragmented, and, in general, they reflect a lack of care in execution. The story frames are brief compared to those in The Whole History and, when expanded beyond a few lines, are censuring and moralistic. All in all, Biographical Stories is, not only of inferior quality when compared with The Whole History , but, with its ineffective frame and imperfectly rendered stories, an inferior work on its own.
Though Hawthorne began Biographical Stories at Brook Farm, "he tried in vain" to complete it there "but found the 'ferment' around him too disturbing" and so was unable to complete the work until a few months after he left the community (Schorer 11-12). Perhaps because of Brook Farm's atmosphere, perhaps because of his inability to finish the collection without interruption, Hawthorne did not turn the formula of frame and sketch in Biographical Stories into the polished interplay seen in The Whole History. He would not return to children's books until after the publication of The Scarlet Letter , when, as a mature and celebrated author, he would write A Wonder-Book for Boys and Girls.
The Whole History and Biographical Stories differ greatly, despite Hawthorne's attempts to impose the same narrative formula on them. Unlike that of The Whole History , the structure of Biographical Stories forces Hawthorne to tell stories that concern famous people as children. Illness, magic, piety, obedience, transformations, and the relation of parent and child (indeed, with the exception of the Queen Christina story, the relation of father and son) are basic elements of childhood here. Childhood must be stressed because Hawthorne has lost the elasticity of subject that he retained in The Whole History. He has committed himself to stories of childhood, where organizational powers, and hence complex organization, are less important.
Limited as this structure is, chances for artistic success are further complicated by Hawthorne's treatment of Edward Temple's illness—an illness not severe enough to kill and thus consecrate him. Like Hawthorne, Edward Temple is confined in misery-inducing circumstances. Because of his blindfolded enclosure in a darkened room, Edward Temple's life is a kind of death but must be treated as a life. This treatment resists the sentimental, because Edward Temple is not dead and is not going to die from his illness. The very structure of the collection insists that Edward will not die, recover, or sicken further. All that remains to be portrayed are Edward's attempts at living his resignation, at hugging alienation close. Hawthorne thus populates the space in Edward's life and in his own with narration. That narration is unsuccessful because its purpose—to make resignation palatable—is such a bleak one. Throughout the collection, illness of children is a recurring and uneasy theme laced with a heavy morality designed to make the less fortunate accept their lot in life.
Hawthorne's inability to cure Edward Temple and himself (or perhaps his reluctance to cure Edward Temple because he could not cure himself), combined with his restlessness as he shuttled from the Custom House to Brook Farm and from eternal bachelorhood to the hope of marriage, prohibit any departure in the text. Reality takes a strangle-hold in Biographical Stories , and Hawthorne rarely escapes into any alternative reality in its pages. With his life in disarray, his cultural position weak, and his writing still distant from the artistic and commercial success for which he yearned, Hawthorne employs certain fictive obstacles in Biographical Stories that prevent his entrance into the mediated world of the actual and the imaginary, the neutral territory most providential for his discourse.
The preface to the collection begins with the rationale for the stories: "If children are to be introduced to the eminent personages of times gone by, the most effectual method is, to begin the acquaintance with the childhood of those great men and women" (213). Such a sweetened form of learning causes a child to develop affection for the other child, and so "when, hereafter, the reader shall learn the deeds of their manhood, it will be with a portion of the interest which we feel in the lives of our early companions" (213). This more intimate approach makes history "real" and human rather than awesome and remote. Hawthorne's idea of sustained interest, relying as it does on time, history, memory, the familiar, and the role all play in one's education, recalls The Whole History , but it will not achieve the prominence here that it has in that work.
As he does in earlier prefaces, Hawthorne asserts his integrity and regard for the truth, concluding that he "hopes, therefore, that this little book may conscientiously be put into a child's hands, as a trustworthy authority respecting the personages of whom it treats" (214). The use of the word "conscientiously" suggests the deluge of morality to come and Hawthorne's own sentimental treatment of children. Hawthorne expands upon this in the final paragraph of the preface, maintaining that he writes children's books with a "deep sense of responsibility" and that he "regards children as sacred, and would not, for the world, cast anything into the fountain of a young heart, that might embitter and pollute its waters" (214). Most contemporary histories for children, in Hawthorne's view, retold history badly in addition to giving poor instruction in moral matters.1 Concern for historical representation runs throughout Hawthorne's fictions. The sentimental pieties reflected in his vow to avoid pollution of history's lessons will continue in the text of Biographical Stories , but here Hawthorne uses them to discuss the place in popular culture for a writer of children's stories: "And, even in point of the reputation to be aimed at, juvenile literature is as well worth cultivating as any other. The writer, if he succeed in pleasing his little readers, may hope to be remembered by them till their own old age—a far longer period of literary existence than is generally attained, by those who seek immortality from the judgments of full grown men" (214). Hawthorne's desire to succeed in cultural competition and his sociological awareness of the growing split between elite ("the judgments of full grown men") and mass culture are clear. Equally clear are the significant roles that time, history, and memory will play in such achievement. Children's literature serves as an appropriate neutral territory for Hawthorne, a genre where the competition seems less fierce and the rewards just as great.
As the collection begins, Edward's eyes are bandaged, and he is banished to a darkened room. His blindness means all must "vanish" (215) until some later, unspecified time when he can see again. His illness, a form of magic that causes people and places to disappear, frightens and depresses him. Mrs. Temple, his mother, resists his mourning for his eyesight and, in the first of the moralizing platitudes with which she will attempt to comfort him and resign him to his lot, tells him: "'Your eyesight was a precious gift of Heaven, it is true; but you would do wrong to be miserable for its loss, even if there were no hope of regaining it. There are other enjoyments, besides what come to us through our eyes'" (216). In addition to this semantic comfort, with its teasing mention of "other enjoyments" that exist for the sightless (a literary escape from realism, a philosophical escape from an empiricist privileging of sight, a forecasting of the comforts of touch), Mrs. Temple reminds Edward that he will have the frequent company of his brother, George, "a fine, hardy lad, of a bold and ardent temper" (216), much like Charley of The Whole History , and "little Emily Robinson,…the daughter of one of Mr. Temple's dearest friends" (217). The boys would not know "the blessing of a sister, had not this gentle stranger come to teach them what it was" (217). What Emily herself will be taught will be of concern as Biographical Stories proceeds. Last of all, we meet Mr. Temple, who, "though invisible to Edward,…was standing close beside him" (217). Mrs. Temple's comfort to Edward was vague, but there was no question about her physical presence. Mr. Temple, who promises to tell a series of stories, offers no verbal comfort and cannot be sensed by Edward even when he is "close beside him." Not only have people and places vanished for Edward, but his father, the author of the coming stories and the locus of authority, has become invisible and omnipresent. From first mention, the father's power is ominous and seemingly limitless.
Before he starts his first story, Mr. Temple advises Edward to "'see things within your own mind'" (220), a reference to inner vision that appears throughout the story of Benjamin West, which Mr. Temple goes on to tell.2 The story itself is an imagined vision; Benjamin West's vision occurs inside the story; and the story is both heard and held within the heads of the listeners. It is not, however, the only type of vision impressed upon Mr. Temple's audience, nor is it the type of vision most readily offered to his audience. Mr. Temple uses a series of miscellaneous references to outer sight: "'the eyes of many people were fixed'" (220-21); "'delighted himself with gazing'" (221); "'how beautiful she looks!'" (221); "'took vast delight in looking'" (222); and "'better than to gaze'" (222).
Mr. Temple's phrases, along with young Benjamin West's ability to use his eyes to paint what he sees, emphasize that Edward must adjust to his illness and resign himself to alienation from a world of paintings and sight. This alienation may or may not include distance from the kind of inner sight, or imagination, that aided Benjamin West in using his eyes as he did. Whether or not Edward's physical sightlessness will also include spiritual sightlessness remains unclear as long as his blindness is diagnosed as temporary. In the meantime, Edward must try not to mourn his separation from the world of eyesight, a world that allows young Benjamin's drawing, a process so unknown to him that, after sketching his sister, he says he has been "'stealing the baby's face'" (222). The act of painting or drawing allows one to use magic, to steal another's face and thus another's identity. Without eyesight, then, one's identity is limited and isolated, unable to use sight to absorb elements of surrounding identities and experiences.
As an adolescent, young Benjamin develops an eye problem and, like Edward, is confined to a darkened room. His chamber, however, is not totally dark, nor are his eyes bandaged. His observations of light and dark while he is confined result in his development of "'a Camera Obscura, or Magic Lantern,… [which] was of great advantage to him in drawing landscapes'" (226). Not only is Benjamin creative while confined; but, unlike Edward's case, the "'slight attack of fever, which confined him to his bed'" (225), is soon over, and he is released from his enclosure. Once free, Benjamin seeks approval of his painting from his Quaker community. With this approval his art has received community authority. He leaves "'all the places and persons whom he had hitherto known,—and returned to them no more'" (227). His imagination has set him free in the world; his community has given him the authority to leave his past behind him; and Benjamin is allowed to develop "'into the most distinguished English painter of his day'" (228-29). His transformation is much admired by others ("'The story of his life is almost as wonderful as a fairy tale'" ), and the story concludes: "'Let us each make the best use of our natural abilities, as Benjamin West did; and with the blessing of Providence, we shall arrive at some good end. As for fame, it is but little matter whether we acquire it or not'" (229). Hawthorne's hopeful reference to literary fame in the collection's preface and West's achievement of fame undercut this assertion. Here and in the preface, fame suggests cultural acceptance and acknowledgment of one's art. Such conspicuous cultural success mattered. Though Hawthorne here brushes fame aside as "but little matter whether we acquire it or not," we know from his letters and journal entries that he could not easily do this in daily life. In the same way, counseling Edward toward inner vision is easier than his locating, developing, and valuing that vision as much as his eyesight.
The text relies on Edward's willingness to see the role inner vision played in West's life and accomplishments. He must move beyond the tale of a boy who suffers only brief eye problems and earns freedom and fame by using his inner and outer eye to see things and render them. Not unreasonably feeling sorry for himself after what can be read as a lesson in what he lacks, Edward says he feels "'alone in a dark world'" (229) and turns to his community, his authority figures, for comfort. Mrs. Temple tells him, "'You must have faith…. Faith is the soul's eye sight; and when we possess it, the world is never dark nor lonely'" (229). Edward's response to this reply is not given, nor do we hear any response by Mr. Temple to Edward's plea. Mr. Temple's belief that Edward's only recourse is resignation has been delivered in the tale, while Mrs. Temple's urge for inner vision is neither supported nor contradicted by the rest of the family.
In the next frame, which prefaces the story of Isaac Newton, Emily teaches Edward to knit. He spends an hour or two learning to create without outer vision, and he changes in the process. Afterward, he has a "very bright expression upon his lips," and he tells his family he can see them with his "'mind's eye'" (231). We are meant to think that Edward has moved beyond the dark loneliness of the previous night, an interpretation supported by his ability to create despite the loss of his eyesight and by his assertion that, not only is he aware of an inner eye, but he can use it to see those he loves. Yet Edward's ability to express himself has become even more limited: his face shrinks to feature only a closed mouth as an indicator of his feelings. By knitting, Edward associates himself with the image of the writer/creator who knits together fact and imagination to form fiction and with the nineteenth-century woman who performed these steady, repetitious tasks in her own domestic confinement as a defense against her alienation/isolation, which felt like illness. The effect of the knitting metaphor is further complicated by Edward's never knitting again in Biographical Stories. Whether Edward has truly understood the nature of his inner vision or is defending himself against the approach of the darkness and loneliness he fears by occupying himself in whatever way is offered is decidedly ambiguous.3
The Isaac Newton story that follows is a fragmented collection of anecdotes from Newton's life. He invents a miniature mill; he spends his time "'gazing at the heavenly bodies through a telescope'" (236); he treats his dog kindly after the animal accidentally causes his notes to be burned; he is modest about his great store of knowledge. The tale ends with a prediction of Newton's immortality: "'He has left a fame behind him, which will be as endurable as if his name were written in letters of light, formed by the stars upon the midnight sky'" (237). Newton, like West, achieves fame and immortality because of his ability to think, his insight. The image of Newton's name written in the sky is an eye reference and a link to his telescope gazing. Edward seizes on these images and decides that Newton's life could never be his own: "'It must have been beautiful,' said Edward, 'to spend whole nights in a high tower, as Newton did, gazing at the stars, and the comets, and the meteors. But what would Newton have done, had he been blind? Or if his eyes had been no better than mine?'" (237-38). With no help from Mr. Temple to show that Newton did not need great eyes to be a great thinker, Edward can only locate himself in Newton's isolation "in a high tower." Again he turns to his family for help, and again Mr. Temple says nothing, while Mrs. Temple replies, "'Why, even then, my dear child,' observed Mrs. Temple, 'he would have found out some way of enlightening his mind, and of elevating his soul. But, come! Little Emily is waiting to bid you good night. You must go to sleep, and dream of seeing all our faces.' 'But how sad it will be, when I awake!' murmured Edward" (238). Mrs. Temple cannot help or heal Edward. Even her assurance that Newton, if blinded, "would have found out some way of enlightening his mind" fails to be at all specific. Her inability to nurture her child properly is implied by Edward's illness, while her inability to answer his questions after the stories are told reveals her lack of authority. She is not an author herself (Mr. Temple always tells the stories), and she is unable to tell her own story, much less fully answer questions concerning Mr. Temple's patriarchal narrations.
The next day George and Edward argue, and, as they sit sullenly in the room, "Mr. Temple, without seeming to notice any of these circumstances" (239), begins the story of the life of Samuel Johnson. Empowered by his position at the center of this phallocentric, logocentric world, Mr. Temple knows that something is amiss without being told. He rarely speaks outside the telling of the stories, and his strategies of narration are antidialogic: he is one person always narrating the world for others.
In contrast to this father's perfect authority, Samuel Johnson, son of Michael Johnson, is "'almost blind,'" with a "'seamed and distorted'" face (240), is afflicted by a "'tremulous motion'" (241) of his head, and is dressed in shabby clothing. Like Edward, he is near blind, but, unlike Edward, he is "'conscious of uncommon sense and ability, which, in his own opinion, entitled him to great respect from the world'" (240). Thus he is proud, ill, and of singular aspect. These qualities commingle when he refuses to work at his father's bookstall. His father, Michael Johnson, takes refuge in a curse when he hears his son's refusal: "'Well, Sam,' said Mr. Johnson, as he took his hat and staff, 'if, for the sake of your foolish pride, you can suffer your poor sick father to stand all day in the noise and confusion of the market, when he ought to be in his bed, I have no more to say. But you will think of this, Sam, when I am dead and gone!'" (241).
The paternal curse works, and before the day is over Sam begs for forgiveness: "'Oh, I have been a cruel son!' thought he, within his own heart. 'God forgive me! God forgive me!'" (243). Despite his plea, the boy is not yet ready for divine forgiveness:
But God could not yet forgive him; for he was not truly penitent. Had he been so, he would have hastened away, that very moment, to Uttoxeter, and have fallen at his father's feet, even in the midst of the crowded market-place. There he would have confessed his fault, and besought Mr. Johnson to go home, and leave the rest of the day's work to him. But such was Sam's pride and natural stubbornness, that he could not bring himself to this humiliation. Yet he ought to have done so, for his own sake, and for his father's sake, and for God's sake.
That Sam's sake here is linked with God's and his father's reveals the degree to which his behavior should match the moral expectations of the two fathers.
The images of a humiliation-demanding God, a martyred father, and another father who would tell such a story supposedly to reconcile two quarreling children form a triumvirate of dominating moral agents. The demands of the father may appear reasonable (spending the day selling books), but their complexity emerges when these demands are denied, and are denied by a hitherto obedient but proud and deformed boy shy of the prolonged public gaze. Punishment immediately begins, and the punishment for disobedience not only is greater than any temporary humiliation but is also ultimately administered by the son himself:
From his boyhood upward, until the latest day of his life, he never forgot the story of Uttoxeter market. Often, when he was a scholar of the University of Oxford, or master of an Academy at Edial,… when the greatest men of England were proud to feast him at their table,—still that heavy and remorseful thought came back to him:—'I was cruel to my poor father in his illness!' Many and many a time, awake or in his dreams he seemed to see old Michael Johnson, standing in the dust and confusion of the marketplace, and pressing his withered hand to his forehead, as if it ached.
Alas! my dear children, it is a sad thing to have such a thought as this, to bear us company through life.
The moral of this story, given to us in the melodrama of Michael Johnson's "withered hand" pressed to his forehead, is that no possible reparation exists once the moment for immediate and total subjection has passed.
This famous story of Johnson's life held a fascination for Hawthorne:
The depth and complexity of Hawthorne's filial feelings are revealed by his lengthy involvement with the story of Samuel Johnson's penance in the Uttoxeter marketplace. Repeatedly over a period of twenty-five years he told this story of the great man's compulsion to stand at his deceased father's bookstall at noon before the public gaze. Hawthorne seemed haunted by this image of the aged man of letters choosing public shame in the marketplace to expiate imagined guilt for contributing to his father's death. He recorded this public penance in his notebook in 1838, told it in Biographical Stories for Children (published 1842), and recounted his own pilgrimage to Litchfield and Uttoxeter in Our Old Home , his last completed work, published in 1863.
Gloria Erlich ties Hawthorne's fascination with the Johnson story to "the actual conditions of his childhood and … the significance of his troubled relationship to his maternal uncle, Robert Manning": "Hawthorne's equally long period of guilt, confusing a sense of implication in his father's early disappearance and unwitnessed burial with an inability to feel unmixed gratitude for his uncle's benefactions, was not subject to either expiation or resolution. Like Reuben Bourne, he suffered from an obscure sense that the guilt he felt toward his father-surrogate was reciprocal—each had failed the other" (Erlich xiv, 127). Frederick Crews locates Hawthorne's interest in fathers, sons, and their tensions to unresolved Oedipal conflicts. The text of the Johnson story in Biographical Stories supports Crews's and Erlich's readings. There is no sympathy for a shy, disfigured boy's reluctance to enter the marketplace. There is an abundance of sympathy for a father who expects his son to brave the public gaze while refusing to aid him toward further maturity by helping him to learn to endure that gaze, by backing his expectations with sympathy and understanding. Instead, Michael Johnson punishes what he sees as Sam's lack of maturity by cursing that lack and thus dooming his son to the lifelong role of disobedient child. Problems of alterity complicate the relations of father and son here. Sam must be enough of an adult to work in public but enough of a child to obey his father; Michael Johnson must raise his child to be an adult. The story can be seen as a narrative meditation on the desire for otherness and sameness in fathers and sons and the tensions such desires create.
When Mr. Temple returns to the story, Johnson is an elderly man in the Uttoxeter marketplace: "His features were scarred and distorted with the scrophula, and though his eyes were dim and bleared, yet there was something of authority and wisdom in his look" (246). Now that he has done penance in the form of lifelong remorse, Johnson can be sympathetically portrayed as an authority figure who has a command over his odd appearance, a public assurance he could not have as a boy. After stressing a list of Johnson's accomplishments, which concludes with, "'he was now at the summit of literary renown'" (248), Mr. Temple predictably decenters them:
But all his fame could not extinguish the bitter remembrance, which had tormented him through life. Never, never, had he forgotten his father's sorrowful and upbraiding look. Never—though the old man's troubles had been over, so many years—had he forgiven himself for inflicting such a pang upon his heart. And now, in his own old age, he had come hither to do penance, by standing at noon-day in the market-place of Uttoxeter, on the very spot where Michael Johnson had once kept his bookstall. The aged and illustrious man had done what the poor boy refused to do. By thus expressing his deep repentance and humiliation of heart, he hoped to gain peace of conscience, and the forgiveness of God.
Such peace and forgiveness have been missing because of self-denial, not divine denial. Johnson has not forgiven himself, never having shed the guilt over defying his father.
Michael Johnson's curse, which barred repentance, barred divine forgiveness, and insisted upon lifelong guilt, was prompted by a battle in which the young son refused to be subordinate to the aging father. The weight of Johnson's moral domination had to be replaced by something equally weighty once Sam defied domination and realized, if only for a moment, that he could live his life without it. Samuel Johnson's burden of shame and guilt had great significance for him: he carried it constantly and publicly, carried it as a love token of the domination he had lost, the parent he had lost, the child he could never be again. Despite Johnson's real shame and guilt, he can afford repentance and the luxury of guilt and shame because he did refuse his father and thus began his adulthood, and eventually his transformation into Samuel Johnson, man of letters.
Though George and Edward forgive each other once Mr. Temple has made clear the consequences of a continued quarrel, Mr. Temple's narration has not addressed the relationship of brothers. His sons' argument has prompted him to tell a story of father and son, to illustrate that, were their defiance to shift from each other to their father, they would be locked in bondage to their actions, just as Samuel Johnson was locked to his. Michael Johnson was not required—at least not in Mr. Temple's story—to pay in guilt or in shame for the curse he inflicted on his son.
Mr. Temple's story of a father with all the authority and a son with all the guilt should make Edward especially nervous. Johnson's ugliness, near blindness, and disobedience make him, like Edward, an imperfect child. Just as Michael Johnson could not forgive his son's imperfection and so never spoke of Sam's defiance, Mr. Temple has trouble with Edward's physical imperfection and is the only character in the frame stories who never once refers to Edward's blindness. The magic of Johnson's transformation from young boy to ill and aged wizard, from disfigured student to famous scholar, is overpowered by the domination and guilt which flood the sketch. The redefined and reconfigured self is displaced. Hawthorne and the reader, Sam and his father, are instead bound to the world of the actual.
The next story involves another lost son, young Oliver Cromwell, known as little Noll: "'The child was often sent to visit his uncle, who probably found him a troublesome little fellow to take care of. He was forever in mischief, and always running into some danger or other, from which he seemed to escape only by miracle'" (252). Noll is an orphan or at least a bad child, unwanted and so sent away. The absence of any concerned parent is illustrated in the next paragraph, when "'a huge ape, which was kept in the family'" (252), grabs the child and takes him up to the roof. Uncle and ape are surrogate parents for Noll, neither one effectively protecting him from the world's dangers. This scene establishes little Noll as the solitary, alienated figure he will remain throughout the story.
Noll eventually fights with young Prince Charles and emerges victorious. King James, who has brought the prince with him on a visit, cautions his son to avoid temptation "'to tyrannize over the stubborn race of Englishmen'" by remembering "'Noll Cromwell, and his own bloody nose!'" (257). Charles disregards the lesson and lives to be beheaded on Noll's orders. Grown into a man and a leader, Noll is uneasy with his transformation, wondering why "'this great King fell, and that poor Noll Cromwell has gained all the power of the realm'" (259). The only orphan in Mr. Temple's stories, Noll lacks an authority figure who will either bless (as with West's Quaker community) or damn (as with Michael Johnson) his transformation, and so he remains solitary and troubled by his adult success.
When Edward hears the story and gushes, "'Oh, I had rather be blind than be a King!'" Mrs. Temple replies, "'I am glad you are convinced that your own lot is not the hardest in the world'" (260). Her response insists on Edward's resignation to and even gratitude for his affliction. Mrs. Temple's subordinate role in the family circle, her passive listening, and her repeated moralizing suggest that she, too, has learned to occupy the exact amount of space given her and has adjusted to her situation in life, whatever its discomforts may be.
The seventh section of the collection begins with the book's most complete commentary on Edward's blindness, one that implies that the earlier stories have helped Edward on his path to resignation:
It was a pleasant sight (for those who had eyes) to see how patiently the blinded little boy now submitted to what he had at first deemed an intolerable calamity. The beneficent Creator has not allowed our comfort to depend on the enjoyment of any single sense. Though He has made the world so very beautiful, yet it is possible to be happy without ever beholding the blue sky, or the green and flowery earth, or the kind faces of those whom we love. Thus it appears that all the external beauty of the universe is a free gift from God, over and above what is necessary to our comfort. How grateful, then, should we be to that Divine Benevolence, which showers even superfluous bounties upon us!
One truth, therefore, which Edward's blindness had taught him, was, that his mind and soul could dispense with the assistance of his eyes. Doubtless, however, he would have found this lesson far more difficult to learn, had it not been for the affection of those around him…. It taught him how dependent on one another God has ordained us to be; insomuch that all the necessities of mankind should incite them to mutual love.
So Edward loved his friends, and perhaps all the world, better than he ever did before.
Without such happy submission, Edward remains a maimed, miserable child; but with this submission his keepers need not feel uncomfortable around him, since, in his temporary blindness, he is submissive, grateful, and even more loving than before his confinement. This passage relies on sentimentality and the authority of Mr. Temple's stories to guarantee Edward's transformation. The reader is never shown Edward's new happiness, perhaps because Hawthorne himself found it difficult to believe that a small boy could adjust to affliction in a matter of weeks, when an equally uncomfortable man could not adjust in a matter of years.
Like Edward, Ben Franklin, the last male historical figure to be presented, can profit by his misfortunes and the use of his mind's eye. When he sees stones that are to be used in construction on a house, he realizes they are perfect material for building a wharf from which he and his friends can fish and boaters can disembark. "'Thus, instead of one man, fifty, or a hundred, or a thousand, besides ourselves, may be benefitted by these stones'" (266), he proclaims, envisioning the wharf and its uses.
With stones missing and wharf in evidence, the constable is called, and Ben and his friends are scolded and dismissed. But Ben must still face his father, "'a sagacious man, and also an inflexibly upright one,'" for whom Ben had "'greater reverence … than for any other person in the world, as well on account of his spotless integrity, as of his practical sense and deep views of things'" (270). Mr. Franklin addresses his son in "'his customary solemn and weighty tone,'" and Ben feels "'that now the right and wrong of the whole matter would be made to appear'" (270). Like a caricature of the patriarch, Mr. Franklin is sagacious, upright, deep, solemn, and weighty; his subsequent speech to his son corresponds with his exaggerated character. After explaining that the building of the wharf was misguided and calling the thought behind it impious and destructive, Mr. Franklin concludes: "'Remember … that, whenever we vary from the highest rule of right, just so far we do an injury to the world. It may seem otherwise for the moment; but, both in Time and in Eternity, it will be found so'" (271). Mr. Franklin's reading suggests that actions that seem right can indeed be wrong. In order to avoid error, one must adhere to monolithic orthodoxy or risk offending Time and Eternity.
Such a weighty lesson cannot be dismissed easily, and Ben, like Samuel Johnson, "'never forgot this conversation with his father; and we have reason to suppose, that, in most of his public and private career, he endeavored to act upon the principles which that good and wise man had then taught him'" (271). With the advice from his father and thus the blessing of the patriarch, Ben can be transformed from young, wharf-building boy to famous American: "'But it would have been a strange dream, indeed, and an incredible one, that should have foretold how great a man he was destined to become'" (272-73). It is debatable whether Franklin did indeed "endeavor to act upon the principles" taught him by his father or whether he continued throughout his life to seek the public good, just as he did in the construction of the wharf. What is clear is that, as in earlier stories, guiltless transformation in Biographical Stories is dependent upon the father's blessing on the son.
The frame ends with Mr. Temple telling his audience that Poor Richard's Almanack was the reason for Franklin's fame, though the Almanack has its deficiencies because the proverbs are "'all about getting money, or saving it'" and "'they teach men but a very small portion of their duties'" (274). Even these seemingly casual comments are weighted with judgment and morality, with a sense of larger contexts and perspectives. Every mention in the book, miscellaneous or significant, seems filtered through a network of rules and disapproval, all judicated by the fathers of Biographical Stories.
The last sketch of the collection is markedly different from previous sections. Its historical figure is Christina of Sweden, a rare female among all the male characters, and her story is told in completely negative terms. Earlier stories spotlighted the relationship of father with son, sons who grew up to be famous and admired men;4 this story centers on a girl whose womanhood is best ignored, "'for it is neither pleasant nor profitable to think of many things that she did, after she grew to be a woman'" (282). The purpose of this tale, paradoxically, is to entertain "quiet little Emily," who "would perhaps be glad to hear the story of a child of her own sex" (275).
Unlike the boys, who learned what they could grow up to be, Emily must learn in negatives and somehow locate herself in the stories of several famous men and one—at least in the eyes of Mr. Temple—infamous woman. Though Emily has been almost silent during earlier stories, Mr. Temple apparently cannot rely upon her silent judgment, for he qualifies his understanding of her potential reaction by saying that she would "perhaps be glad." These early admonitory signs color the story to come with similarities to cautionary tales. Jonathan Cott has pointed to "the excrescence in the seventeenth century of the malignant 'Joyful Deaths' tradition of life-denying Puritan children's books" (3), and collections of English translations of German cautionary tales were equally graphic in showing an extreme punishment always exceeding a transgression at which an adult has first expressed disgust and horror. Thus, in Struwwelpeter, a German collection of cautionary rhymes, a boy who sucks his thumbs is first warned and then ("Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go") has his thumbs clipped off (16), while in "Queen Christina," a girl who is not taught the eternal feminine virtues not only dies but dies unloved, without "'a single flower upon her grave'" (283).
At birth, Christina is "'remarkably plain,'" "'by no means a beautiful child'" (276).5 Her lack of beauty matters a great deal to her mother: "'The Queen, her mother, did not love her so much as she ought; partly, perhaps, on account of Christina's want of beauty; and also because both the King and Queen had wished for a son'" (276). The queen's desire, therefore, was for a son of any physical appearance or, as a distant second choice, a beautiful daughter. Christina's ugliness matters to her mother because Christina, as a female, is a tiny mirror image of her mother and thus should reflect her mother's beauty. From the start, then, Christina and her mother form a sisterhood that is both bound and divided by genetics and gender.6
Their struggle is intensified when, as a child, Christina is taken ill. The illness solidifies her relationship with her father, who becomes "'exceedingly fond'" (276) of her. As the father-daughter bond is cemented, the queen subsides into a permanently peripheral role. Cast as an unloving (wicked) mother from the start, the queen is placed in competition with her daughter for the king's love; when she loses that struggle, she is banished from the story. After the queen's defeat, Christina's socialization becomes even more unorthodox. Having displaced her mother in the king's affections, Christina now becomes a consolidation of the king's desires and is portrayed as a substitute wife as well as a makeshift son.
With the queen in the background, the king determines to educate Christina "'exactly as if she had been a boy, and to teach her all the knowledge needful to the ruler of a kingdom, and the commander of an army'" (277). Lest the reader have more than a moment to contemplate such an education for a girl, the king's declaration is immediately followed by a narrative admonition: "'But Gustavus should have remembered that Providence had created her to be a woman, and that it was not for him to make a man of her'" (277). The father's blessing on the child's potential transformation is here subordinate to rigid gender boundaries established by Providence or the Nature of Things. Gustavus ignores these boundaries, deriving "'great happiness from his beloved Christina'" (277) as they are shown playing and dancing in the palace. Indeed, Christina's rule over her father is such that "'she could disarm Gustavus of his sword, which was so terrible to the princes of Europe!'" (278). Shown together like father and son, husband and castrating wife, Gustavus and his daughter, Christina, only temporarily avoid the sociosexual consequences of overt defiance of gender and familial restrictions.
When the king is killed in battle, Christina is proclaimed a child queen and separated from her mother. Her growth affected by loss of the same-sex parent (a loss that also affected Hawthorne deeply in his childhood and in his reflections in later years), Christina is isolated from virtues Mr. Temple sees as gender-based. Separated from her mother, Christina is the orphan she appeared to be as a baby, and, without a female model, she continues to pursue inappropriate accomplishments: "'She learned to read the classical authors of Greece and Rome, and became a great admirer of the heroes and poets of old times. Then as for active exercises, she could ride on horseback as well as any man in her kingdom. She was fond of hunting, and could shoot at a mark with wonderful skill. But, dancing was the only feminine accomplishment with which she had any acquaintance'" (281). Though Mr. Temple may categorize dancing as a "feminine accomplishment," Christina's dancing earlier in the story had been portrayed as an enactment of her inappropriate relationship with her father. This somewhat tainted skill was therefore insufficient to sustain her on her journey to womanhood, for Christina "grew up, I am sorry to say, a very unamiable person, ill-tempered, proud, stubborn, and, in short, unfit to make those around her happy, or to be happy herself" (281). As a woman, Christina's first duty, as the sentence indicates, is to "make those around her happy" before she can "be happy herself."
Unlike Christina, other little girls have "'been taught self-control, and a due regard for the rights of others'" (282). Like Clara, her spiritual sister in The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair , good little Emily rarely speaks and always listens. The education received from either Grandfather or Mr. Temple imposes a female sense of identity made up of exclusions, because the stories of both feature men only or women negatively. Like Lewis Carroll's White Queen, girls must learn backwards or not at all, and, also like the White Queen, they must adjust to the restrictions of the world: "The White Queen is trying to justify the intolerable, as if she were master of the world and as if the rules were her own invention…. [The White Queen] is in fact inventing the rules, rather as the White Knight invents anklets for warding off sharks, because she is not at all the tyrant in her world, but the victim. The first rule is that there will be punishments; that goes along with 'never jam today'" (Sale 120). Having learned from Mr. Temple's introduction that there will indeed be punishments, Emily must view Christina's behavior as deserving of these punishments. In this way, like the White Queen, she can align herself with those in authority.
Though at age eighteen Christina is "a young woman of striking aspect, a good figure and intelligent face," her eyes reveal "a very fierce and haughty look" (282). This physical evaluation of Christina is almost approving, even if her eyes (which are not bandaged, as Edward Temple's are) hold emotions antithetical to a good and happy woman. Such a favorable description reveals latent sympathy with Christina, showing her as an attractive woman on guard against the world.
But by being born a daughter instead of the desired son, and a plain, sickly daughter at that, Christina had been marked from the start for exclusion from conventional gender categories. As a child she is lost between gender distinctions (a girl raised as a boy), and the gap widens as she ages. Mr. Temple's final emphasis on Christina's personal appearance, once she resigns the throne at age twenty-eight, escapes her enclosures, and devotes herself to traveling, shows her as an antiwoman: "'She is described as wearing a man's vest, a short gray petticoat, embroidered with gold and silver, and a black wig, which was thrust awry upon her head. She wore no gloves, and so seldom washed her hands, that nobody could tell what had been their original color'" (283). Ultimately, despite her knowledge, skills, and throne-resigning independence, Christina must be judged, as she was at birth and at age eighteen, on her appearance. This appearance—masculine, unclean, and ridiculed—is represented as in keeping with Christina's maverick life, as is her death: "'None loved her while she lived, nor regretted her death, nor planted a single flower upon her grave. Happy are the little girls of America, who are brought up quietly and tenderly, at the domestic hearth, and thus become gentle and delicate women! May none of them ever lose the loveliness of their sex, by receiving such an education as that of Queen Christina!'" (283). The exclamatory epitaph for Queen Christina serves as a form of intimidation intended to frighten American girls into delicacy in case the attractions of traditional feminine virtues prove to be an insufficient lure.
In his desire to re-create Christina's place in history solely as a cautionary tale for girls, Mr. Temple's final words return to Christina's education, the catalyst for what he sees as her unfortunate life. Much of his tale, however, has strayed from her education and has stressed that Christina was not gentle, delicate, quiet, tender, or lovely. Mr. Temple wishes that Christina had died rather than had become a woman, especially a woman such as this one. Her birth in plainness marks her as a violation, and she continues, by her very presence, to interfere, to disrupt, and to age, as she displaces her mother in her father's affection, displaces her father as king, displaces various visions of femaleness by her existence. Despite the blame leveled at Christina's education, it is in reality her very existence that Mr. Temple finds disturbing.
"Emily, timid, quiet and sensitive," seems "shocked at the idea of such a bold and masculine character" (283). "With that love of personal neatness, which generally accompanies purity of heart," Emily tells Mrs. Temple that it troubles her "'to think of her unclean hands!'" (283). Emily's only other comment on the story, also directed to Mrs. Temple, is, significantly, "'I never could have loved her'" (283). Emily recognizes another woman, another little girl, and considers responding to her with the love Christina never received in her lifetime and does not receive in this story. But Emily's judgment is limited in that it works only in terms of being good (clean) and being loved; such personal, rather than intellectual, judgment is in keeping with stereotypes of femininity. Emily has not been "spoiled" by an overly intellectual education, as Christina has been; she believes, instinctively, that Christina ought to have pleased those around her by being loveable, that is, clean and neat. Emily's education has been so narrow and ill managed that, finally, she cannot love Christina, because, like Mr. Temple, she believes character is reflected in the cleanliness of one's hands.
Earlier stories in the collection received little more than perfunctory commentary from Mrs. Temple. Christina's story, however, prompts her beyond platitudes. Though she disparages Christina as "'a sad specimen of womankind indeed,'" she also maintains that "'it is very possible for a woman to have a strong mind, and to be fitted for the active business of life, without losing any of her natural delicacy. Perhaps, some time or other, Mr. Temple will tell you a story of such a woman'" (283-84). Perhaps he will, but given the tenor of the story he has just told, it is doubtful, and Mrs. Temple, purposely vague with "perhaps" and "some time or other," is not strong enough to request that story. Emily will have to hear "a story of such a woman" from another woman or create one herself, for Mrs. Temple has not yet learned to be an author and indeed defers the job to her husband. This deference, however, need not be overrated. After all, now that she has heard about Christina's life, Mrs. Temple is able to envision a new sort of biographical story, one that, with its stress on a strong-minded woman "fitted for the active business of life," offers revisionist implications. Too blurry about the edges to begin to tell this story herself, Mrs. Temple has nevertheless progressed on the path to authority.
Unlike the other sketches in Biographical Stories , Christina's story refuses to allow an authoritative man, a father and a king, to judge what is proper in his child's transformation; Gustavus's wish to educate his daughter as a boy is a transgression that is punished by his death and Christina's monsterhood. It is convenient for the purposes of Hawthorne's story that Gustavus of Sweden was indeed killed during his daughter's youth. Thus, in this version of Christina's life, her historically accurate orphanhood—father dead, mother banished—can be used against her, with the implication that she is alone and unloved because she is a plain, masculine, atypical woman, and against her father, because he was responsible for her miseducation.
The final frame story ends with Edward proclaiming the efficacy of his inner eye, which again shows him all the main characters of the stories. He falls asleep and dreams "such a pleasant dream of the sunshine, and of his dearest friends, that he felt the happier for it, all the next day. And we hope to find him still happy, when we meet again" (284). Edward is left happy, though perhaps only temporarily so, and still enclosed in his darkened room. Edward's happiness is dependent upon his ability to dream, to use his imagination when asleep or awake. Only when dreaming and using his inner eye is he able to transform his condition from less than happy to happy. Edward has moved from being an unhappy, ill child to being a sometimes happy, ill child.
Since all transformations in the stories are authorized by the father's reaction, part of Edward's inability to effect a more complete or permanent transformation is due to Mr. Temple's never reacting to his son's illness. Though Mr. Temple's stories indicate that he believes children should obey their fathers, the stories tend to tell a different tale when, for instance, Ben Franklin's disobedience is presented as a reflection of his thoughtfulness and ingenuity, while Christina's obedience is presented as a reflection of her father's foolishness and her own unnatural inclinations. As Mr. Temple fails to react to the meaning of his own stories, stories that attempt to reduce the rich lives of boys and girls to sterile clichés, he also fails to react to his son's illness and so does not aid Edward's potential transformation.
Though Hawthorne had the magic to create alternative realities and transformations in The Whole History , his unwillingness to allow Edward's metamorphosis in Biographical Stories indicates how uncomfortable he felt with Edward's liminal state—Edward is neither sick nor well, neither poor nor rich, neither alive nor dead. In Hawthorne's refusal to allow Edward Temple to move from sick to well or sick to dying, in his allowing Edward to improve only slightly, Hawthorne denies his ability to create other realities, denies the art that will afford him only temporary escape. Until Hawthorne himself can escape, Edward must remain as isolated and alienated as his author.
Hawthorne cannot escape in this book, but, like the characters whose lives he portrays, he can invent. He invents Biographical Stories and, in so doing, acts out what one of his subjects, Ben Franklin, had learned long ago. Franklin knew that, if one could overcome remnants of guilt about the vanity of authorship, one could invent and that what one invents saves one. By writing Biographical Stories , Hawthorne invents, just as all of the characters, Christina included, invent as they transform and thus create themselves. Hawthorne's invention of Biographical Stories saves him by allowing him to write his enclosed condition, write his frustration, write his attempt at living his resignation.
Despite the questionable portrayals of women in "Queen Christina," at the time the story was written Hawthorne himself had much in common with the youngest female, little Emily. Like her, he had to locate himself in a world of negatives, a world where a man who worked at the Boston Custom House or wrote for a living did not earn enough money and respect to sustain himself. In such a world, as the White Queen would have known, there were punishments. By creating a narrator such as Mr. Temple and allowing that narrator to condemn Christina, Hawthorne, like little Emily, aligned himself with those in authority, made himself appear as one with the monied, properly employed, unartistic men of the world who seemed to be everything he was not. Indeed, Mr. Temple's harsh treatment of Christina can be seen as a product of Hawthorne's frustration at his own inability to affirm himself as someone eccentric, someone atypical, a creator strong enough to move from alienation and isolation to a declared, defiant identity. In Mr. Temple he externalizes the societally determined figure he feels, guiltily, that he should be.
In his zeal to educate and his temporary, genre-based liberty, Hawthorne was free to give children a strongly biased history lesson, was free to make this lesson angry and full of displaced hostility in order to convey the urgency of his meaning and the frustration of his life. So much more withdrawn than the woman whose history he told, he could not bring himself to admire openly the unconventionality in her that he was reluctant to acknowledge in himself and in his writing. His creation of Mr. Temple to narrate and condemn the problematic course of Christina's life allowed him to mediate his ambivalence toward Christina's social estrangement. Hawthorne's sympathy with Christina in her frustration is demonstrated in his admiration-charged description of her at age eighteen, in his exhaustive catalog of her many accomplishments, and in Mrs. Temple's commentary on the story. After Hawthorne's marriage, after the death of his mother, and after he became a successful author, he sympathetically portrayed women not unlike Christina and greatly diluted the authority of their male narrators or associates.7 These portrayals were possible once he defied the expectations of society that had chafed him for so long.
By limiting himself to the harsh world of the actual unmediated by the imaginary, Hawthorne denies himself the pleasure of his invention. Instead, he cements the stories of this collection in the world of childhood—perhaps, as Crews and Erlich would have it, the world of his own childhood—where a small figure is forever dominated by a large, mysterious man who controls the world and withholds the possibility of any mediation of the actual. In this setting, Hawthorne cannot escape, as he escaped in The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair , because he turns history itself over to the father and allows him to control it, allows him to hammer home again and again—even when the stories themselves belie him—that what history teaches us is that we must do as we are told.
With its combination of genre and subject matter, the last story of this collection aimed at educating his youthful readers educated Hawthorne himself. The history of Christina's life added to Hawthorne's self-knowledge and prepared him, not only for his future portrayals of women and his recognition of their complex role in culture, but also for his own eventual and overdue break from the cultural expectations that had impaired his art and life. In writing Biographical Stories , Hawthorne sat in his enclosure, his own form of the darkened room and bandaged eyes, and, like the White Queen, he tried to justify the intolerable. Instead of the White Queen's "never jam today," Hawthorne's justification was his pious and harsh glorification of the restrictions he saw preventing his own transformation from bachelor to husband, from unknown writer to literary figure, from a man who wrote hesitantly and slowly to a confident, inspired artist.
Thematic and epistemological connections built among the tales of this collection hold out hope for the future, show Hawthorne, like Edward Temple, improving slowly, nearly imperceptibly. But, finally, in Biographical Stories Hawthorne is savagely refusing himself and the future artists, the future women, in his audience the invention of a world that would allow for the unconventional, that would allow a Christina, a Zenobia, the full possibilities of her biographical story. Hawthorne's action is made all the more savage by his desperate desire to escape his own biographical story.
- Laura B. Kennelly suggests connections between Hawthorne's historical treatment of British history in "Young Goodman Brown" and Biographical Stories.
- John Idol usefully discusses biographical details in the sketch of Benjamin West.
- Hawthorne's writing of Biographical Stories is so underdeveloped that his intentions, as well as Edward's understanding, are called into question here. The text encourages such problems with intentionality. Unlike the other children's books, sections of Biographical Stories are so loosely connected as to seem almost random. Though these moments interfere with the text, they also reinforce Hawthorne's connection to Edward and stress the ambiguity of the actions and reactions of author and auditor.
The corresponding male portraits in Biographical Stories are notable for the absence of women. Femininity plays no role in the earlier portraits of Dr. Johnson, Benjamin West, Isaac Newton, Oliver Cromwell, and Benjamin Franklin. Mothers or mother figures are rarely mentioned; wives are not mentioned at all; and no woman plays any role, major or minor, in Hawthorne's telling of the other biographical stories. The relation of father with son or, for Oliver Cromwell, uncle with son consumes Hawthorne's attention in the earlier stories. The guidance given by the fathers in the stories consistently results in their sons' achievement later in life.
This steady stream of masculinity is deformed once Hawthorne reaches Christina and Gustavus. Gustavus's masculinity—the masculinity that shapes Christina—is presented as misguided, defiant, inappropriate, and a clear violation of cultural and almost religious restrictions ("Providence had created her to be a woman, and that it was not for him to make a man of her" ). Christina's masculinity (her identification with her father, separation from her mother, physical appearance, and putative denial of her own sex) is also a deformed version of male responses to fathers in earlier stories. Christina responds to her father as do the other children in Biographical Stories. That Hawthorne chose to negatively highlight Gustavus's and Christina's masculinity helps to reveal his own recoiling from overt masculinity in his art and life.
Christina's appearance is at odds with the nineteenth-century view of children, with which Hawthorne was clearly familiar. Hawthorne's portrayals of children throughout his fiction correspond closely to nineteenth-century ideals of cherubic, flower-like children. The child auditors featured in the frame tales of The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair, Biographical Stories, and A Wonder-Book fit this mold without exception. Hawthorne's inclination toward sentimentalism of childhood reaches its peak in A Wonder-Book, where all the children have flower names (Primrose, Periwinkle, Sweet Fern, and Dandelion, for instance) that emphasize their decorative roles as listeners and their innocent, natural condition.
Mary Lynn Stevens Heininger, in her essay "Children, Childhood, and Change in America, 1820-1920," discusses the progression of the sentimentalism of the image of childhood: "First in portraiture and illustration during the mid-1850s, and later in three-dimensional household accessories, a formulaic picture of children began to emerge. Perhaps with their roots in portrayals of Renaissance cherubs, these images depicted children as wide-eyed [and] chubby-cheeked" (23). Once these cherubic children reached "school age," the male children "disappeared from these images" and gave way to "the stereotype of the wily, dirty-faced lad … [and] the image of the docile and immaculate little girl" (26). Nineteenth-century narratives for girls reinforce the general importance of an attractive physical appearance. Christina's plainness violates the depiction of children that nineteenth-century Americans found necessary to their view of themselves and their world. For Hawthorne, Christina's historically recorded plainness would classify her as an atypical child.
Christina's appearance at birth seems to have been noted in virtually all records of Gustavus's reign. Christina herself almost cheerfully corroborates this description, remarking, in her autobiography, that the classification of her as "a girl and ugly … wasn't far wrong because I was as dark as a little Moor" (qtd. in Masson 21). There is no reason to suspect that Christina's autobiography was Hawthorne's source of information, however. Walter Harte's History of the Life of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden is a much more likely candidate. A copy of Harte's book was twice withdrawn from the Salem Athenaeum in Hawthorne's name in 1827 (Kesselring 53). Hawthorne was no longer living in Salem in 1841, when he was writing Biographical Stories, and any record of his having consulted Harte's book during that time has not been recovered. The skeletal information in Hawthorne's "Queen Christina" is close enough to the information in Harte's book (which subscribes to commonly held views of Christina as both plain and eccentric) to render it likely that it was Hawthorne's source.
- Christina's relationship with her mother was actually more complicated than Hawthorne probably knew. Georgina Masson, in her biography of Christina, recounts that midwives at Christina's birth, "buoyed up by the predictions of astrologers,… believed her to be a boy,… since Christina was born with a caul which enveloped her from her head to her knees, leaving only her face, arms and lower part of her legs free; moreover she was covered with hair" (20-21). Maria Elenora, Christina's mother, "was in no condition to be told the truth and they waited several days before breaking the news to her" (21).
- The juxtaposition of first-person narrator Miles Coverdale and his attraction for and description of the darkly beautiful Zenobia in The Blithedale Romance (1852) mimic to some extent the roles of Mr. Temple and Christina. Zenobia is presented as a powerful, strong, queen-like woman of untraditional beauty. The story of her life and death is explored, related, and judged by Miles Coverdale, dilettante writer. Coverdale's authority is undercut from virtually the beginning of the book, and Hawthorne differentiates so clearly between himself and his narrator that there is little chance for the reader to invest the character Coverdale with Hawthorne's authority.
Christina, Queen of Sweden. The Works of Christina, Queen of Sweden. London: Wilson and Durham, 1753.
Cott, Jonathan. Pipers at the Gates of Dawn. New York: Random House, 1983.
Crews, Frederick. The Sins of the Fathers. New York: Oxford UP, 1966.
Erlich, Gloria C. Family Themes and Hawthorne's Fiction. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1984.
Harte, Walter. The History of the Life of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden. London: n.p., 1767.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Biographical Stories for Children. True Stories from History and Biography. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1972. 211-84. Vol. 6 of The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. 20 vols. to date. Ed. William Charvat, Roy Harvey Pearce, Claude M. Simpson. 1962-.
Heininger, Mary Lynn Stevens. "Children, Childhood, and Change in America, 1820-1920." A Century of Childhood, 1820-1920. Ed. Mary Lynn Stevens Heininger. 1-32. Rochester: Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum, 1984.
Idol, John. "Hawthorne's Biographical Sketch of Benjamin West." Artes Liberales 7 (Spring 1981): 1-7.
Kennelly, Laura B. "Hawthorne and Goldsmith?: British History in 'Young Goodman Brown' and Biographical Stories." Journal of American Studies 23 (August 1989): 295-97.
Masson, Georgina. Queen Christina. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1969.
Sale, Roger. Fairy Tales and After. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1978.
Schorer, Calvin Earl. "The Juvenile Literature of Nathaniel Hawthorne." Diss. U of Chicago, 1949.
THE WHOLE HISTORY OF GRANDFATHER'S CHAIR, OR, TRUE STORIES FROM NEW ENGLAND HISTORY, 1620-1808 (1851)
John W. Crowley (essay date 2nd Quarter 1979)
SOURCE: Crowley, John W. "Hawthorne's New England Epochs." ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 25, no. 2 (2nd Quarter 1979): 59-70.
[In the following essay, Crowley discusses the significance of "Hawthorne's historical consciousness" in The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair.]
At the start of his career, Nathaniel Hawthorne sought to make his fiction "American" by setting it in the colonial American past, but he quickly discovered that historical New England was not a sufficiently neutral territory. As Nina Baym remarks, "at this point Hawthorne seems to have experienced recorded history—actual historical facts—as a constraint on his imagination rather than a stimulus to it." Consequently, he "was not interested in making history the subject of his fiction or in creating fictions for the purpose of commenting on the American past."1 Hawthorne began to distinguish in practice between history and fiction; during the late 1820's, he worked simultaneously on a collection of "Provincial Tales" (which never appeared as such) and a series of biographical sketches of historical figures.2 During the same period, as documented by his borrowing from the Salem Athenaeum, Hawthorne read extensively in colonial history.3
Hawthorne's historical consciousness, heightened by this research, came to inform his stories, both those intended for "Provincial Tales" —"The Gentle Boy" (1832), "Roger Malvin's Burial" (1832), "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" (1832)—and others published later—"The Gray Champion" (1835), "Young Goodman Brown" (1835), "Alice Doane's Appeal" (1835), "The May-Pole of Merry Mount" (1836), "The Minister's Black Veil" (1836), "Endicott and the Red Cross" (1837), "The Man of Adamant" (1837), "Lady Eleanore's Mantle" (1838), "Edward Randolph's Portrait" (1838), "Howe's Masquerade" (1838), and "Old Esther Dudley" (1839).4 Although the meaning of these tales is not exclusively historical, neither is their historical background incidental. Even Baym, who resists reading any of the fiction as historical commentary, concedes that "if Hawthorne was not writing about history for the purpose of interpreting it, his use of the past nonetheless implies an interpretation" (p. 38). In fact, when read in their historical chronology, these tales reveal an explicit interpretation of the New England past from the time of the Merry Mount episode through the outbreak of the American Revolution.5 It is unnecessary, however, to abstract Hawthorne's historical views from his fiction of the 1830's because Hawthorne did so himself in the writing, during 1840, of The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair.
Despite intensive critical scrutiny of Hawthorne in recent years, the importance of The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair has been largely over-looked—no doubt because it is a children's book, intended, as Hawthorne said, "to describe the eminent characters and remarkable events of our annals, in such a form and style, that the Young might make acquaintance with them of their own accord."6 Hawthorne cast the book into historical scenes and anecdotes in which he "sometimes assumed the license of filling up the outline of history with details, for which he has none but imaginative authority …" (p. 6). Imaginative license also allowed him to create a fictional unifying device: all the historical episodes are associated with former owners of an antique oaken chair, whose fate from generation to generation provides a mild suspense calculated to hold the interest of young readers.
At present, the chair belongs to Grandfather, who traces its history with an easeful charm and in a plain style to his four grandchildren: Laurence, Clara, Charley, and Alice. Sitting on the chair at the fire-side, Grandfather spins each tale at the children's request and tailors it to their attention span. The episodes are framed by Grandfather's and the children's reactions, and the characters are framed in turn by Hawthorne's descriptions of them. Hawthorne's fiction of Grandfather and the children occupies as much of the book as Grandfather's history of the chair.
The frame device, the mixture of fancy with fact, the studied simplicity of the prose—all contribute to the success of The Whole History as a children's book. But Hawthorne was writing not just for children but for the adults they would become. As he said in his preface to Biographical Stories (published shortly after The Whole History ), "This small volume, and others of a similar character, from the same hand, have not been composed without a deep sense of responsibility." The writer of children's books, "if he succeed in pleasing his little readers, may hope to be remembered by them till their own old age" (p. 214). What he tells his little readers, therefore, will mold their adult opinions. It follows that the author of a children's book of history has a special obligation to be accurate; and Hawthorne asserted his belief that The Whole History "will not be found to convey ideas and impressions, of which the reader may hereafter find it necessary to purge his mind" (p. 6).
The Whole History , then, was a children's book, but Hawthorne brought to bear on its historical content the weight of adult ideas and impressions he had been gathering for over ten years.7 Hawthorne fused the fragmentary history of his tales of the 1830's into a coherent historical vision that would later inform his treatment of the New England present in The House of the Seven Gables. 8
The Whole History is divided into three sections, corresponding roughly to the three epochs (as Hawthorne calls them) of New England history: the epoch of the Puritan founders, extending from the settlement of the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1630 to the death of Simon Bradstreet, the last patriarch, in 1692; the epoch of military and worldly adventure, extending from the issue of the new charter in 1692 to the end of the French wars in 1763; and the epoch of the American Revolution, extending from the Stamp Act rebellion in 1765 to the death of Samuel Adams in 1803. Within each epoch, Hawthorne perceives a cultural dichotomy between what he calls "ideal principle" and "adventurous action" (p. 72). Both these contrasting characteristics are present in the Puritan founders, whose principles take concrete expression through the adventure of founding the Massachusetts colony and, conversely, whose actions in the new world take meaning from the idealistic impetus behind them. In the course of the first epoch, ideal principle and adventurous action become increasingly differentiated in New England culture, leading to the corruption of both during the second epoch. A new synthesis emerges in the third epoch only to dissolve again gradually into its elements. In the first and third epochs, principle and action are fruitfully united in the pursuit of religious and political freedom. By contrast, in the second epoch, perverted idealism and adventurousness, now disjunct, are applied to religious persecution and the pursuit of worldly gain.
Of course, Grandfather does not deal in such abstractions. His historical method is biographical, and he portrays representative historical figures, whose personal qualities epitomize the qualities of their age. He opens the first epoch with the arrival of the Arbella in 1630. On board are men of wealth, pious ministers, and their leader John Winthrop, all seeking "liberty both to preach and pray" in the forests of America (p. 14). With them is the Lady Arbella, who is transporting Grandfather's chair to the new world. Although Winthrop appears only briefly, he typifies the synthesis of ideal principle and adventurous action that Hawthorne attributes to the first generation of Puritans, who were "the best men and women of their day" (p. 14).
Hawthorne implies, however, that some qualities that elevate the Puritans above their English contemporaries are unadaptable to life in the colony. The Lady Arbella looks "too pale and feeble to endure the hardships of the wilderness"; and she concludes soon after her arrival "that this new world is fit only for rough and hardy people"—for the likes of John Endicott, whose heart is "as bold and resolute as iron," and whose "multifarious business" (the punishment of idlers and evil-doers) leaves him no time for nostalgic thoughts of England (pp. 15-17). Whereas "this bold, rough, active man" flourishes in the wilderness, the Lady Arbella fades "like a pale English flower" and dies within a month (p. 17). Her death symbolizes the loss to the New England character (at least temporarily) of those European qualities that failed to take root in the new world: gentleness, compassion, refinement, sensitivity to beauty.9 Although these qualities remain in some of the Puritan founders, notably John Eliot, they virtually disappear before the end of the first epoch. As a result, in the second epoch, ideal principle and adventurous action, no longer softened and humanized, will have split apart and become increasingly hard and inhumane.
This development is evident in Grandfather's account of "The Red Cross," which Hawthorne had treated somewhat differently in an earlier tale. As in "Endicott and the Red Cross," the Puritan captain and his soldiers have "a stern and rigid aspect" and seem to have "as much iron in their hearts, as there was upon their heads and breasts" (p. 23); and Endicott's rebellious excision of the cross from the British flag has the same typological significance—although, as Grandfather tells Laurence, the act has more of a "religious bearing" than the political revolution it prefigures (p. 24). But unlike Hawthorne's story, in which Roger Williams counsels restraint, Grandfather's account implicates Williams in Endicott's action. "For mine own part, were it my business to draw a sword," Williams admonishes Endicott, "I should reckon it sinful to fight under such a banner. Neither can I, in my pulpit, ask the blessing of Heaven upon it" (p. 23). Endicott takes Williams literally, translating his religious idealism into action, committing treason in the name of God. Endicott and Williams evince, respectively, action and principle tending toward violent excess. Furthermore, so far as seeking divine guidance is not Endicott's business and drawing a sword is not Williams', these men foreshadow a split in New England culture between secular and religious concerns, between adventurousness and idealism.10
In Grandfather's next sketch, John Hull, the adventurous colonial mint-master, is a thoroughly secular man. He has made a fortune by virtue of the agreement that allows him to keep one of every twenty pine-tree shillings he strikes. On the occasion of his daughter Betsy's marriage, Hull heaps enough shillings into one side of a commodity scale to balance the weight of the corpulent Betsy, and thereby computes a dowry for a wife literally "worth her weight in silver" (p. 39). This comic episode is also ominous in that it suggests a reduction of human value to a materialistic standard. Hull's shilling mentality, by its lack of moral sensitivity, helps to foster the cultural atmosphere of the 1650's, in which Puritans more fanatical than Williams, governed by an ever more violent Endicott, take the measure of Quakers at the pillory and on the scaffold. Grandfather calls the "doleful history" of the Quaker persecution "one of the most mournful passages in the history of our forefathers" (pp. 40, 41). He [sic] master's house in 1660, sitting upon the oaken chair, and delivering him "a message imagines the Quaker Mary Dyer, arrayed in sackcloth and ashes, entering the mint from Heaven" (p. 41). Hull makes no reply; he is more attuned to profit than prophecy.
In contrast to the persecutors and to Hull, John Eliot manifests the original Puritan ideals in his heroic efforts to convert the Indians and to translate the Bible into their language. But although he is an apostolic successor to those who drew their inspiration "from the immediate presence of the Saviour" (p. 49), Eliot's mission has far from salvatory results. It has no meaning to the Puritans, who regard the Indians as "an inferior race of beings" (p. 43), and who value Eliot's knowledge of them only for its use in exploiting them: "They inquired, it may be, how they could obtain possession of such and such a tract of their rich land" (p. 47). Unable to check the Puritans' greed, Eliot is also helpless to prevent the Indians' retaliation. King Philip, whom Eliot failed to convert, incites even some of the "praying Indians" to attack the white invaders. In the course of King Philip's War, "the little community of red people, whom Mr. Eliot had begun to civilize, was scattered, and probably never was restored to a flourishing condition" (p. 50). Eliot's Bible, in a lost language, becomes the only relic of a vanished people.
In effect, the vanished people are not only the Indians but the Puritan founders. Eliot's alienation from the community signifies also the alienation of the community from the values Eliot represents: humane principle, expressed in a life mission. Having expelled such dissidents as Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams, having persecuted the Quakers and annihilated the Indians, the Puritans have perverted idealism into fanaticism. They have also lost their republican spirit and abetted the rise of secular, authoritarian rule.
These cultural and political changes are symbolized at the end of the first epoch by the transfer of power (and the old chair) from Simon Bradstreet, "the last of the Puritans" (p. 54), to Sir William Phips, the first of the royal governors under the new charter. Bradstreet, like Eliot, embodies the original Puritan qualities; but after his death, there is "no other public man remaining to connect the ancient system of government and manners with the new system, which was about to take its place" (p. 55). William Phips represents "quite a different set of men": "ambitious Politicians, Soldiers, and Adventurers, having no pretension to that high religious and moral principle, which gave to our first Epoch a character of the truest and loftiest romance" (pp. 71-72).
By dint of his "energy and spirit of enterprise" (p. 58), Phips has risen from poverty and obscurity to wealth, knighthood, and the colonial governorship. The means to his rise, the treasure he recovered from a sunken Spanish galleon, is recalled in the "golden foliage" of his embroidered coat, the silver hilt of his sword, and his gold-headed cane (p. 57). Like John Hull, Phips measures worth in bullion; but unlike Hull, whose riches were honestly gotten, Phips has wrested his from the grasp of the dead. "There is something sad and terrible in the idea of snatching all this wealth from the devouring ocean," Grandfather observes. "It ought to have been left with the skeletons of the ancient Spaniards … whose bones were now scattered among the gold and silver." Grandfather adds that "Captain Phips and his crew were troubled with no such thoughts as these" (pp. 61-62). Not surprisingly, Phips cannot fathom issues of principle, and he does little to halt the witch-hunting that erupts during his rule. Again like Hull, in his obliviousness to the Quaker persecution, Phips evinces the moral bankruptcy of adventurous action divorced from ideal principle.
The further perversion of Puritan principle in the second epoch is exhibited by Ezekiel Cheever and, more profoundly, by Cotton Mather. Cheever, a schoolmaster, is a remnant of the first epoch who, lacking Quakers and Indians to persecute, beats his reluctant students with fanatical regularity. More dangerous is the fanaticism of Mather, whom Grandfather blames as the "chief agent" of the "witchcraft delusion" (p. 94). His brain cluttered with superstition and arcana, his judgment warped by fasts and vigils, Mather is "an exaggeration of those pious and potent Divines, whom he reverenced as the great men of the preceding age" (p. 71). Like John Eliot, Mather is alienated from the community, which, having been led astray by him during the witch trials, is "generally inclined to doubt the wisdom of any measure, which he might propose to them" (p. 102). Thus, Mather fails to persuade his contemporaries of the saving power of smallpox inoculations. His idealism, corrupted in witch-hunting, has no positive force in the world, even when applied to a cause worthy of it.
The tone of the second epoch is set, not by the Puritan epigones, but by the royal governors, whose "pompous and artificial mode of life" is emulated by those who can afford it (p. 108). Because they are accountable to the king rather than to the colonists, the governors think it necessary "to preserve the dignity of their station, by the practice of high and gorgeous ceremonials" (p. 108). Something of the governors' ceremonials attaches to their wars against the French, especially the gorgeous capture of Louisburg by General William Pepperell, for which the king rewards him with a baronet. For their efforts, the colonists receive a million dollars from Parliament; but, as Grandfather remarks, "all the gold in the Spanish mines" cannot make up for the "physical and moral evil" bred by the wars (p. 118).
He relates the tragic tale of the Acadians, mistreated by the French and then exiled from their homeland by the English. Grandfather imagines a group of "wealthy and pompous merchants," propped on their gold-headed canes near their warehouses in Boston, who are barely cognizant of a band of arriving Acadian refugees: "It was difficult to touch these rich men's hearts; for they had all the comforts of the world at their command: and when they walked abroad, their feelings were seldom moved, except by the roughness of the pavement, irritating their gouty toes" (pp. 126-127). The sight of these miserable exiles should have made Governor Shirley himself feel that "England's triumph, and increased dominion, could not compensate to mankind, nor atone to Heaven, for the ashes of a single Acadian cottage." Unfortunately, Grandfather sighs, "it is not thus that statesmen and warriors moralize" (p. 128).
Governor Shirley's actual thoughts are probably closer to those that Grandfather attributes to Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson: "He saw visions of hereditary rank, for himself and other aristocratic colonists. He saw the fertile fields of New England, portioned out among a few great land-holders, and descending by entail from generation to generation. He saw the people a race of tenantry, dependent on their lords. He saw stars, garters, coronets, and castles." As for the republican spirit of the Puritans, Hutchinson believes that the disposition toward self-government, attenuated by long disuse, now exists "only as a faint traditionary feeling" (p. 139).
In the third epoch, this dormant feeling stirs into action. In its rebellion against the Stamp Act, New England shows "the grim, dark features of an old king-resisting Puritan" (p. 151). What the colonists recover from the first epoch are its political rather than religious principles, but these principles are reunited with action in the adventure of the Revolution, which echoes the Puritans' revolt against royal oppression. A new synthesis of idealism and action is symbolized by the alliance between Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Adams is as religious, stern, and inflexible as the Puritan fathers, and he has been "as deeply imbued with democratic principles" (p. 173). Hancock, by contrast, reflects the second epoch: he uses his inherited wealth to sate his aristocratic taste for "gorgeous attire, a splendid mansion, magnificent furniture, stately festivals, and all that was glittering and pompous in external things" (p. 174). Combining the best qualities of Adams and Hancock, George Washington is, like Winthrop in the first epoch, "the chosen man on whom his country leaned for the defense of her dearest rights" (p. 186).
As in the first epoch, however, the synthesis of principle and action is undermined by violent excesses. Hawthorne follows the historians of his age in glorifying Washington and in depicting the Revolution as a triumphant resurgence of republican spirit; but he refuses to give Grandfather a reductively partisan view. Grandfather believes that the patriots are "full of a great and noble sentiment," but he admits that "there may be much fault to find with their mode of expressing this sentiment …" (p. 171)—as in the sack of the Province House (occupied, ironically, by Hutchinson), the humiliation of Chief Justice Oliver (the description of whose fall recalls the climactic scene of "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" ), and the persecution of the Tories. He insists that the "good and true men" among the Tories should be honored, "for they were as much our countrymen as the patriots were" (p. 178).
After his detailed and even-handed treatment of the Revolution, Grandfather glosses over the years from 1776 to 1803, in which the death of Samuel Adams brings the third epoch to a close and with it the strictly historical part of The Whole History. But, as I have already suggested, the full meaning of the book cannot be grasped from its historical parts alone. The frame, in which Grandfather and the children identify themselves with history, has the same purpose as "The Custom-House" : it forges an imaginative link between the present and the past that serves not only to reanimate the past with the life of the present, but to implicate the present in the life of the past.
For Hawthorne, the development of a historical consciousness leads inevitably to a consciousness of personal morality, a fall into time. At one point, Grandfather, through a "mist of tears," regrets that the children must "know any thing of the past, or to provide aught for the future. He could have wished that they might be always the happy, youthful creatures, who had hitherto sported around his chair, without inquiring whether it had a history" (p. 51). Knowledge of history expels the children from the Eden of timelessness, henceforth to endure the tragic fate of time-boundedness. The past becomes a curse so far as it determines and delimits life in the present, makes it an expiation of the past. But Grandfather has not lost hope that the "bliss" of earthly experience—"all that he had enjoyed or suffered, or seen, or heard, or acted, with the broodings of his soul upon the whole"—outweighs "the best happiness of childhood." Because he can hope that the same "bliss" will grow within the children and "form a part of their sustenance for immortality," he can resume his history of the chair "with renewed cheerfulness … trusting that a profounder wisdom than his own would extract, from these flowers and weeds of Time, a fragrance that might last beyond all time" (p. 52). Grandfather recognizes, as the children do not as yet, that their characters and future prospects have been shaped by the history he has taught them. They are heirs to the division in New England culture between idealism and adventurousness, which are the essential traits, respectively, of Laurence and Charley.
Laurence, age twelve, is a "bright scholar, in whom an early thoughtfulness and sensibility" have begun to show themselves (p. 11). His "ideal nature" makes him sympathetic to the most idealistic of the Puritans—Roger Williams, Henry Vane, John Eliot—and regretful of the end of the Puritan era: "For, though they were so stern, yet it seems to me that there was something warm and real about them" (p. 55). Deeply troubled by the violence done to the Indians, the Quakers, the Acadians, the Tories, and even to Governor Hutchinson, Laurence wishes that "our forefathers could have kept the country unspotted with blood" (p. 96). As in his reaction to General Wolfe's glorious death on the Plains of Abraham, Laurence has "a deep inward consciousness, that, after all, there was a truer glory than could thus be won" (p. 133).
His brother Charley can hardly agree. "A bold, brisk, restless little fellow of nine" (p. 11), Charley revels in those episodes that capture his own spirit of adventure, the trait that "may hereafter render him a man of power among actual affairs, and in all the business of life" (p. 72). He judges William Phips to be "the greatest man that ever sat in the chair" (p. 64), and he nags Grandfather to abbreviate his stories of "school-masters and learned men" and to expand upon the military exploits of the second epoch and the Revolution (p. 93). To Charley's mind, the patriots "did not go to fighting half soon enough!" (p. 163). In his lust for action, Charley lacks his brother's moral refinement. He finds no fault with the Puritans' treatment of the Indians: "I would have conquered them first, and then converted them" (p. 44). Similarly, he wastes no tears either on the Acadians—"It was their own fault…. Why did they not fight …" (p. 129)—or on the Tory officials—"I wish the people had tarred and feathered every man of them!" (p. 177). When Grandfather chastises him for this attitude, Charley relents; but later, in response to the story of Judge Oliver, he chooses "to rejoice with the patriots, rather than be sorrowful with the tories" (p. 196).
If Laurence embodies ideal principle and Charley embodies adventurous action, their sister Alice, age five, re-embodies those qualities that faded from New England with the Lady Arbella, for whom Alice feels a special affection. Fair and golden-haired, Alice is "a flower-bud fresh from paradise" (p. 51) who might still "fitly talk with angels" (p. 31). When Alice wishes that she might kiss John Eliot, Hawthorne remarks, "And, doubtless, good Mr. Eliot would gladly receive the kiss of so sweet a child as little Alice, and would think it a portion of his reward in heaven" (p. 49). Like Laurence, Alice weeps for the oppressed, but her compassion arises less from an idealistic hatred of injustice than from a sensitivity to human suffering. She reacts with "bewilderment and horror" to Grandfather's account of the Boston Massacre, which he has neglected to "soften down … so that it might not terrify the heart of this unworldly infant." Grandfather reproaches himself for giving her "heavenly nature … its first impression of earthly sin and violence" (p. 170). But, like her brothers, Alice must leave the garden of childhood innocence and carry the burden of history.
In using these children to symbolize three strains of the New England character, Hawthorne stresses the continuity of American history and projects it into the future.11 As the children mature into adults, they will impress their qualities upon their age. When Grandfather talks to them, it is "the past speaking to the present—or rather to the future, for the children were of a generation which had not become actual" (p. 51). But Hawthorne does not predict which of these qualities, or what combination of them, will predominate in the children's generation. To do so, he would have to fill in the historical blank between the third epoch and mid-nineteenth century, to delineate the epoch that began with his own birth in 1804.
This fourth epoch is precisely the focus of The House of the Seven Gables , which Hawthorne built on the historical foundation of The Whole History. The two books were tangibly connected in his imagination; Hawthorne discovered the idea for the children's book just after his first visit to the actual House of the Seven Gables. As he wrote to Horace Conolly in May 1840:
On my return, after the exploration I had made of the old structure, the "Duchess" [Hawthorne's cousin Susan Ingersoll] said to me, "why don't you write something?" "I have no subject to write about." "Oh, there are subjects enough; write about that old chair," pointing to a high backed old chair in the room, "it is an old Puritan relic, and you can make a biographical sketch of each old Puritan who became in succession the owner of the chair." It was a good suggestion and I have made use of it under the name of Grandfather's Chair. 12
Michael Bell points out that "making a legend" for an object supplied the narrative framework for both The Whole History and The House of the Seven Gables , "in which the old house becomes the central object of historical meditation."13 Within the old house, however, Hawthorne placed the same antique chair in which he had sat, perhaps literally, while he was writing The Whole History —the same chair that Grandfather and all his historical personages are said to have occupied.14
In The Whole History , the chair is the visible link not only between the past and the present, but between the historical sketches and the fictional frame, and, ultimately, between the fictional frame and Hawthorne himself. By placing the chair in the Pyncheon parlor, and by having Colonel Pyncheon and Judge Pyncheon die sitting in it, Hawthorne links the characters of the romance to the historical figures of The Whole History and to himself; he suggests that the fictional history of the Pyncheons and Maules, as well as the actual history of the Hawthornes, inter-penetrates the real history of New England.15
Reading The House of the Seven Gables in light of The Whole History , one discovers that Hawthorne is drawing parallels between his own age and the second epoch. These parallels are manifest not only in correspondences between members in different generations of the Pyncheon family, but also in correspondences that may be inferred between Pyncheon characters and historical figures. In The House of the Seven Gables , as in The Whole History , individual qualities epitomize the cultural qualities of an age. The opening chapter on Colonel Pyncheon is set in 1692, the first year of the second epoch; and this Puritan progenitor of the family is shown to embody the major attributes of the second epoch, as described in The Whole History. First, he exhibits the perversion of ideal principle into fanaticism that Hawthorne traces in the Puritan persecutions of the seventeenth century; Colonel Pyncheon is like Cotton Mather in his zeal for witch-hunting. Second, Pyncheon's lusting after wealth and secular power and his resorting to nefarious means to obtain them recall the career of Sir William Phips; both men die still grasping for more: Pyncheon for the elusive Eastern lands, Phips for another sunken treasure. Finally, the Colonel's aristocratic ambitions, expressed in his building the House of the Seven Gables, resemble those of the colonial governors late in the second epoch, especially Governor Hutchinson's vision of "stars, garters, coronets, and castles."
Later Pyncheons have raised the Colonel's aspirations to absurd and dangerous heights. His grandson Gervayse Pyncheon, whose "familiarity with many of the castles and ancestral halls of England, and the marble palaces of Italy" has bred contempt in him for the House of the Seven Gables, willingly offers up the house and his own daughter to the dream of becoming Lord Pyncheon or the Earl of Waldo.16 And Hepzibah, because she has "fed herself from childhood with the shadowy food of aristocratic reminiscences," can hardly bring herself to descend from her "pedestal of imaginary rank," even to earn bread to keep herself alive (pp. 37-38).
Critics have often noted the affinities between Colonel Pyncheon and his nineteenth-century descendants. Not only Hepzibah but Clifford and Jaffrey Pyncheon have inherited one or another of the Colonel's traits. Jaffrey embodies, in somewhat diluted strength, "the hard, keen sense, and practical energy" (p. 19), as well as the unscrupulousness and hypocrisy; less obviously, Clifford expresses, through his Sybaritic love of beauty, an aesthetic form of the Colonel's corrupted ideal principle. If approached from the perspective of The Whole History , however, Clifford and Hepzibah also appear to resemble those later Puritans, like Cotton Mather, who found themselves cut off from the "ocean of human life" (p. 166) into which Clifford is once tempted to plunge from the arched window. Likewise, Judge Pyncheon seems comparable to William Phips in his Midas touch and his political success—though, as the mockery of Hawthorne's chapter title emphasizes, Jaffrey never does become "Governor Pyncheon."
Just as Phips' adventurous action reflects the prevailing values of his contemporaries, so does Pyncheon's materialism reflect the catchpenny ethos of the world outside the ancient house—the street world that appears throughout the romance, but most vividly in the chapter entitled "Alice's Posies." There Hawthorne presents a procession of townspeople who, like a chorus, provide a mundane commentary on the drama of the Pyncheon house. Mrs. Gubbins, for example, after finding the shop unaccountably closed, curses Hepzibah for "pretending to set up a centshop, and then lying abed till noon!" (p. 288). As in The Scarlet Letter , children magnify the attitudes of their elders. Whereas Mrs. Gubbins vents her anger only on the bell, Ned Higgins, intent on purchasing a gingerbread elephant, screams and sobs and then, with "his little pot of passion quickly boiling over," prepares to shatter the shop window with a stone (p. 290). Like Ned, who has earlier shown a flair for sharp practice, a "shrewd little Yankee" boy, delighted to get something for nothing, upbraids his friend for informing the Italian organ grinder that the Pyncheons are not home: "You fool, you, why do you tell him?… Let him play as long as he likes. If there's nobody to pay him, that's his own lookout!" (p. 294). All the Pyncheons' neighbors share this Yankee trader mentality. Like the "sagacious" Dixey in his comments on the Pyncheons, they tend to judge solely by commercial criteria, to reduce everything either to "poor business!" (pp. 47, 291) or to "pretty good business!" (p. 319).
Although a materialistic outlook dominates the fourth epoch as well as the second, both epochs contain the seeds of change in the dormant idealism of the Puritan founders. In The House of the Seven Gables , this heritage is represented by Phoebe and Holgrave, who may be seen to embody the best qualities, respectively, of the first and third epochs. As an heir of "the stern old stuff of Puritanism, with a gold thread in the web" (p. 76), Phoebe is related to the Lady Arbella, whose death robbed the new world of gentilesse. But Phoebe comes of hardier plebian stock; she survives her encounter with the shadowy atmosphere of the house, and her experience makes her "graver, more womanly, and deeper-eyed, in token of a heart that had begun to suspect its depths …" (p. 297). Phoebe is also linked to Alice Pyncheon by the imagery of roses and music. But whereas Alice, like her father, cultivates the aristocratic airs of the second epoch—her tale is set in 1729—Phoebe has the unpretentious grace of a natural aristocrat. Holgrave, her eventual mate, shares the fiercely democratic principles of the Revolutionary leaders; and, like the patriots whose excessive fervor led them to sack the Governor's house, he is so eager to hasten "a golden era, to be accomplished in his own lifetime" (p. 179) that he urges that the House of the Seven Gables be "purified with fire—purified till only its ashes remain!" (p. 184). At the end of the romance, Holgrave reverses his opinions so completely that Phoebe, adumbrating the reaction of many a reader, responds with "infinite amazement" (p. 315).
The persistent critical controversy about this ending suggests that it may be irreducibly muddled and that no single explanation will convince all readers. Nonetheless, I propose that the ending may reflect Hawthorne's attempt, however inchoate, to extrapolate from the historical pattern of The Whole History. The first epoch of Puritan idealism was followed by an epoch of worldly adventure that was followed in turn by an epoch of rekindled idealism. The House of the Seven Gables implies that the fourth epoch brought a resurgence of the materialism of the second epoch and that, if the cyclic pattern holds, a fifth epoch should usher in another renaissance of principle.17 Thus, the marriage of Phoebe and Holgrave, the heirs of the first and third epochs, may be seen as historically symbolic. Just as the death of Judge Pyncheon marks the end of the fourth epoch, this marriage inaugurates the fifth, which will parallel the first and third. The offspring of Phoebe and Holgrave, prefigured in the "indefatigable" egg-laying of the Pyncheon hens (p. 314), will occupy a historical position analogous to that of John Winthrop or George Washington. In effect, Hawthorne uses the ending of the romance both to exorcise the demons of the present, represented by Judge Pyncheon, and to prophesy a new heroic age.
Of course, The House of the Seven Gables is not history but romance; and Hawthorne warns in his preface against an "inflexible and exceedingly dangerous species of criticism" that, by assigning "an actual locality to the imaginary events of this narrative," would bring its "fancy-pictures almost into positive contact with the realities of the moment" (p. 3). Such contact would destroy the fragile "atmospherical medium" of the romance: the "silent, delicate, and evanescent flavor" of the marvelous, mingled with "the probable and ordinary course of man's experience" (p. 1). Hawthorne's purpose is "to connect a by-gone time with the very Present that is flitting away from us"; but the past should be regarded not as history but as a "legendary mist," which the reader may allow "to float almost imperceptibly about the characters and events, for the sake of a picturesque effect" (p. 2).
If the romance is not history, it is nonetheless profoundly historical. Roy Harvey Pearce has distinguished between two types of historical fiction by Hawthorne.18 In the first, to which The Scarlet Letter belongs, Hawthorne treats the past directly and evokes the past as symbol, so as "to let the reader see how it 'corresponds' to something in his own life and the life of the culture." In the second, of which The House of the Seven Gables is the most ambitious example, Hawthorne treats the past indirectly and shows "how the past in necessary part becomes the present" (p. 238). The role of the past in the present "must be realized symbolically, as the sum-total of one's sense of the multitudinous traces of the past as they exist in the present…. As it may be shown to have, or be made to have, an 'effective operation,' history has 'meaning'—symbolic meaning" (p. 241). Because of its symbolic meaning, history is "a means to moral understanding"—or, in Hawthorne's words, to "the truth of the human heart."
For Hawthorne, this truth does not emerge from the public events of history but only from "the midst of human interests," from "the most secret and confidential intercourse, that mortal man can hold with his fellow." These words, which might well come from Hawthorne's preface to The House of the Seven Gables , are actually said by Grandfather in explaining why "the human heart may best be read in the fireside chair." Because "Grief and Joy keep a continual vicissitude around it and within it," the fireside chair has so wide an experience that the imagination can hardly grasp it (p. 65). Thus, as Laurence says, "a family chair must have a deeper history than a Chair of State"; and, Clara adds, "the history of a country is not near so interesting as that of a single family would be" (p. 65). In The Whole History , despite its fictional trappings, Hawthorne confined himself to the history of the Chair of State; in The House of the Seven Gables , he probed the "deeper history" of the family chair and the family house that contains it.
- The Shape of Hawthorne's Career (Ithaca and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1976), pp. 31-32. Other quotations are documented in the text.
- The sketches include: "Mrs. Hutchinson" (1830), "Sir William Phips" (1830), "Dr. Bullivant" (1831), and "Sir William Pepperell" (1833).
- See Marion L. Kesselring, "Hawthorne's Reading, 1828-1850," Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 53 (1949), 55-71, 121-138, 173-194.
- Of these tales, "Young Goodman Brown" and "The Man of Adamant" are more allegorical than the others and less precisely historical; but both clearly concern the degeneration of Puritanism in the late seventeenth century. See Michael J. Colacurcio, "Visible Sanctity and Specter Evidence: The Moral World of Hawthorne's 'Young Goodman Brown,'" Essex Institute Historical Collections, 110 (1974), 259-299.
- The historical chronology is as follows: "The May-Pole of Merry Mount" (1628); "Endicott and the Red Cross" (1634); "The Gentle Boy" (1659-1661); "The Man of Adamant" (late 1600's); "The Gray Champion" (1689); "Young Goodman Brown" (1692); "Alice Doane's Appeal" (1692); "Lady Eleanore's Mantle" (1721); "The Minister's Black Veil" (early 1700's); "Roger Malvin's Burial" (1725-1740's); "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" (1765?); "Edward Randolph's Portrait" (1770); "Howe's Masquerade" (1776); "Old Esther Dudley" (1776). In setting some of these dates, I have relied on Neal Frank Doubleday, Hawthorne's Early Tales, A Critical Study (Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 1972).
- The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair in True Stories from History and Biography, Centenary Edition (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1972), p. 5. All other quotations are taken from this edition and are documented in the text. The Whole History was originally published in three parts: Grandfather's Chair (1840); Famous Old People (1841); Liberty Tree (1841).
- Hawthorne suggests in the preface that The Whole History may be more accessible to adults than children: "The author's great doubt is, whether he has succeeded in writing a book which will be readable by the class for whom he intends it. To make a lively and entertaining narrative for children, with such unmalleable material as is presented by the sombre, stern, and rigid characteristics of the Puritans and their descendants, is quite as difficult an attempt, as to manufacture delicate playthings out of the granite rocks on which New England is founded" (p. 6).
- It may be objected that Hawthorne's "vision" is only a conventional point of view, derived from other historians, notably Cotton Mather, Thomas Hutchinson, and George Bancroft. In his use of sources, however, Hawthorne did more than cut and paste. By "filling up the outline of history" with fanciful details and by giving that outline a fictional context, he adapted others' ideas to his own imaginative purposes.
- On Hawthorne's treatment of the loss of European qualities to the New England character, see Michael Davitt Bell, Hawthorne and the Historical Romance of New England (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1971); Frederick Newberry, "Tradition and Disinheritance in The Scarlet Letter," ESQ, 23 (1977), 1-26.
In "Dr. Bullivant" (1831), Hawthorne attributes this split to several historical factors in the late seventeenth century: the relaxation of piety in the second generation of Puritans; the licentious example of the court of Charles II; the immigration of merchants, free-booters, and even criminals; the ascendancy of commercial values in response to the growing mercantile importance of the colonies. "The tide of worldly principles encroached more and more upon the ancient landmarks, hitherto esteemed the outer boundaries of virtue. Society arranged itself into two classes, marked by strong shades of difference, though separated by an uncertain line: in one were included the small and feeble remnant of the first settlers, many of their immediate descendants, the whole body of the clergy, and all whom a gloomy temperament, or tenderness of conscience, or timidity of thought, kept up to the strictness of their fathers; the other comprehended the new emigrants, the gay and thoughtless natives, the favorers of Episcopacy, and a various mixture of liberal and enlightened men with most of the evil-doers and unprincipled adventurers in the country." The Complete Writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Old Manse Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1900), XVII, 274-275.
In this analysis of New England history, Hawthorne anticipated by nearly a century George Santayana's "Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy" (1911) and Van Wyck Brooks' America's Coming of Age (1915). In the latter, to explain his distinction between "highbrow" and "lowbrow," Brooks wrote, "So it is that from the beginning we find two main currents in the American mind running side by side but rarely mingling—a current of overtones and a current of undertones—and both equally unsocial: on the one hand, the transcendental current, originating in the piety of the Puritans, becoming a philosophy in Jonathan Edwards, passing through Emerson, producing the fastidious refinement and aloofness of the chief American writers, and resulting in the final unreality of most contemporary American culture; on the other hand the current of catchpenny opportunism, originating in the practical shifts of Puritan life, becoming a philosophy in Franklin, passing through the American humorists, and resulting in the atmosphere of our contemporary business life." Three Essays on America (New York: Dutton, 1934), p. 19. Of course, recent historians, such as Perry Miller, have also elaborated Hawthorne's interpretation.
- The fourth child, Clara, age ten, is very sketchily drawn; she is merely a cousin to the others. Clara rarely appears in the frame story and does not seem to figure in Hawthorne's historical patterning.
- Quoted in True Stories from History and Biography, p. 292.
- Hawthorne and the Historical Romance of New England, p. 198.
- Hawthorne wrote to Longfellow on 20 November 1840, "By occupying Grandfather's Chair, for a month past, I really believe I have grown an old man prematurely." Quoted in True Stories from History and Biography, p. 293. That Grandfather's chair and the Pyncheons' antique oaken elbow-chair and Hawthorne's high-backed Puritan relic are all the same cannot be demonstrated literally, of course; but it is likely that the real chair inspired both of Hawthorne's fictitious ones.
- As Marcus Cunliffe has shown, Hawthorne fictionalized several aspects of his own family history in The House of the Seven Gables: the curse of an accused witch; the quarrel between two families, finally resolved by intermarriage; the ancient claim to Indian land. Furthermore, Hawthorne drew upon his ancestors and his wife for elements of his characters. The romance became, as Cunliffe says, "a cluster of conceptions which had an intimate significance for Hawthorne." "The House of the Seven Gables," Hawthorne Centenary Essays, ed. Roy Harvey Pearce (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1964), p. 84.
- The House of the Seven Gables, Centenary Edition (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1965), p. 198. All further quotations are taken from this edition and are documented in the text.
- Hawthorne's cycles should be distinguished from Clifford's "ascending spiral curve" (p. 259). Whereas Clifford believes in ever more etherealizing and perfecting evolutionary cycles, Hawthorne imagines, rather, something like the natural cycle of decay and renewal in which the elements of life (or culture) are continuously dissolving and reforming. In historical terms, this amounts to a theory of cyclic devolution/evolution in which all historical changes are seen as stages in an unending regenerative process. Thus, at the end, Holgrave is merely correcting what Hawthorne earlier calls "his error … in supposing that this age, more than any past or future one, is destined to see the tattered garments of Antiquity exchanged for a new suit, instead of gradually renewing themselves by patchwork …" (p. 180).
- "Romance and the Study of History," Hawthorne Centenary Essays, pp. 221-244. Quotations are documented in the text.
Laura Laffrado (essay date 1992)
SOURCE: Laffrado, Laura. "The Transcendence of Temporality: The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair." In Hawthorne's Literature for Children, pp. 6-40. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1992.
[In the following excerpt, Laffrado examines how Hawthorne unites American history with a romantic conception of childhood and children's writing in The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair.]
In 1840, Hawthorne wrote a series of three short children's books about American history: Grandfather's Chair, Famous Old People , and Liberty Tree. They were published the following year. A decade later, after the success of The Scarlet Letter , they were reissued, along with Biographical Stories for Children , in True Stories from History and Biography ; the three historical works were then titled The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair.
Because Hawthorne engages American history in his other fictions, his rewriting of history for children has been compared with his rewriting of history for adults. Most recently, Nina Baym and Michael Colacurcio have included the histories in their examinations of Hawthorne's writing and the role of moral history in the early tales.
Aside from examining the use of history, however, the critical literature on Hawthorne's fictions continues to neglect The Whole History. Calvin Earl Schorer's "Juvenile Literature of Nathaniel Hawthorne," an unpublished dissertation (1949), treats the subject most completely. But little has been added in recent decades.1 The children's histories still have much to offer readers of Hawthorne. In these histories, Hawthorne first located and acquainted himself with a reality where the real and fabulous are conflated. The very writing of his children's books thus enabled him to distance himself from his own daily reality and personal history.
In Grandfather's Chair, Famous Old People , and Liberty Tree , Hawthorne related events of American history for children, using tales told by Grandfather and framed by the fireside reactions of Laurence, Clara, Charley, and Alice, his grandchildren.
In the brief preface to Grandfather's Chair , Hawthorne stresses the historical "truth" of these stories: "Setting aside Grandfather and his auditors, and excepting the adventures of the chair, which form the machinery of the work, nothing in the ensuing pages can be termed fictitious. The author, it is true, has sometimes assumed the license of filling up the outline of history with details, for which he has none but imaginative authority, but which, he hopes, do not violate nor give a false coloring to the truth" (6). In Hawthorne's terms, therefore, a nonfictional treatment of history can be a "true" one. His logocentric assumption that there ever can be one reading of history responds to the inaccuracies and deliberate distortions in nationalistic histories of the time. Yet the "American" history in these works will be Massachusetts history; and the stories told will be chosen to stress certain views of history and experience. Consequently, while Hawthorne disdains historical lies in all his fictions, here he remains (perhaps unconsciously) well within the ideological project of nineteenth-century Whig New England.
The children's histories Hawthorne wrote thus borrow from both of the nineteenth-century schools of thought on children's literature. Though the histories are not the overtly nationalistic propaganda seen in popular juvenile literature of the time, they nonetheless mirror their political culture. At the same time, Hawthorne's artistry associates the books with the romantic emphasis on childhood and writing for children.
In each book, Hawthorne creates alternate worlds that are metaphors for the real one. His use of imagination, symbolized by magic and alchemy, allows his characters (and thus the writer) to travel through space and time, to be somewhere else. In writing these histories, Hawthorne distanced himself from his personal history, from the Boston Custom House, and from his wearisome bachelorhood. A full decade before he climbed to the upper floor of the Salem Custom House and found that "the floor of our familiar room has become a neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairy-land, where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other" (Scarlet Letter 36), Hawthorne managed to escape his everyday life in his children's books.
Aiming his writing toward a different and less elitist audience allowed Hawthorne to construct worlds of escape for his young audience and for himself. On the surface, Grandfather's Chair, Famous Old People , and Liberty Tree are history retold for the young. Beneath the surface, all three texts repeatedly present alternative realities, worlds of magic, alchemy, and disguise, that encourage an escape from the hegemony within and without the stories. For auditors, readers, and author, the stories ultimately transcend the boundaries of time.
In all three books, Grandfather's chair guides readers to the lost personal worlds of historical figures: "It causes us to feel at once, that these characters of history had a private and familiar existence, and were not wholly contained within that cold array of outward action, which we are compelled to receive as the adequate representation of their lives. If this impression can be given, much is accomplished" (5-6). The chair serves as a vehicle to the "private and familiar existence," a recurring image in Hawthorne's fiction, to another time and another sensibility. The outward action that usually constitutes historical representation displaces the personal world and the power and meaning located in the familiar. Because of the chair, historical significance will mix with the personal, the actual with the imaginary.
The early pages of the book signal the movement away from "that cold array of outward action." The frame device of the first sketch begins with a "pleasant afternoon," "little Alice," who comes "fluttering like a butterfly into the room," and the observation that "a summer afternoon is like a long lifetime to the young" (9).2 This dreamy childhood scene is an alternative reality, the lost paradise of childhood, to be entered when one has wearied of the old world. Even before Grandfather tells his first tale, then, the boundaries of time have begun to blur: an afternoon can be a lifetime; paradise can be regained in the imagination.
In "The Lady Arbella," the first story in Grandfather's Chair , transport into the world of the actual results in sadness, fragility, and death. The fairly grim text supports the fears Hawthorne had confessed in his preface: "The author's greatest doubt is, whether he has succeeded in writing a book which will be readable by the class for whom he intends it. To make a lively and entertaining narrative for children, with such unmalleable material as is presented by the sombre, stern, and rigid characteristics of the Puritans and their descendants, is quite as difficult an attempt, as to manufacture delicate playthings out of the granite rocks on which New England is founded" (6).
For Hawthorne, writing American history for the young creates a tension between what he sees as the required lively narration and the "unmalleable material" of American history itself. To write American history for children successfully, then, requires a literary alchemist, one who can make the untractable material of history malleable. The material can then be fashioned into or adapted to a new form. In Hawthorne's children's books, the demands of American history (in A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales , classic myth) and the demands of the genre (children's literature) conflict, and he negotiates the conflict with varying degrees of success.
From the moment she leaves for America, Lady Arbella is caught between worlds. Her past, England, becomes for her a dreamworld that she will never see again. Since she looks "too pale and feeble to endure the hardships of the wilderness" (15), it is evident that she will not survive her New World of hardships where people variously clear, hew, hoe, drag, shout, dig, snatch, and run, while Lady Arbella "watches" (16). This robust world of active verbs is the world of the actual, where Lady Arbella cannot thrive.
In Lady Arbella's America, the sensitive cannot survive. The New World defeats, not only the sensitive woman, but also, by extrapolation, the sensitive person, since Mr. Johnson, Lady Arbella's husband, dies "'at Boston within a month after the death of his wife'" (19). Years later, in The Marble Faun , Hawthorne explores this territory in a larger and more personal fashion, developing it into an exploration of the American artist's survival in America and in the world. In Grandfather's Chair , the idea manifests itself as a warning from Grandfather (surely a character who could not now survive the transatlantic journey) to the equally weak children: those who leave their dreamworlds behind are doomed to one world and one reality. The unmediated world of the actual leaves the sensitive only a sad and fragile existence that leads to death.
In "The Red Cross," as in "The Lady Arbella," the change from Old World to New World is again complicated by the effects of otherness. The story briefly illustrates John Endicott's destruction of the banner of the Red Cross, the "national banner of England, under which her soldiers … fought for hundreds of years" (22). The banner featured a cross "'abhorred by the Puritans, because they considered it a relic of Popish idolatry'" (22). Once a symbol to inspire the sacrifice of a nation's blood, the banner is now read by Endicott as obsolete and heretical. A national symbol becomes an offensive rag; the world and its signs have changed dramatically, nearly magically.
Boundaries of old and new, permissible and lawless, conflict: "'As the clergy had great influence in temporal concerns, the minister and magistrate would talk over the occurrences of the day, and consult how the people might be governed according to Scriptural laws'" (22). Secular and spiritual law meet and form the official power structure. John Endicott must negotiate the secular and the spiritual, just as Lady Arbella negotiated two worlds.
The salient differences between the two tales (one features a dying woman, the other a robust man; one a new world, the other a more established world; one resignation, the other defiance) reflect the problematics of alterity. One's epistemology will determine which world is actual, which imaginary, and which one merits one's deepest faith and allegiance.
The vibrant world of "The Pine Tree Shillings" more successfully and happily conflates two worlds. The strongbox overflowing with pine tree shillings, the bride "round and plump as a pudding," the eccentric father with his "plum colored coat" (37) and buttons made of shillings, the weighing of the daughter balanced by her weight in shillings, all are qualities of a different time and genre, a time as remote from the actual as it is from the "private and familiar existence." There is so much money in the story that it cannot be viewed as real money, so much bride that she becomes larger than life.
The enlarged and distorted symbols of commercial success (money, clothing, overeating) prohibit this story from revealing the private existences of its historical figures. Yet we are also far beyond the coldly related action of "The Red Cross." "The Pine Tree Shillings" takes place in the past perfect, a time that requires imagination since it never existed. Names and articles of reality fuse its existence with the existence of the actual past. While Lady Arbella languished in a new world that we recognized as old, "The Pine Tree Shillings" offers an old world that is always newly imagined. This conflation of the actual and the imaginary will become characteristic of Hawthorne's artistic discourse, the way in which he will write most confidently. "The Pine Tree Shillings," brief as it is, is the first appearance of this interplay in the children's works.
Captain John Hull, the story's alchemist, turns "'battered silver cans and tankards,… silver buckles, and broken spoons, and silver buttons of worn-out coats, and silver hilts of swords'" into "'an immense amount of splendid shillings, sixpences, and threepences'" (36). He profits greatly by this ability to turn waste into legal tender: his title, "mintmaster," and his shrewd bargain with the magistrates reveal a power rooted in the classic American quality of commercial ingenuity. Hawthorne sketches Hull briefly, dwelling perhaps too self-consciously on his gleaming and almost magically obtained piles of wealth, such wealth and means being even more remote from the common person in Hawthorne's time than they were in Hull's.
Still, "The Pine Tree Shillings" suggests a world where capitalism and imagination can be yoked together. Hawthorne's stultifying and marginally remunerative employment stands sharply against the pleasures of consumption that result from Hull's wise but seemingly effortless actions. The hyberbolic intensity of the description of Hull's world encourages Hawthorne's escape into that remote and imagined past, just as it reveals his rewriting of the emerging industrialist-capitalist order that made his present life so complexly bound by economic facts. "The Pine Tree Shillings" offers the history of John Hull for children while it edits the mass culture that eventually resulted from such zealous attention to material wealth.
Throughout the collection, Grandfather's admiration authorizes the children to think highly of both character and the character's actions. The impact grows as the collection continues and Grandfather becomes a more opinionated narrator (just as Hawthorne, simultaneously, becomes a more authoritative writer). Though Grandfather relates Hull's story with great relish, he gives greater approval to John Eliot (of whom Grandfather "was a great admirer" ) in "The Indian Bible."
As narrator, Grandfather should admire John Eliot, who is shown at the end of his life, attempting to open a correspondence with the world by translating the English Bible into the Indian tongue. Hawthorne's desire to write for a popular market, Grandfather's wish to entertain and educate his grandchildren, and Eliot's hope to open one culture to another all reveal individuals engaged in a series of formal linguistic acts. In Grandfather's description of Eliot's work, for example, the language is "'utterly unlike all other tongues—a language which hitherto had never been learnt, except by the Indians themselves, from their mothers' lips—a language never written, and the strange words of which seemed inexpressible by letters'" (45). In "The Indian Bible" sounds are turned into words, but only by Eliot. Once this is accomplished, only Eliot and the Indians can understand the sounds as words: "'Learned men, who … were supposed to possess all the erudition which mankind has hoarded up from age to age'" (46), remain incapable of assembling the sounds into language. Eliot's work involves a world that cannot be read by scholars, one that remains unread outside the community. But due to Eliot, that world is now noticeably outside, visibly unread and inaccessible despite Eliot's desire to communicate it.
Grandfather's Chair repeatedly highlights past worlds that are as unreadable for the common reader as the Indian Bible was for Eliot's colleagues. Like John Eliot, Hawthorne is the only one who can see these worlds well enough to read them for the community. Just as Eliot tries (and ultimately fails) to link Indian and Puritan cultures through language, so Hawthorne tries to link the actual and the imaginary of the past through the language of Grandfather's Chair. The picture of Eliot sitting in solitude while translating the Bible into the Indian tongue and so entering a world removed from common language and understanding corresponds with Hawthorne sitting in the Custom House while translating history books into fiction for children and so entering a world isolated from the common reader.
Eliot worried that, were he to fail, his Bible would be left unfinished and his correspondence left unread. Hawthorne forever worried that his correspondence with the world was ultimately unread or misunderstood. Hawthorne, Grandfather, and Eliot all fear that worlds seen and read by them will remain uncommunicated should they fail at their respective tasks. "The Indian Bible," the only story in Grandfather's Chair that deals solely with language, reflects the dilemma of the artist striving to communicate what he fears is both essential and ultimately incommunicable.
Like "The Pine Tree Shillings," "The Sunken Treasure" is associated with the fairy tale and points to worlds unseen, objects unread. In its pages William Phips, "'a poor man's son … born in the province of Maine'" (57), moves from rags to riches, becoming Sir William Phips, governor of Massachusetts. Phips knows early in life that he will achieve greatness: "'He often told his wife that, some time or other, he should be very rich, and would build a "fair brick house" in the Green Lane of Boston'" (58). Since Phips's prophecy is realized in the story, Grandfather must be sure that the children do not misread these seemingly effortless, fairy-tale gains: "'Do not suppose, children, that he had been to a fortune teller to inquire his destiny. It was his own energy and spirit of enterprise, and his resolution to lead an industrious life, that made him look forward with so much confidence to better days'" (58). Grandfather knows Phips's prediction is the stuff of wishes, not the stuff of reality, and so tries to make Phips's good fortune the result of energy, enterprise, and resolution.
Grandfather's assertion that American enterprise and drive fueled Phips's success is undercut as Phips goes from poverty to wealth, stones turn into money, someone goes crazy at the sight of an inconceivable amount of money, and a shrub leads the way to buried treasure. Just as John Eliot's unintelligible sounds were words, so Phips's stones are silver: "'After a day or two, they lighted on another part of the wreck, where they found a great many bags of silver dollars. But nobody could have guessed that these were money-bags. By remaining so long in the salt-water, they had become covered over with a crust which had the appearance of stone, so that it was necessary to break them in pieces with hammers and axes. When this was done, a stream of silver dollars gushed out upon the deck of the vessel'" (62).
Though the element of alchemy is somewhat mediated by explanatory phrases ("by remaining so long in the salt-water" and "crust which had the appearance of stone"), the language encourages a reading of the process as magical. Hammers and axes release a force so volatile that it emerges, animate, in a "stream" and "gushes" out of its prison. This strangely vitalized, literally powerful fortune gives Phips power and success in his money-oriented culture.
As in "The Pine Tree Shillings," the large amounts of currency that enable one to participate successfully in the competitive forces of culture are achieved in unconventional ways. Neither Hull nor Phips competes in conventional ways for his wealth; neither fortune is modest, hidden, or the product of years of labor. Both Hull and Phips are portrayed as having a natural affinity for money, an ability to read the possibility of money in old belt buckles or crumbling stone. In this revision of the way to wealth, there is no machinery of industrialization, no life of frenzied productivity; no one works long, unpleasant hours, and no one fears an uncertain economic future. The alternative worlds in these stories result in the pleasures of upper-middle-class existence. The young auditors, the readers, and the writer escape confrontations with the harsh machinery of capitalist culture.
In the brief concluding section following "The Sunken Treasure" and ending Grandfather's Chair , a paragraph hardly meant for a younger audience defends the fanciful treatment in the stories:
"But, after all," continued Grandfather, "any other old chair, if it possessed memory, and a hand to write its recollections, could record stranger stories than any that I have told you. From generation to generation, a chair sits familiarly in the midst of human interests, and is witness to the most secret and confidential intercourse, that mortal man can hold with his fellow. The human heart may best be read in the fireside chair. And as to external events, Grief and Joy keep a continual vicissitude around it and within it. Now we see the glad face and glowing form of Joy, sitting merrily on the old chair, and throwing a warm, firelight radiance over all the household. Now, while we thought not of it, the dark clad mourner, Grief, has stolen into the place of Joy, but not to retain it long. The imagination can hardly grasp so wide a subject, as is embraced in the experience of a family chair."
Surely this paragraph is not directed to the audience wooed earlier with pine tree shillings and sunken treasure. If the experience of the chair is that of the human heart, then almost all of one's imagination is demanded to present it accurately. Indeed, because "the imagination can hardly grasp so wide a subject," the use of fancy is necessary. Once we emerge from the world of "The Sunken Treasure," imagination recedes, and Hawthorne's discourse returns to the world of the actual, with its insistence on facts and explanations. Even Grandfather's defense of the fictive use of the chair is couched in the secular and sentimental language familiar to Hawthorne's adult audience.
But Hawthorne had learned much about the neutral territory that enabled him to write confidently, and Grandfather's aside defending excessive imagination is followed by a cat leaping in the window and settling herself in a chair. "'Pussy,' said little Alice,… 'you look very wise. Do tell us a story about Grandfather's Chair!'" (67). Alice's request appropriately ends the book. Alice has learned enough in the course of the stories to approach unconventional sources of knowledge. If stones can turn into silver, chairs into tour guides, and worlds into dreams, then cats, perhaps, can talk. The stories in the collection have encouraged the children's awareness of narration, history, time, and truth. Grandfather's arbitrary interpretations do not cancel this heightened awareness. The possibility of the children's arriving at conclusions not promoted by Grandfather remains. Who knows what sort of story Alice will imagine the cat's telling? Grandfather's Chair ends between fact and imagination, with the wise cat ready to begin its narration.
- After the works of Baym and Colacurcio, the best recent addition to the critical literature on The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair has been John W. Crowley's "Hawthorne's New England Epochs." Crowley compares the "coherent historical vision" of The Whole History with Hawthorne's later "treatment of the New England present in The House of the Seven Gables" (60). Crowley's analysis of The Whole History and the connections between the sketches is provocative. In his convincing comparison of The Whole History and The House of the Seven Gables, he argues that Hawthorne "confined himself to the history of the Chair of State" in The Whole History and that "he probed the 'deeper history' of the family chair," along with "the family house that contains it" (69), in The House of the Seven Gables.
- The sentimental pieties of the Victorian treatment of little girls result in more attention being paid to "little Alice" than to her older sister, Clara. The portrayal of Emily in Biographical Stories will be similarly sketchy. Clara's and Emily's roles are limited to a brief introduction and then a line or two of general description later in the text. The male children consistently receive greater authorial attention than their female counterparts, unless the female is the prototype for untainted innocence, as is Alice. Hawthorne's preference for that innocence in children, male or female, is apparent in the introduction to Tanglewood Tales, where he woefully describes how his young auditors from A Wonder-Book have grown to the point where they have even learned to read and write. The acquisition of such skills can lead only to knowledge, experience, and adulthood.
Baym, Nina. "Hawthorne's Myths for Children: The Author versus His Audience." Studies in Short Fiction 10 (1973): 35-46.
——. The Shape of Hawthorne's Career. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1976.
Colacurcio, Michael. The Province of Piety: Moral History in Hawthorne's Early Tales. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984.
Crowley, John W. "Hawthorne's New England Epochs." ESQ 25 (2nd Quarter 1979): 62-70.
——. Grandfather's Chair. True Stories from History and Biography. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 1972. 7-67. Vol. 6 of The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. 20 vols. to date. Ed. William Charvat, Roy Harvey Pearce, Claude M. Simpson. 1962-.
Schorer, Calvin Earl. "The Juvenile Literature of Nathaniel Hawthorne." Diss. U of Chicago, 1949.
A WONDER-BOOK FOR GIRLS AND BOYS (1851)
Lesley Ginsberg (essay date June 1993)
SOURCE: Ginsberg, Lesley. "'The Willing Captive': Narrative Seduction and the Ideology of Love in Hawthorne's A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys." American Literature 65, no. 2 (June 1993): 255-73.
[In the following essay, Ginsberg contends that A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys presents a complex mythology and emotional ideology by "depicting the appeal of captivity in the face of a lonely or solitary definition of freedom."]
One of the most striking moments in Hawthorne's A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys occurs at the very end, when Primrose, the eldest member of the book's fictive audience of children, seems to metamorphose suddenly into an adult. After Primrose hears the final story of the volume—a refashioned myth of captivity, surrender, and conquest entitled "The Chimæra" —the narrator notes that "there were positively tears" in her eyes, adding that her response, in marked contrast to the "dancing … eyes" of the other children, can be ascribed to a "conscious[ness] of something in the legend, which the rest of [the children] were not yet old enough to feel."1 By analyzing that elusive and undefined "something," I shall explore the significance of this moment of implied emotional maturity and examine the way this incident invites us to reread the story for its ideological content. Further, by comparing the imagery of "The Chimæra" to similar contemporaneous images of captivity and freedom aimed at both children and adults, I shall argue that A Wonder-Book replicates what I call the myth of the "willing captive," a myth whose contradictions are resolved through a complicated ideology of love.2
In one of the few book-length studies of Hawthorne's Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales , Hugo McPherson argues that Hawthorne's refashioned Greek myths can be read as emblems of "the myth-making nature of Hawthorne's personality."3 While A Wonder-Book does share some striking affinities with what McPherson calls Hawthorne's "personal myth" (13), especially as it is articulated in his love letters, A Wonder-Book is also inextricably linked to the culture in which it was produced. Written during a period in which the voices of abolitionists and women's rights activists threatened the foundations of the social order, the controlling myths of A Wonder-Book reproduce cultural mythologies and ideologies designed to cultivate the illusion of stability during the turbulent 1850s, a decade which, as David Brion Davis reminds us, "could not take unity for granted."4
Fears of fragmentation and disunion haunted the discourse of the period. Antebellum authors like Hawthorne who tried to position themselves against the temptations to "ultraism" on either side of the political spectrum found themselves simultaneously trumpeting the rhetoric of liberty and independence and extolling the virtues of the slave system.5 The consoling myth of the "willing captive" and its concomitant ideology of love, used to bridge this disjunction in "The Chimæra," also appear in Hawthorne's overtly political Life of Franklin Pierce. Published in September of 1852, soon after the publication of A Wonder-Book , the Life of Franklin Pierce invokes its own mythologies precisely at those moments where Hawthorne's defense of Pierce is the most fragmented and contradictory.
Anxiously acknowledging the specter of a shattered nation, Hawthorne's election-year biography warns that even "the fiercest, the least scrupulous, and the most consistent of those who battle against slavery recognize … that merely human wisdom and human efforts cannot subvert it except by tearing to pieces the constitution, breaking the pledges which it sanctions, and severing into distracted fragments that common country which Providence brought into one nation…. General Pierce … at an early period … made known … these opinions upon the slavery question which he has never since seen occasion to change in the slightest degree. There is an unbroken consistency in his action with regard to this matter."6 Against this ominous and frightening vision of national dismemberment, break-up, and fragmentation, Hawthorne opposes the soothing "unbroken consistency" of Pierce's states' rights convictions, a formula which oddly privileges continuity over content. Hawthorne attempts to veil the contradictions inherent in his defense of Pierce by citing a highly mystified version of the founding of the United States which, in his words, was "brought into one nation" through the agency of "Providence." At the very point where Hawthorne's argument is weakest, then, he appeals to myth, inventing a fiction of divinely ordained union. Finally, his equivocal treatment of slavery dissolves into occult fantasy:
Those Northern men, therefore, who deem the great cause of human welfare all represented and involved in this present hostility against Southern institutions … can scarcely give their sympathy or their confidence [to Franklin Pierce]. But there is still another view, and probably a wise one. It looks upon slavery as one of those evils which divine Providence does not leave to be remedied by human contrivances, but which, in its own good time, by some means impossible to be anticipated, but of the simplest and easiest operation, when all its uses have been fulfilled, it causes to vanish like a dream. There is no instance, in all history, of the human will and intellect having perfected any great moral reform by methods which it adapted to that end.
In Hawthorne's Life , the contradictions inherent in this mythologized version of slavery are smoothed over by an appeal to an ideology of "love." According to Hawthorne, Pierce's resistance to the forces of fragmentation serves "to preserve and renew the old love and harmony between the sisterhood of the states" (110). Here, the "love" between the states enables them to soothe the tensions resulting from inequalities of power and economic rivalry; "love" forces them to relinquish their drive for dominance and to submit willingly to the desires of the other(s). Yet the ingenuousness of this purported solution to some very complicated problems calls attention to the way in which Hawthorne is here proffering a myth of love as well, a love which has the power magically to dispel the complexities of sectional conflict and the debate over the legitimacy of slavery. In response to the agitation of abolitionists and social reformers, figured in the Life as agents of cultural fragmentation and disunion, Hawthorne turns to myth in order to reconstruct a fiction of divinely inspired union cemented by the power of "love." Hawthorne proffers a similarly consoling ideology of love in A Wonder-Book as a solution to the complaints voiced by various unfree and half-free peoples, whose claims were becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
The refashioned myths which comprise A Wonder-Book represent a rather idiosyncratic and even fragmented selection from Hawthorne's chief source, Charles Anthon's A Classical Dictionary, which by its very structure renders classical myths as a series of cross-referenced fragments ordered only by the necessity of alphabetization. To lend unity to what otherwise could be read as an eclectic collection of fragments, A Wonder-Book depends upon its frame (in other words, coherence itself is a fiction). The myths are attributed to the imagination of one "Eustace Bright," a vacationing college student who, as the narrator coyly tells us, "had reached, I think, at this period, the venerable age of eighteen years" (7). His story-telling begins in the autumn and ends in the spring of the following year, a device which adds a cyclic wholeness to the somewhat fragmented myths. Yet the narrative structure of A Wonder-Book also highlights the act of telling stories to children; and, as we soon discover, the frame contains its own internal drama or story.
In the preface to A Wonder-Book , Hawthorne "the author" rhapsodizes that "children possess an unestimated sensibility to whatever is deep or high…. It is only the artificial and the complex that bewilders them" (4). Here, Hawthorne attempts to isolate the natural or so-called "simple" (4) tales from the "artificial" and "complex" world of adult discourse. Accordingly, the children in A Wonder-Book are christened after an array of flowers—such as "Sweet Fern," "Dandelion," "Cow-slip," and even "Milkweed" (6)—that often grow wild (it is a rare gardener, to be sure, who would deliberately nurture the dandelion). While the children may embody the "fanciful"7 or "blossomy"8 qualities of youth, they thus appear as emblems of the uncultivated as well; their names imply that they haven't been entirely domesticated or tamed.
If adult fictions are characteristically designing, Eustace's ideological innocence is linked to his youth. However, by the time A Wonder-Book has worked its way to spring, the narrator admits that "if you gazed quite closely at his upper lip, you could discern the funniest little bit of mustache upon it" (115). Yet the narrator immediately qualifies this "mark of mature manhood" by claiming that "setting [it] aside, you might have considered Cousin Eustace just as much a boy, as when you first became acquainted with him" (115-16). The self-conscious assertion that Eustace is still "a boy" has the ironic effect of underlining Eustace's incipient manhood; the narrator's equivocations suggest that Eustace's tales cannot be read merely as the ingenuous or "simple" narratives of one child to another.
For Primrose, who matures from twelve to thirteen during the course of A Wonder-Book , Eustace's age (and the authority that goes with it) is a constant source of friction. Precocious, opinionated, and vocal, Primrose appears in all but one of the twelve interpolated dialogues; her cutting responses to Eustace's tales form the core of A Wonder-Book 's dramatic tension. When she suddenly distinguishes herself from "the children" (87) at the age of thirteen, Primrose's latent womanhood makes a startling debut; the specter of her entrance into physical if not emotional maturity creates a special intimacy between Primrose and Eustace not shared by the other, younger children. For, as Anne Scott MacLeod remarks in her study of antebellum American children's fiction, though "the definition of childhood was none too precise in the period," it seems to end "at about twelve years old. Beyond that age, children were presumed to be interested in such adult topics as marriage, [or] employment."9
Through epithets such as "naughty Primrose" (8, 9) or "saucy Primrose" (58, 143), other characters and the narrator link Primrose to that epitome of dangerous femininity, "Naughty Pandora!" (76, 72, 73). In Eustace's revision, Pandora's curiosity and ennui combine to destroy the prelapsarian "Paradise of Children" by introducing aging into the world, along with all the other earthly "Troubles" loosed upon humanity. The role of "our active-minded little Pandora" (71) is offered to Primrose as a warning; as Eustace asks rhetorically, "Don't you think [Pandora] the exact picture of yourself?" (82). Primrose retaliates by entangling Eustace in his own heavy-handed analogy, replying that if she were Pandora, she would have found herself "well punished" by "Mr. Eustace Bright, in the shape of a Trouble!" (82). Yet as this episode further isolates the two eldest children from the presexual paradise of childhood, it also betrays a manipulative strategy behind Eustace's seemingly innocent narratives. When Eustace's tales are read as if aimed specifically at an adolescent female auditor, a romantic ideology emerges.
Hawthorne admits in the preface that the refashioned myths "have perhaps assumed a Gothic or romantic guise" (4), and these anxieties resurface when Primrose's classicist father faults Eustace for his "gothicis[ing]" (112). As Nina Baym remarks, the term "gothic" here includes more than unclassical proportions; it implies a disproportionately heightened emotionalism as well. Yet Baym also suggests that Eustace fails to infuse his myths with a passionate or, in this sense, a "gothic" sensibility: "Though [Eustace] claims to be attempting to reimbue the myths with their original warmth of heart, passions, and affections, his gothicizing achieves nothing of the sort. Where human emotions are concerned, these myths are superficial."10
However, Eustace does manage to provoke an overtly passionate response in at least one auditor. This scene of emotional display is linked to the last myth in A Wonder-Book , in which Bellerophon vanquishes a monster with the help of the magical and elusive Pegasus. Just after Eustace finishes "The Chimæra," the narrator reports that "All their eyes were dancing … except those of Primrose. In her eyes, there were positively tears; for she was conscious of something in the legend, which the rest of them were not yet old enough to feel…. 'I forgive you now, Primrose,' said [Eustace], 'for all your ridicule of myself and my stories. One tear pays for a great deal of laughter…. Don't you think that I succeeded pretty well in catching that wonderful pony?'" (168).
As Eustace's boasting metaphor suggests, his version of the myth emphasizes the capture of Pegasus at the expense of Bellerophon's final triumph over the "chimæra."11 Inspired by Primrose's undeniably emotional response, Eustace's analogy also implies that his literary and ideological success can be measured by the extent to which Primrose, too, has been psychologically captivated. And, in case we've missed these cues, the narrator hints that the tale is impelled by what could be called its erotic subtext, since sensitivity to this mysterious "something" is itself a mark of incipient maturity. This moment of passion invites us to reread "The Chimæra" as a psychodrama of surrender whose allure becomes perceptible to a sensibility which has grown beyond the emotional range of the child.
Conspicuously removed from the political realities of the 1850s, Eustace's myth nevertheless re-enacts the moral quandaries inherent in contemporary debates over women's rights, slavery, and the ethics of domestication. Pegasus's beauty is linked to the magic of his untamed, "wild" freedom; in language which recalls the terms of slavery as well as domestication, Eustace remarks that "he had never been backed or bridled by a master." Like that fiercely American emblem of liberty, Pegasus was "as swift, and as buoyant, in his flight through the air, as any eagle that ever soared through the clouds." And, if the fate of the once free-flying Pegasus is a metaphor for Primrose's seduced pose at the end of the tale, Eustace emphasizes that before his eventual capture Pegasus not only had "no mate," but his "solitary" life was also a "happy" one (145). As Bellerophon admits when he first catches sight of the creature, "it seemed a sin to think of bridling him and riding on his back" (155).
Yet Bellerophon is endowed with "an enchanted bridle" (151) "studded with brilliant gems" (144) so that, "if he could only succeed in putting the golden bit into the mouth of Pegasus, the winged horse would be submissive, and would own Bellerophon for his master" (151). In this rather charming yet ideologically pregnant reversal, Eustace imagines that the "submissive" Pegasus would "own" (or "name") Bellerophon "as his master," language which softens the hard edges of dominance by invoking a model of mutual dependency. However, the ideological implications of this rhetorical gesture can perhaps be thrown into relief by comparison to Frederick Douglass's "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?"—an address delivered roughly eight months after the publication of A Wonder-Book —in which Douglass artfully uses the rhetoric of reversal to an utterly opposite end, declaring that "the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July" (italics mine).12 While Eustace mystifies the reality of power by obscuring the difference between master and slave, Douglass uses the same technique to implicate all Americans in the production of inequality.
Bellerophon's jeweled "bridle" and "gold bit" may also echo the bridal jewels and golden ring which seal the marital contract, angrily defined by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the Seneca Falls "Declaration of Sentiments" as an institution in which woman "is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master—the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement."13 Thus the relationship between Bellerophon and Pegasus implicitly echoes the tensions of those two relationships most obsessively debated in antebellum society, the bond of master and slave, and the contracts and codes which shaped relations between men and women.
Until this point in the tale, Eustace has more or less faithfully followed Anthon's rendition of the myth.14 However, at the moment of Pegasus's capture Eustace's romantic imagination begins to reshape the myth entirely. Unable to refrain from entering into the story himself, he moralizes:
To speak what I really feel, it was almost a sadness to see so wild a creature grow so suddenly tame…. [Pegasus] looked round to Bellerophon, with … tears in his beautiful eyes…. But when Bellerophon patted his head, and spoke a few authoritative, yet kind and soothing words, another look came into the eyes of Pegasus; for he was glad at heart, after so many lonely centuries, to have found a companion and a master.
Thus it always is with winged horses, and with all such wild and solitary creatures. If you can catch and overcome them, it is the surest way to win their love.
Here, Eustace exploits the moment of capture by inventing a fiction of the supposed happiness of the captive in having found a captor, the purported gratefulness of the "wild and solitary" in having become domesticated, and the romantically imagined pleasure of the servant/slave in having been "overcome" by a "master." The "tears" in Pegasus's "beautiful eyes" resonate with Primrose's "tear[s]" at the end of the story, a gesture which also links Primrose's fate to that of Pegasus.
At this ideologically freighted juncture of the narrative, Eustace suddenly discards his classical sources and in so doing completely changes the focus of the myth. Having set the stage for an analogy between Primrose and Pegasus by way of their tears, Eustace self-consciously links what he himself "really feel[s]" to Bellerophon's own guilty sentiments. As Eustace commiserates, Bellerophon, having captured Pegasus through the agency of "the beautifully ornamented bridle" (151), is now regretfully struck by the changes in Pegasus wrought by his captivity: "Meeting his eyes … he was so affected by … the thought of the free life which Pegasus had heretofore lived, that he could not bear to keep him a prisoner, if he really desired his liberty…. 'Leave me, Pegasus!' said he. 'Either leave me, or love me.' In an instant, the winged horse shot almost out of sight…. But… the bright speck reappeared,… Pegasus had come back!… He and Bellerophon … put loving faith in one another" (157-58).
Bellerophon's utterly romantic "Either leave me, or love me" signals Eustace's radical departure from Anthon; this ultimatum entirely redefines the emotional core of the myth. Here, the conquering Bellerophon selflessly abstains from keeping Pegasus "a prisoner, if he really desired his liberty," while Pegasus seems freely to choose his relationship to Bellerophon without being bound by the forces of necessity or power. Eustace's conspicuous altering of the classical myth thus transforms it into a myth of the willing captive, who voluntarily discards the "solitary" (145) and "lonely" (157) joys of "liberty" in favor of the more emotionally pleasurable bonds of "love."
A Wonder-Book 's sentimental fictions of willing consent resurface in the ostensibly nonfictional Life of Franklin Pierce. In his defense of Pierce, Hawthorne turns to one of the most powerful of the Southern myths, explaining that Pierce "considered, too, that the evil [of abolition] would be certain, while the good was, at best, a contingency,… [abolition producing] the aggravated injury of those whose condition it aimed to ameliorate, and terminating … with the ruin of two races which now dwelt together in greater peace and affection, it is not too much to say, than had ever elsewhere existed between the taskmaster and the serf" (111-12). This appeal to the myth of the supposed "affection" between master and slave reads as an attempt to soften the brute fact of force through a consoling fiction of voluntary surrender and mutual need. Hawthorne implies that slavery engenders loving partnership, and even opposes this imagined bond to the more economically bound relationship "between the taskmaster and the serf." Though Hawthorne poses as a neutral observer who merely paraphrases Pierce's ideas, he privately admitted that these views were his own: "the biography cost me hundreds of friends, here at the north, who … drop off from me like autumn leaves, in consequence of what I say on the slavery question. But they were my real sentiments, and I do not now regret that they are on record."15"The Chimæra" can thus be read as both a version of Hawthorne's own "personal mythology" and a reification of a larger cultural myth. By comparing the "sentiments" of "The Chimæra" to those voiced by Hawthorne in his Life , the political implications of Eustace's ideology of love are manifest.
Eustace's romanticization of bondage is remarkably similar to the attitude of the notorious Southern apologist George Fitzhugh. In his "Slavery Justified by a Southerner," written in 1850 and later included in his Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society (1854),16 Fitzhugh defends the "peculiar institution" by describing the emotional bonds between master and slave. In Fitzhugh's mythic reconstruction of slavery, "the institution" is laudable because it "gives full development and full play to the affections" (248):
A man loves his children because they are weak, helpless and dependent; he loves his wife for similar reasons. When his children grow up and assert their independence, he is apt to transfer his affection to his grandchildren. He ceases to love his wife when she becomes masculine or rebellious; but slaves are always dependent, never the rivals of their master. Hence, though men are often found at variance with wife or children, we never saw one who did not like his slaves, and rarely a slave who was not devoted to his master.
Fitzhugh asserts that adult men can "love" only the child or the adult who has abdicated his or her "independence" in favor of the role of the child. This is another version of the emotional bond which Hawthorne ascribes to slavery and which Fitzhugh seeks to establish as the foundation of marital happiness. If the proper wife abandons her infantilized sphere, she becomes not only "rebellious" but "masculine," perversely usurping her husband's role. The "loving faith" (158) which masks inequalities of power and binds Pegasus to Bellerophon is more than an idealized model of the relations between master and servant or slave; it can also be understood as the epitome of the successful marriage. Primrose's ultimate surrender to this image of adult sexuality suggests that "The Chimæra" must be reread as a narrative of seduction aimed at taming or domesticating nascent female desire through an ideology of love.
Eustace refers directly to the looming problem of Primrose's marriageability after his rendition of "The Golden Touch," in which Midas transforms his daughter into gold, a transgression recalling slavery's commodification of human worth. When one of the children asks Eustace "how much she weigh[ed] after she was turned to gold," he answers that "she weighed at least two thousand pounds, and might have been coined into thirty or forty thousand gold dollars," suggestively adding, "I wish Primrose were worth half as much" (59). This comment can be read in relation to "The Pine Tree Shillings" in Hawthorne's Grandfather's Chair (1841), which tells the story of a wealthy mint-master who weighs out his daughter's dowry by placing her on one side of "such a pair [of scales] as wholesale merchants use, for weighing bulky commodities."17 He then fills the other side of the scale with silver shillings, cheerfully telling his son-in-law: "it is not every wife that's worth her weight in silver!" (39). Though "The Golden Touch" represents a more sophisticated revision of these themes, Eustace's epilogue belies his personal investment in Primrose's transformation from a "naughty" girl into a suitable wife.
Here, too, we should not forget that as early as Boccaccio's Decameron, the act of taming, "mounting," and riding a horse had become a cliché for sexual intercourse, a trope which Boccaccio uses obsessively.18 Thus the hint of sexual guilt inherent in the "sin" of "bridling [Pegasus] and riding on his back" (155) is forgiven once Pegasus chooses the role of the captive. Or, as Eustace seductively recounts, "that night, they lay down and slept together, with Bellerophon's arm about the neck of Pegasus, not as a caution, but for kindness" (158). At the center of "The Chimæra" is a fiction of emotional consent that legitimates sexuality not by lauding a love between equals but by reenacting the dramatics of domesticity between the tamer and the tamed. Primrose's teary response signals her change from an untamed little girl who risks opening the Pandora's box of equality to the domesticated nineteenth-century heroine of sensibility, properly trained for her future role as a wife and mother.
This drama of seduction may have iconic status within the codes of Hawthorne's personal mythology. Martin Doudna reminds us that "Primrose … is about five years younger than [Eustace]—just as Sophia Hawthorne was about five years younger than her husband."19 And, just as Bellerophon cannot hope to retain Pegasus unless Pegasus freely surrenders the power of flight, in the most seductive and "sacred" language of the love letter20 Hawthorne addresses his fiancée as if she, too, were a winged creature, renaming her his "Dove." Hawthorne is enamored of this pet name because it expresses his "yearning" for Sophia (320); like Pegasus, Sophia must allow herself to be caught. Yet Hawthorne refers to Sophia almost obsessively as "my Dove" (290), "mine own Dove" (299), or "my own heart's Dove" (301). The language of ownership which so often accompanies Hawthorne's references to his "Dove" reads as the rhetorical inscription of his conflicted desires, which drive him to "own" his lover while they lead him to anxiously reassure himself that her love is indeed freely bestowed.
In his love letters, Hawthorne associates captivity not only with seduction and pleasure but also specifically with the mutual dependencies of the marital relationship. In a passage which recalls the dramatics of surrender in "The Chimæra," Hawthorne teasingly admits to having been captivated by love, telling his "little Dove" that "thou … hast quite subdued a strong man…. I am a captive under thy little foot" (596). Yet, if Hawthorne could admit to feeling a certain thrill in being willingly "subdued" and rendered "captive" himself, in a letter dated 3 January 1840 he links the act of taming to the erotic capture of his female lover: "I have strolled thus far through my letter, without once making mention of naughty Sophie Hawthorne … say that I still entreat her to allow my Dove to kiss her cheek. When she complies with this oft-repeated petition, I shall hope that her spirit is beginning to be tamed, and shall then meditate some other and more difficult trials of it. Nonsense! Do not believe me, dear little Sophie Hawthorne. I would not tame you for the whole Universe…. Kiss me, Dove, kiss me, naughty Sophie Hawthorne" (398-99). Hawthorne teasingly equates taming with the prelude to erotic love play, suggestively adding that when the modest and resistant "naughty Sophie Hawthorne" indulges him with a "kiss," her lover shall then "meditate some other and more difficult trials." Yet, like Bellerophon, he feels a twinge of guilt even as he imagines the pleasures of consummation, though the final reprise of his "oft-repeated petition" playfully confesses his desire to "tame" Sophia, even as this desire is denied.
The thrill of courtship is contained in the drama of pursuit and capture: Hawthorne recognizes his virginal prey as his "naughty Dove!" (355), his "naughty wife!" (337), and his undomesticated, "naughty Sophie Hawthorne" (357). Hawthorne's private epithets duplicate A Wonder-Book 's continual references to "naughty Primrose," an echo which suggests that Primrose, too, is the target of a seduction narrative. And, in a passage which precisely mirrors the pivotal moment of "The Chimæra," Hawthorne imagines his fate should he fail to captivate or "tame" his fiancée: "Do you remember a story of a cat who changed into a lovely lady?—and on her bridal night, a mouse happened to run across the floor, and forthwith the cat-wife leaped out of bed to catch it. What if mine own Dove, in some woeful hour for her poor husband, should remember her dove-instincts, and spread her wings … and return to him no more! Then would he stretch out his arms … not having the wherewithal to fly, and cry aloud—'Come back, naughty Dove!'" (350-51). Hawthorne's half-joking fear that his beloved will fly and revert to her "doveinstincts" at the very point of conjugal crisis suggests that the drama of domestication is inextricably linked in Hawthorne's imagination to the scene of the "bridal night." Though Hawthorne drolly envisions desertion, at the heart of "The Chimæra" is a retelling of this same consummation fantasy, complete with the same anxieties. Juxtaposed to "The Chimæra," this passage also dramatizes the courtship resonances which inform the relations between Pegasus and Bellerophon.
Hawthorne resolves the ethical dilemma inherent in his vocabulary of "taming," ownership, and control by appealing to an ideology of love, which replicates precisely the ideology of willing consent proffered by "The Chimæra" : "my Dove is to follow my guidance and do my bidding. Am I not very bold to say this? And will you not rebel? Oh, no; because I possess this power only so far as I love you. My love gives me the right, and your love consents to it" (317). Just as Pegasus's love pardons Bellerophon for the "sin" of seizure (183), Hawthorne here invents a notion of "love" which gives him the "right" to "power" over his fiancée because her love implies her consent. And, as we have seen, Hawthorne appeals to the same ideology of affective consent in the Life of Franklin Pierce , where love becomes a remedy for the profound inequalities of slavery.
Hawthorne's pet name conveniently expressed his desire to possess yet simultaneously preserve his lover's independence. Though Hawthorne asserts that the Dove was a "sacred," "inspired" (320), and highly personal image, the use of the bird as an emblem of the tension between freedom and submission was not unique to Hawthorne. While both the winged Pegasus and Hawthorne's Dove evade the specter of caging by acquiescing to an emotional and ideological captivity, the image of the caged bird served as a central, visual trope for the period's debate over the ethics of captivity. By examining this image as it appears in that most ubiquitous of antebellum children's texts, the McGuffey's Reader, and comparing it to the same figure as it reappears in Graham's Magazine, aimed at adults, I will argue that the differences between these two images reflect some of this era's deepest ideological conflicts.
Primrose's response to "The Chimæra" allows Eustace's narratives to be understood as forming a bridge between adult discourse and children's literature. Though the sensibilities of grown people in the antebellum period may have been quite receptive to "The Chimæra," its image of willing captivity stands in marked contrast to the one in the McGuffey's Eclectic Readers, which were so popular that, in David Brion Davis's words, they "are reported to have sold a staggering 122,000,000 copies," and thus to have competed with the voices of parental authority to shape "the moral standards of countless American youth."21 The 1848 edition of McGuffey's Newly Revised First Eclectic Reader contains a number of "lessons" that deal specifically with the relative morality of caging a bird. Aimed at the youngest of readers, these lessons teach not only reading but a code of ethics as well; and, for the student of McGuffey's, the lesson is painfully clear: "I hope that no boy who reads this book, will ever rob a bird's nest. It is very cruel and wicked and none but naughty boys will do so" (Lesson #23).22
Lesson #12 highlights the adventures of a girl who hears a lark singing and is immediately stricken with the desire to "put it in a cage." Though the girl promises to "take good care of it," her mother argues that if the bird isn't "free" it will be "sad"; she finally convinces her daughter by way of analogy: "If you were kept in a small room … you would pine and fret to get out." In McGuffey's the seizure of an unwilling, "free" creature is morally suspect, even if that captive is loved and cared for, a sentiment which differs radically from the seductive pleasures of dependence proffered by "The Chimæra."
In Lesson #23, "James" finds "a poor young bird on the cold ground" and decides to make "a fine pet" of it. However, James is unable to repeat the ideological transformation which renders Pegasus a willing captive; after James's sister convinces him that "it would be cruel to keep the bird" because "we should not like to be … kept in a cage," James relinquishes the bird, thereby transforming himself, in the words of the narrator, into "a good boy." The simple woodcut which illustrates this story depicts a young boy kneeling just behind an open cage, gazing into the upper-left-hand corner of the frame, where a bird is in flight, far above him. The house, that potent icon of domesticity, recedes into the background. Like Lesson #12, the "lesson" here is a version of "the golden rule" predicated on the assumption that no one wants to be caged, metaphorically or literally. Thus McGuffey's privileges freedom over captivity. Though these lessons have been consciously created for the child reader, they oppose Hawthorne's representation of the same ethical dilemma in "The Chimæra." Yet the disjunction between these two children's texts is mirrored by the difference between Primrose and the rest of A Wonder-Book 's young audience; it is the child on the verge of adulthood who is most able to appreciate the pleasures of emotional bondage. For, as we shall see, Graham's Magazine offers a radically different version of the same trope, aimed this time at the adult reader.
Like many of its competitors, Graham's exploited the enormous popularity of illustrations in order to enhance both its circulation and its textual content. The images in Graham's illustrated a wide variety of texts, including music, with numerous engravings and woodcuts. Often, a particularly fine engraving was shown with nothing more than a caption and a page number directing the reader to the text that corresponds to the picture. By the early 1850s, Graham's began to open with no more than a particularly ornate engraving. In the six issues between July and December of 1852 five of these engravings feature an idealized beautiful woman. In July of 1852 however—at the same time that Frederick Douglass was delivering his scathing "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?"—Graham's chose to open not with yet another illustration of the feminine ideal, but with an especially lush engraving that resonates ironically with Douglass's oration, as well as with the impending Independence Day: "The Willing Captive."23
Requiring no gloss other than its caption, "The Willing Captive" can be viewed as a sophisticated revision of McGuffey's Lesson #23. Like the woodcut which accompanies Lesson #23, this engraving depicts a young boy, a bird, and an open cage. However, "The Willing Captive" represents a radically different version of the ethics as well as the emotional power of captivity. Here, the center of the picture is a large-eyed, rather effeminate young boy who wears a tunic adorned with a lace collar, an outfit which contrasts sharply with the masculine trousers and jacket worn by the boy pictured in McGuffey's. Conventions of the period dictated that young boys to the age of five or six were dressed in clothes that differed only slightly from those of girls; both wore tunics or dresses. Though the side-part in his hair identifies the child in "The Willing Captive" as a boy, boys remained curiously ungendered until they donned their first pair of trousers.24 However, this feminized dress code might have seemed especially appropriate to an adult like Fitzhugh, who sought to define the realm of the child as coterminous with that of the feminine. Further, this boy's gaze is not upward and away, but moves toward the very center of the picture, defining its emotional core; we watch him as he gazes lovingly, enraptured, at the bird resting on his hand. Dramatically, he seems to be looking directly into the eyes of the bird, a gesture which precisely mirrors the meeting of eyes which precipitates Bellerophon's romantic "freeing" of Pegasus.
The moment captured by "The Willing Captive" is far more complicated than the act of freeing depicted in McGuffey's. While "The Willing Captive" also contains an open cage toward the lower-right-hand corner, this boy has seated himself almost in front of it; rather than kneeling behind the cage, the boy in "The Willing Captive" has usurped the space which is left clear for the free flight of the bird in McGuffey's. Though the bird's wings are raised, as if poised for flight, it rests intimately on the boy's hand and seems to return the boy's affectionate and captivated gaze. "The Willing Captive" thus blurs the distinction between captive and captor, rendering it impossible to determine whether the title refers to the bird or to the obviously captivated boy. Like the dialectic which defines master and slave as dependent on one another for their identities, the caption is tantalizingly equivocal. By deliberately confusing the tamer and the tamed, this engraving attempts to seduce the viewer with an image of emotional bondage whose sensuous, overwrought texture masks its exploitive appeal to a psychologically compelling and politically powerful illusion: the myth of the willing captive.
The picture highlighted by Graham's is another version of an ideology of love proffered throughout the 1850s as a solution to inequalities of power, a problem which became more pressing during this period because of the inescapable problems of slavery and the struggle for the emancipation of women. As I have suggested, both A Wonder-Book and "The Willing Captive" assert a complicated emotional ideology by depicting the appeal of captivity in the face of a lonely or solitary definition of freedom. And, as I have also shown, the internal drama of A Wonder-Book 's narrative frame allows its myths to be reread as narratives of seduction aimed at reforming the sensibilities of the precocious, rebellious, preadolescent girl—lest she be seduced by the rhetoric of an antebellum Pandora like Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Though A Wonder-Book can be linked to Nathaniel Hawthorne's most private, "personal mythology," it also reinvokes contemporary attempts to mollify the demands of various unfree or half-free peoples through the refashioning of a cultural mythology based on the myth of the willing captive.
I am thankful to Jay Fliegelman for his astute suggestions for research and for his careful reading of early drafts of this paper.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, A Wonder-Book and Tanglewood Tales, ed. Fredson Bowers, et al., Vol.7of The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1972), 168. All quotations are from this edition.
- This phrase is borrowed from William Kerrigan, "What Was Donne Doing?" South Central Review 4 (1987): 3.
- Hugo McPherson, Hawthorne as Myth-Maker (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1969), viii.
- David Brion Davis, Antebellum American Culture (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1979), xix.
- See Nathaniel Hawthorne, Life of Franklin Pierce (Boston: Ticknor, Reed & Fields, 1852), 129: "the innermost and dearest part of a man's possession [is] his independence." Yet Hawthorne later privileges the supposed love between master and slave over "independence" as well as over abolition. Perhaps this seeming contradiction is the product of a definition of "man" which excludes both nonwhite adult men as well as all adult women. This view parallels those expressed by George Fitzhugh (see note 16, below), who figures both slaves and women as essentially infantilized.
- Hawthorne, Life of Franklin Pierce, 111 and 110.
- Carol Billman, "Nathaniel Hawthorne: 'Revolutionizer' of Children's Literature?" Studies in American Fiction 10 (1982): 109.
- Nina Baym, "Hawthorne's Myths for Children: The Author versus His Audience," Studies in Short Fiction 10 (1973): 37.
- Anne Scott MacLeod, A Moral Tale: Children's Fiction and American Culture, 1820-1860 (Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1975), 14.
- Baym, "Hawthorne's Myths for Children," 40.
- The illustration which accompanies "The Chimæra" in the first edition of A Wonder-Book offers a visual representation of the extent to which the story centers on Pegasus and Bellerophon. Though the engraving is entitled "Bellerophon and the Chimæra," the figures of Bellerophon and Pegasus are prominent; as if in a visual pun, the "chimæra" is rendered in such shadowy, uncertain terms that the beast is more an absence than a presence. See Nathaniel Hawthorne, A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys (Boston: Ticknor, Reed & Fields, 1852).
- Frederick Douglass, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" in The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 2, ed. Philip S. Foner (New York: International Publishers, 1950), 181-204; this oration was delivered at the Corinthian Hall in Rochester, N.Y., 5 July 1852 (190).
- "Declaration of Sentiments" (1848); rpt. in Davis, Antebellum American Culture, 92.
- Hawthorne omits the sexual jealousy which motivates the King of Lycia to send Bellerophon into battle with the seemingly invincible chimæra. See Charles Anthon, A Classical Dictionary (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1841), 256-57; Nathaniel Hawthorne, True Stories from History and Biography, ed. Fredson Bowers, et al., Vol. 6 of The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1972), 308.
- Letter to Horatio Bridge, 13 October 1852, rpt. in Thomas Woodson, et al., eds., Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Letters, 1843-1853, Vol. 16 of The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1984), 605.
- George Fitzhugh, "Slavery Justified by a Southerner," in Sociology for the South, or the Failure of Free Society (1854; rpt., New York: Burt Franklin, 1965), 226-58. Here too, it is worth noting that the Southern Literary Messenger of November 1852 contains a review lauding A Wonder-Book as one of the few books most appropriate for parents to give their children. See Moncure D. Conway, "Children and Their Literature," Southern Literary Messenger 18 (1852): 685.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, in True Stories from History and Biography, 38.
- See especially the "tenth story" of the "ninth day" of the Decameron, though the trope is used throughout.
- Martin Doudna, "Hawthorne's Pandora, Milton's Eve, and the Fortunate Fall," ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 31 (1985): 170. Doudna notes this apparent coincidence without exploiting its implications.
- Hawthorne to Sophia Peabody, 3 July 1839, Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Letters, 1813-1843, 320.
- Davis, Antebellum America, 56 and xxiii.
- William H. McGuffey, McGuffey's Newly Revised First Eclectic Reader (Cincinnati: Winthrop B. Smith, 1848), 20-21 [Lesson #12], 42-43 [Lesson #23].
- "The Willing Captive," Graham's Magazine 41 (July 1852). The engraving reads "Drawn by Deshay's, W. E. Tucker, S. C."
- Estelle Ansley Worrell, Children's Costume in America, 1607-1910 (New York: Scribner's, 1980), 99-111, 95.
Ellen Butler Donovan (essay date 2002)
SOURCE: Donovan, Ellen Butler. "'Very Capital Reading for Children': Reading as Play in Hawthorne's A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys." Children's Literature 30 (2002): 19-41.
[In the following essay, Donovan posits that Hawthorne's intended purpose in A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys was to appeal to children's creativity and imagination.]
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Baym, Nina. The Shape of Hawthorne's Career. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1976, 283 p.
Offers an extensive overview of each period of Hawthorne's literary career.
McPherson, Hugo. Hawthorne as Myth-Maker: A Study in Imagination. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1971, 256 p.
Examines Hawthorne's major works, including A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys and Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys, within the context of Hawthorne's understanding and use of myth.
Meigs, Cornelia, Anne Eaton, Elizabeth Nesbitt, and Ruth Hill Viguers. "New Horizons." In A Critical History of Children's Literature, pp. 259-69. New York, N.Y.: MacMillan Company, 1953.
Provides a brief description of Grandfather's Chair.
Moore, Annie Egerton. "Myths: Greek, Roman, and Norse." In Literature Old and New for Children: Materials for a College Course, pp. 138-74. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1934.
Frames Hawthorne's tales that utilize Greek mythology such as A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys and Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys and offers topics for further study.
Pearce, Roy Harvey. "Historical Introduction: True Stories, A Wonder-Book, Tanglewood Tales." In The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Volume VI: True Stories from History and Biography, edited by William Charvat, Roy Harvey Pearce, and Claude M. Simpson, pp. 287-311. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1972.
Provides a history of the writing and publishing of Hawthorne's major works of mythology and biography for children.
Van Tassel, Mary M. "Hawthorne, His Narrator, and His Readers in 'Little Annie's Ramble.'" ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 33, no. 3 (1987): 168-79.
Contends that "Little Annie's Ramble" ultimately offers an "ennobling partnership" between reader and author.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Man, His Tales, and Romances. New York, N.Y.: Continuum, 1989, 264 p.
Offers an examination of Hawthorne's life and major works, including A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys and Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys.
Additional coverage of Hawthorne's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: American Writers; American Writers: The Classics, Vol. 1; American Writers Retrospective Supplement, Vol. 1; Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 18; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 2; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 3; Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1640-1865; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 1, 74, 183, 223, 269; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors, Novelists; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Exploring Novels; Exploring Short Stories; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 1; Literature Resource Center; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 2, 10, 17, 23, 39, 79, 95; Novels for Students, Vols.1,20; Reference Guide to American Literature, Ed. 4; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, & Gothic Writers; Short Stories for Students, Vols. 1, 7, 11, 15; Short Story Criticism, Vols. 3, 29, 39; Supernatural Fiction Writers, Vol. 1; Twayne's United States Authors; World Literature Criticism; Writers for Children; and Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children, Vol. 2.