Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“The Old Manse” is an example of the kind of short pieces that Hawthorne published in collections of short stories, although they were not stories but sketches or essays. Other notable examples of such rambling descriptive pieces, which Hawthorne loved to write, are “The Toll Bridge” and “Rills from the Town Pump” in his Twice-Told Tales. As Poe pointed out in his famous review of that book, these nonfiction pieces are characterized by a feeling that Poe called repose. They arc almost in the opposite manner of short stories, in that nothing dramatic ever happens in them. Modern editors frequently refer to such works as “mood pieces.” There is no conflict; they do not have much of a point and do not build to any sort of climax.
Consequently, such pieces are now mostly popular with literary connoisseurs and not with the modern reader conditioned to expect thrills and titillation in his reading matter.
“The Old Manse” was first published as an introduction to a collection of Hawthorne’s short pieces titled Mosses from an Old Manse (1846), which contained such excellent short stories as “The Birthmark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” Although “The Old Manse” is not a short story at all, it does evoke a mood of rustic peace and domestic bliss. It also contains interesting thumbnail descriptions of his famous neighbors Emerson and Thoreau. In this introduction, Hawthorne describes his contented life with his wife and children in a big house in Concord, which had formerly been the home of Emerson. It was called The Old Manse and has been preserved for posterity as a national monument.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
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