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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Marble Faun: Or, The Romance of Monte Beni is a novel by British author Nathaniel Hawthorne published in 1860. The novel is set in Italy and focuses on four main characters: Miriam, Hilda, Kenyon (all American artists), and Donatello (an Italian man).

The four main characters all have very different personalities and are each compared to various historical and fictional figures. Miriam, for instance, is supposed to be beautiful but mysterious. She is compared to women such as Eve and Cleopatra. Opposite Miriam is Hilda, an innocent woman compared to the Virgin Mary. The two women are often contrasted throughout the book.

Similarly, the two main male characters are often compared to famous figures. Donatello, who is the Count of Monte Beni (hence the second half of the book's title), is often compared to Adam. This comparison complements Miriam's comparison to Eve, as Donatello is in love with her. Kenyon, on the other hand, is incredibly rational and is compared to humanist thinkers.

The story follows these four unique characters throughout Rome, using the city's history and art as a backdrop for much of the plot. At the beginning of the book, Miriam is being stalked by a man from her past, and because of his love for her, Donatello murders him by pushing him off a cliff (something Miriam allows). This moment marks the start of a running theme throughout the rest of the book: guilt. Miriam and Donatello struggle with feelings of shame and guilt for their actions as their relationship with one another grows deeper. Similarly, a witness to the crime, Hilda, fights with deep shame and guilt for harboring the secret of what she saw. Kenyon, a friend of Donatello and a source of support during this time, secretly loves Hilda.

As the characters' feelings and relationships develop, they each come to understand human nature in a deeper and more profound way. By the end of the book, Donatello turns himself in for the murder, Miriam disappears, and Hilda and Kenyon marry and return to the United States.

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