The Marble Faun, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s final novel, examines two of the problems that interested its author late in his career: the complications of living abroad and the possible benefits of human suffering. Considered by some to be less successful than his earlier works, the novel nevertheless offers a unique picture of the effects of a foreign culture upon American lives and values.
The story follows the movements of a group of artists living in Rome in the 1850’s. Miriam, a beautiful painter with a mysterious background, is haunted by a strange man from her past. In a moment of passion she allows Donatello, her Italian suitor, to murder the stranger by throwing him from the cliff once known as the Traitor’s Leap. From this point Hawthorne’s interest in the ability of guilt to bring about changes in identity guides the novel. Donatello, happy but shallow before the murder, soon develops a more profound understanding of human nature through the sympathy created by his feelings of remorse. His relationship with Miriam also deepens, though his shame at their mutual secret soon drives him into isolation at his family home in Tuscany. There Donatello finds himself unable to appreciate the natural beauty he loved as a boy. Having gained wisdom and experience, he has lost his youth and innocence. Donatello is guided through this difficult period by Kenyon, an American sculptor who acts as observer and partial spokesman for Hawthorne. Not only...
(The entire section is 477 words.)