Henry James and HawthorneI discovered recently that James wrote a book about Hawthorne, which was part of his fascination concerning the influence of Puritanism on American culture and how he sees...
I discovered recently that James wrote a book about Hawthorne, which was part of his fascination concerning the influence of Puritanism on American culture and how he sees this when the New World encounters the Old (as in The Ambassador) or in the lives of Americans ("Beast in the Jungle," perhaps, or The Bostonians, or maybe even "Turn of the Screw.") James says of Hawthorne, "worse than provincial, he was parochial," and Wm Dean Howells, in his review of James' book on Hawthorne, complains that James seems to deny what Hawthorne seeks to do in Scarlet Letter: "Mr. James excepts to the people in The Scarlet Letter, because they are rather types than persons, rather conditions of the mind than characters." Is this a textbook case of "anxiety of influence"? And isn't James just a bit cloaked in the issues of Puritan influence he seeks to define as "parochial" in Hawthorne?
Isn't James right on that score, then? That Hawthorne did not believe in the Puritan doctrines--that's the point of Hawthorne's treatment of them, no? Does Renoylds mean to say that Hawthorne is didactic in his stance in relation to puritan doctrine? James wrote about Emerson, too, and he understood the relationship between Puritanism and Transcendentalism. He did appreciate--or at least he adopted--some of the metaphors of transcendentalism (the seeing eye), and I guess, as a result of that aesthetic connection, could not totally dismiss puritanism either--and surely we see him wrestle with it in "Beast" and elsewhere, especially in the context of the cultural criticism of his repressed homosexuality.
In his study, "Beneath the American Renaissance," author David S. Reynolds writes: "Henry James noted that Hawthorne had a profound knowledge of Puritan doctirnes as total deprevation, predestination, and perservance of the saints but did not sincerely believe in any of them." So too, I would argue,was Jamees unable to resolve his moral dilemmas. Henry James, Renoylds says, was not able to explain Hawthorne's social determinism and therefore could not truly judge Hawthorne as didactic or moralistic. He just wasn't sure of his, or of Hawthorne's, stance.