Adventures in Reading

Nathaniel Hawthorne on Himself

Following Edgar Allan Poe’s remarks on the short story and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales in What is the short story? by Eugene Current-García and Walton R. Patrick, is an introduction and a preface by Nathaniel Hawthorne for his own literary works. Though perhaps with a dab of sarcasm or bitterness, Hawthorne appears excruciatingly modest and apologetic to the point that he is almost suggesting alternative titles to his audience. In the author’s preface to the 1851 edition of Twice-Told Tales Hawthorne elaborates that:

“They [the stories] have the pale tint of flowers that blossomed in too retired a shade–the coolness of a meditative habit, which diffuses itself through the feeling and observation of every sketch [1]. … The book, if you would see anything in it, requires to be read in the clear, brown, twilight atmosphere in which it was written; if opened in the sunshine, it is apt to look exceedingly like a volume of blank pages.”

While I have not read Twice-Told Tales, I have read The Scarlet Letter and The Scribner’s Tale (I believe it’s called) and adore them both. From the author’s introduction to “Rappaccini’s Daughter” there is an excerpt I found significant in response to the short story: “Occasionally a breath of Nature, a raindrop of pathos and tenderness, or a gleam of humor, will find its way into the midst of his fantastic imagery, and make us feel as if, after all, we were yet within the limits of our native earth.”

First, “a raindrop of pathos” is a fabulous saying. Secondly, I’m not precisely sure what Hawthorne is getting at, but I think the gist is Hawthorne saying at times in his collection is an emotional appeal that makes the reader feel “within the limits of our native earth.” Admittedly it’s the final portion of this quote that’s stopping me… I read it in an uplifting manner but undoubtedly it has an additional Romantic/Transcendental/Naturalist/etc. meaning

In the preface, Hawthorne also addresses that “They [the stories] are not the talk of a secluded man with his own mind and heart … but his attempts, and very imperfectly successful ones, to open an intercourse with the world…” This quote seems equally applicable to all forms of art (written, visual, etc.) but in consideration of the previous quote I have been thinking of the introduction of a fragment of pathos in a story to introduce discussion.

[1] If you recall from my post of “The Voyage” by Washington Irving that the story was from a collection titled The Sketch Book. The sketch book is in reference to drawing where an artist quickly (and sometimes haphazardly) creates a representation of, well, whatever for further consideration at a later point in time. According to the introduction of my copy of Irving, some literary books that also included illustrations called themselves “sketch books” but Irving I think was the first to apply the term to an entire set of the written word.

This seems to explain why in this period short stories, prose tales, etc. are at times referred to as “sketches.” However, I would like to think that this evolutionary branch of “sketches” and “sketch book” also moved away from the idea of a work being unfinished (and I’m sure Irving would agree).


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[…] that I can boast!) But I really enjoyed The Scarlet Letter and most recently was interested by Hawthorne’s essay on his own writing. 2 Comments so far Leave a […]

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