Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 9 (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Collected Novels
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Hawthorne, Nathaniel
Collected Novels

Purchased at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store. I read Hwathorne in different editions than this, all of which I sold back to the store after purchasing this handy little hardcover for $9.

I first read Hawthorne rather late. I bought the Scarlet Letter and the House of the Seven Gables in preparation for my first class with Susan Howe. In the summer before I arrived in Buffalo, I did a lot of preparatory reading, a combination of theory, poetry and American lit. I had studied very little American lit as an undergrad and I noticed that all of Susan's course descriptions expected that you had read certain authors before you arrived, so I set myself the task of catching up.

I am not sure we ever actually discussed Hawthorne in the classes I took -- we talked a lot about Melville and Henry James, but not Hawthorne. Nonetheless, I was ready.

Last time Lori and I visited Jonathan Skinner and Isabelle Pellissier in Maine, we made a stop in Salem to see two things. First, there was an amazing Joseph Cornell retrospective going on at the museum. We spent most of the afternoon wandering around looking at his little boxes. We also watched a retrospective of his films, which was on a continuous loop in one of the galleries. Thanks to James Koller and Maggie Brown, we also got a DVD copy of this films to bring home with us.

Afterward, we wandered around the historic part of town and eventually found our way down to the Hawthorne area. We saw the customs house where he worked – and where The Scarlet Letter opens. We then walked over to the house of Seven Gables, but we didn't go in because it was obscenely expensive. I did learn something that day, however, when I realized that what I thought of as a "gable" was in fact a "dormer." The House of the Seven Gables looked not at all liked I had imagined.

I realized after finishing yesterday's entry that I left off a couple of A-B acquisitions from the list:


Robert Adamson–The Goldfinches of Baghdad


Roberto Bolaño–Monsieur Pain (Spanish version)

from The Scarlet Letter

(Note: I rarely choose excerpts based on anything other than chance or convenience, but I happen to love this one from Hawthorne, so here it is. A great piece of puritanical satire!)

How soon--with what strange rapidity, indeed did Pearl arrive at an age that was capable of social intercourse beyond the mother's ever-ready smile and nonsense-words! And then what a happiness would it have been could Hester Prynne have heard her clear, bird-like voice mingling with the uproar of other childish voices, and have distinguished and unravelled her own darling's tones, amid all the entangled outcry of a group of sportive children. But this could never be. Pearl was a born outcast of the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no right among christened infants. Nothing was more remarkable than the instinct, as it seemed, with which the child comprehended her loneliness: the destiny that had drawn an inviolable circle round about her: the whole peculiarity, in short, of her position in respect to other children. Never since her release from prison had Hester met the public gaze without her. In all her walks about the town, Pearl, too, was there: first as the babe in arms, and afterwards as the little girl, small companion of her mother, holding a forefinger with her whole grasp, and tripping along at the rate of three or four footsteps to one of Hester's. She saw the children of the settlement on the grassy margin of the street, or at the domestic thresholds, disporting themselves in such grim fashions as the Puritanic nurture would permit! playing at going to church, perchance, or at scourging Quakers, or taking scalps in a sham fight with the Indians, or scaring one another with freaks of imitative witchcraft. Pearl saw, and gazed intently, but never sought to make acquaintance. If spoken to, she would not speak again. If the children gathered about her, as they sometimes did, Pearl would grow positively terrible in her puny wrath, snatching up stones to fling at them, with shrill, incoherent exclamations, that made her mother tremble, because they had so much the sound of a witch's anathemas in some unknown tongue.

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