Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Hawthorne's Short Stories, Page 1

Nathaniel Hawthorne


  Short Stories

  Nathaniel Hawthorne (1805–64) was an American novelist and short-story writer. He was born in Salem, Massachusetts, and graduated from Bowdoin College. His first novel, Fanshawe, was published anonymously in 1828, followed by several collections of short stories, including Twice-Told Tales and Mosses from an Old Manse. His later novels include The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance, and The Marble Faun.

  Newton Arvin (1900–63) was a literary critic and professor at Smith College known for his influential writings about nineteenth-century American literature. He is the author of biographies of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Walt Whitman, and his biography of Herman Melville won the National Book Award in 1951.


  From an engraving of a portrait by C. G. Thompson


  Copyright © 1946 and renewed 1973 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1946 and subsequently in paperback by Vintage Books, a division of Random House Inc., New York, in 1955.

  Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage Classics and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:

  Hawthorne, Nathaniel.

  Short stories / Nathaniel Hawthorne.

  New York, Knopf, 1946.

  I. Arvin, Newton, 1900–1963, ed.

  p. cm.

  PZ3.H318 Sh PS1852


  eISBN: 978-0-307-74279-7

  Cover design by Megan Wilson. Cover painting by Claude Aubriet c.1670 © V&A Images




  “The Gentle Boy” and “The Wives of the Dead” in the Token.


  “The Gray Champion,” “Young Goodman Brown,” “The Ambitious Guest,” “Wakefield,” and “The White Old Maid” in the New-England Magazine. “Alice Doane’s Appeal” in the Token.


  “The Minister’s Black Veil” and “The Maypole of Merry Mount” in the Token.


  “The Great Carbuncle” and “The Prophetic Pictures” in the Token. “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” in the Salem Gazette.


  “Peter Goldthwaite’s Treasure” and “Endicott and the Red Cross” in the Token. “Lady Eleanore’s Mantle” in the Democratic Review.


  “Old Esther Dudley” in the Democratic Review.


  “Egotism; or, The Bosom Serpent” and “The Celestial Railroad” in the Democratic Review. “The Antique Ring” in Sargent’s New Monthly Magazine. “The Birthmark” in the Pioneer.


  “The Christmas Banquet,” “The Artist of the Beautiful,” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter” in the Democratic Review. “Earth’s Holocaust” in Graham’s Magazine. “Drowne’s Wooden Image” in Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book.


  “The Great Stone Face” in the National Era.


  “Ethan Brand” in the Dollar Magazine.


  “Feathertop” in the International Magazine.


  IF HAWTHORNE had died in his middle forties—an advanced age for a man of genius—we should know him now not as the author of The Scarlet Letter or any of his other novels but solely as a writer of short stories or tales. It is true that, two or three years after he left college, Hawthorne had written and published anonymously a little novel called Fanshawe, which under different auspices might well have been followed shortly by other works of fiction on the same scale—and of richer substance—but some chill in the New England air at that early hour disheartened the young Hawthorne for novel-writing, and in fact he had destroyed all the copies of Fanshawe itself that he could lay hands on. It had been a pretty unripe little work at best, and in any case for twenty years thereafter Hawthorne stuck consistently to the briefer form. By good luck it was admirably suited, all that while, to what he had to say, as it was to what Hoffmann and Gogol and Gautier had to say at much the same time, and the best of Hawthorne’s tales express his nature, his personal sense of things, so subtly and truly that there can be no question of loss or limitation.

  No literary fame, however, was ever of slower or less sensational growth. Hawthorne himself, who had been born in 1804, once said that for many years he had been the obscurest man of letters in America, and this remark hardly exaggerated the facts. For a long time his audience had been limited to the readers of the modish little “gift-books” or annuals, and even in those genteel pages he was anonymous and unidentifiable. A deep-rooted shyness had kept him from signing his contributions to the Token, as the best of the annuals was called, and for years he had hidden behind the mask of “Ashley Allen Royce” or “The Author of ‘The Gentle Boy.’ ” Such work as his, however, could not fail indefinitely to make its impression, and a handful of readers had already been puzzling over the secret of its authorship when, in 1836, Park Benjamin, an astute and friendly journalist, named him by his real name—and eulogized him—in a popular magazine.

  A year later Hawthorne was persuaded by a friend to make a collection of his pieces in book form, and the Twice-Told Tales appeared over the imprint of a Boston publisher. The circle now began to widen perceptibly. Longfellow reviewed the book with excited appreciativeness; there were other signs of regard and recognition from time to time, and when, in 1842, a second, expanded edition of the Tales appeared, they were noticed at length in several quarters—most momentously in Graham’s, where Poe devoted to them a famous and flattering review. So much as five years later, however, and even after Hawthorne, with the Mosses from an Old Manse, had made a third collection, Poe could still speak of him, in another review, as “the example, par excellence, in this country, of the privately-admired and publicly-unappreciated man of genius.” Few as the appreciators may have been, they were, most of them, highly competent to speak; many of them were other writers—the most ardent of all was Herman Melville—and their judgment was at last borne out, in 1850, by the great public success of The Scarlet Letter. The following year, with The Snow Image, Hawthorne made a fourth and final collection of his tales, the last that he wished to preserve or that, as he said, had survived in his own remembrance.1

  Not many writers have worked so long amid such a hush or in such a shadow: the tales themselves, as Hawthorne himself strongly felt, are colored everywhere by the circumstances under which they were written. His own feeling was that they suffered as a result, and he was partly right; but they gained something vital too—a curiously cool intensity, an air of candid shyness, a quality of being at once private and communicative. They were not, he said, “the talk of a secluded man with his own mind and heart,” but his attempts—imperfectly successful ones, he thought—“to open an intercourse with the world.” But the truth is that his stories partook of both characters: they were attempts at communication with other men, such as only a solitary could conceive, but they were also attempts to make plain to himself the meaning of his own inward and outward experience. They were soli
loquies that were meant to be overheard.

  In any other period they might well have taken quite a different literary form—fabulous, visionary, legendary, poetic (in the limited sense), and even dramatic—and if they took the form of “short stories,” it was because, at the moment Hawthorne began to write, that mold was a natural and almost a handy one. This does not mean that it was long-established; on the contrary, it was in its primitive or experimental stage, especially in English, and if it was handy, it was only in the sense in which the history play was so for the young Shakespeare. The Italian novella, the French conte, the realistic-moral English tale—these were ancient types, but they were nothing to the purpose of Hawthorne or his contemporaries: they were not “inward,” they were not meditative or musing, they were not a matter of tone and lighting and harmony. It was only latterly that short pieces of prose fiction had begun to take on qualities such as these, and Hawthorne was as much the creator as he was the inheritor of a form.

  He had been preceded by the romantic Germans, Tieck and Hoffmann and Chamisso, with their tales of fatal Geheimnisse, of uncanny solicitation and ruin, of “lost shadows” and spell-working portraits, of delusion and anxiety and guilt; and in his indolent but impressionable way he undoubtedly read some of these writers as they were being translated in his youth. He knew Irving, too, and the lesson of Irving’s delicate, daydreaming, watercolorist’s art was not lost on him. In the ten years between “Rip Van Winkle” and Hawthorne’s earliest tales, a whole little literature of short fiction had sprouted in this country, a mostly very pale but sometimes rather vivid literature of ghost stories, Indian legends, “village tales,” and historical anecdotes—the thin foliage of the annuals as it was put forth by the now forgotten Pauldings and Leggetts and Sedgwicks who were the lesser Faulkners or Porters of their time. It was (to change the figure) the only springboard from which Hawthorne could take off directly, and what he, like Poe at exactly the same moment, succeeded in making of the gift-book or magazine tale of the twenties and thirties is only one more out of a thousand illustrations of a familiar literary truth, the power of men of genius to sublimate the most unpromising forms.

  He had things to express that were his own, not simply the moral and aesthetic small change of the era, and he had, what none of the others except Poe had in anything like the same degree, an innate sense of the plastic, an instinct for form, the tact and touch of a born artist—an artist whom it is tempting to think of as peculiarly New England, and to associate in one’s imagination with the old Yankee craftsmen, the silversmiths and the cabinet-makers whose solid and yet fastidious work his own does really suggest. He of course learned something here from his literary predecessors, even no doubt from the little men, but what he arrived at was his own and not Hoffmann’s or Irving’s or Leggett’s.

  It happens that we can follow part way the process of his art; from an early period Hawthorne, like James and Chekhov after him, had had the habit of keeping notebooks, and on these, when he came to write his tales, he constantly drew. We often find in them, therefore, what James would call the “germs” or “seeds” from which the stories, in their own good season, unfolded. We find, too, the seeds from which they did not unfold: the observations of real people, queer or humorsome or even ordinary individuals who, unlike those in Chekhov, rarely reappear in the tales; the overheard or communicated fragments of “true” stories out of real lives which, unlike those in James, almost never made the transition from hearsay to art. The germ of a typical Hawthorne tale is not a “real” individual or an actual and firsthand story—his imagination needed a further withdrawal from things than that—but either some curious passage that had quickened his fancy in his reading or some abstractly phrased idea, moral or psychological, that he had arrived at in his endless speculative reveries.

  He had been struck, to take an example of the first of these, by an anecdote about Gilbert Stuart which William Dunlap tells in his history of the fine arts in America. Stuart, according to Dunlap, had been commissioned by Lord Mulgrave to paint the portrait of his brother, General Phipps, on the eve of the General’s sailing for India. When the portrait was finished and Mulgrave, for the first time, examined it, he broke out with an exclamation of horror: “What is this?—this is very strange!” “I have painted your brother as I saw him,” said Stuart, and Mulgrave rejoined: “I see insanity in that face.” Some time later the news reached England that Phipps, in India, had indeed gone mad and taken his own life by cutting his throat. The great painter, as Dunlap adds, had seen into a deeper reality behind the man’s outward semblance, and with the insight of genius had painted that. Upon this hint Hawthorne wrote, and the result was “The Prophetic Pictures.”

  Consider, however, what he ends by doing with the hint. An anecdote, strange enough in itself and told for the sake of its deeper meaning, but naked and meager in circumstance and shape, has been worked over into an enriched and molded narrative, in which the original suggestion is only barely recognizable. Back into a remoter past goes the time of the action; back into a past which, as James would say, was “far enough away without being too far”; not the too recent past, at any rate, of Stuart himself, who had died less than ten years before and whose memory was much too fresh in men’s minds. The tone of time is to count, but it is the tone of a dimmer time; and Hawthorne, with a few touches of his delicate, poetic erudition, evokes for us, only just fully enough, the simpler Boston of the mid-colonial day. The painter himself remains nameless and a little mythical; he has no actual counterpart in history—not in Smibert, certainly, nor Blackburn—and of course he could have none. As for his sitter, that sitter has become, to deepen the interest, two people, a young man and his bride: two lives, not merely one, are to be darkened and destroyed. The premonitions of madness, as in Dunlap, are to be detected in Walter Ludlow’s countenance, but so too are the premonitions of passive suffering and all-enduring love in Elinor’s. The painter himself, indeed, is to be involved in a way that did not hold for Stuart, but meanwhile the gloomy sequence of incidents moves from its natural prologue (the ordering of the portraits) to its first and second “acts” (the painting and then the displaying of them) through its long interval of latency (the years of the painter’s absence) to its scene of violent culmination (the painter’s return and the onset of Walter’s madness). Such was the form—carefully pictorial, narratively deliberate, in a derived sense dramatic—that Hawthorne worked out for himself in his most characteristic tales.

  Dunlap’s anecdote, however, has undergone a still more revealing metamorphosis. The “moral” of Hawthorne’s actual story is not, as Dunlap’s was, the great painter’s power of seeing beyond the physical countenance into the mind and heart of the sitter, though Hawthorne does, with a deliberate turn of the ironic screw, put just that thought into Walter Ludlow’s mouth. What interested him was not so much the sitters and their tragedy as the artist and his: for him the artist’s power was always a potential and here an actual curse; his art might so easily become “an engrossing purpose” which would “insulate him from the mass of humankind,” as this painter’s does, and transform him indeed from the mere reader of men’s souls into an agent of their destinies. Hawthorne’s portraits here—like Hoffmann’s in “Doge and Dogaressa,” which he might have known, or like Gogol’s in “The Portrait,” which he certainly did not know—become the symbols not only of the artist’s clairvoyance but of a malignant fatality of which he may be the guilty medium. Certainly Hawthorne shared with several of his contemporaries—Poe and Balzac are other examples—their delight in the use of paintings as poetic symbols.

  The earliest seeds of his tales, in any case, were sometimes of an almost metaphysical abstractness. This is true, for example, of “The Birthmark,” which seems to have germinated in his imagination for six or seven years before it was ready to be hatched. It came to him first in the fleshless form of a mere “idea”: “A person to be in the possession of something as perfect as mortal man has a right to dem
and; he tries to make it better, and ruins it entirely.” A few years later this vague “something” had become a human being, and the ruin to be wrought had made itself specific in the idea of death: “A person to be the death of his beloved in trying to raise her to more than mortal perfection; yet this should be a comfort to him for having aimed so highly and holily.” Even now, however, the idea was still too intangible, too unripe, for embodiment. It was only after a year or two that Hawthorne, turning the pages of a recent work on physiology, lighted upon the palpable image he had been groping for—the image of a gifted and learned young chemist who, according to this writer, aiming at the discovery of some great new scientific principle, had shut himself up in his laboratory for several days on end and, resorting to various means of artificial excitation, had endeavored to whip up his mind to the highest pitch of activity, with the result that he had ended by driving himself insane.

  No such fate, of course, overtakes Aylmer in the tale; Hawthorne already had his own tragic denouement, the death of Georgiana, and all he needed to borrow from Combe was the nature of Aylmer’s pursuits, the setting of a laboratory, and a touch or two like the “penetrating odors” of the perfume that Aylmer displays to his beloved. The imperfection to be rooted out must clearly be a physical one, though as free as possible from grossness, and one that a pretty fanciful “chemistry” might conceivably eliminate; the image of Georgiana’s tiny birthmark must have come very lightly and naturally to Hawthorne. When, for the sake of a moral set-off, he had added the character of Aminadab, Aylmer’s brutal assistant, he had all that was essential for his tale. What remained was to compose it—to send the reader’s fancy vaguely back to “the latter part of the last century,” to bring his young chemist on the scene, to evoke Georgiana’s all-but-perfect beauty as if he were giving “instructions to a painter,” to let the sense of Aylmer’s mad intention grow upon us forebodingly, to work in the richly expressive physical details (the “gorgeous curtains,” the “perfumed lamps, emitting flames of various hues,” the “soft, impurpled radiance,” and the like), and to advance the allegorical little drama from scene to scene, from one abortive experiment to another, until its pitiful culmination is reached. “Every word tells,” as Poe said of another tale of Hawthorne’s, “and there is not a word which does not tell.”