illustrated portrait of American author Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 - 1864)

American novelist, short story writer, and essayist.

Hawthorne is an acknowledged master of American fiction. His novel The Scarlet Letter (1850) is one of the most-read classics of American literature, and several of his short stories are ranked as masterpieces of the genre. Hawthorne's works reflect his dark vision of human nature, as he frequently portrays Puritanism as an expression of humanity's potential for cruelty, obsession, and intolerance. His strange, haunting tales of guilt, isolation, and death betray his fascination with the macabre even as they plumb the depths of human psychology and moral responsibility. With Edgar Allan Poe, Hawthorne was instrumental in the evolution of American Gothic fiction, moving away from sensationalism to focus on the aesthetic and emotional response to horror and dissecting the mental processes of his characters. His highly allegorical works use Gothic conventions to explore questions about human actions and their consequences and the effects of sin on the human psyche. Gothic elements are seen in his most important works, from the short story "Young Goodman Brown" (1835) to The Scarlet Letter to his last completed novel, The Marble Faun (1860). All these works are highly symbolic, challenging moral fantasies that are chilling in their dark assessment of the human character. The Gothic world Hawthorne created in his fiction—with its his gloomy settings, concern with death, and explorations of the demonic—is central to his moral and thematic purposes as it allowed him a wider fictive realm through which he could tell the dark truths about the world as he perceived it.


Born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804, Hawthorne was descended from a line of staunch Puritans that included William Hathorne (Hawthorne himself added the "w" to the family name), an ardent defender of the faith who participated in the persecution of Quakers during the seventeenth century, and his son John Hathorne, a presiding judge at the infamous Salem witch trials. This melancholy heritage was augmented by the premature death of Hawthorne's father, which left the four-year-old Nathaniel in the care of his grief-stricken and reclusive mother. Spending much time alone during his childhood, Hawthorne developed an intensely introspective nature and eventually came to believe that the misfortunes of his immediate family were the result of divine retribution for the sins of his ancestors.

An avid reader with an affinity for the works of John Bunyan and Edmund Spenser, Hawthorne began to write while attending Bowdoin College, where he met Franklin Pierce and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. After graduation, Hawthorne returned to his mother's home in Salem where he passed a twelve-year literary apprenticeship, occasionally publishing unsigned tales in journals but more often than not destroying his work. He published a novel, Fanshawe: A Tale (1828), but later withdrew it from circulation and burned every available copy. Many of Hawthorne's early pieces appeared in The Token, an annual anthology published by Samuel Goodrich, during the early 1830s. Goodrich played a major role in the development of the young author's career, naming him editor of the American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge in 1836 and arranging for the publication of his first collection of short stories, Twice-Told Tales (1837), one year later. Twice-Told Tales contains historical sketches and stories displaying the dark themes and skillful technique that would characterize his later work. Although lavishly praised by critics, the volume sold poorly, and an enlarged edition issued in 1842 fared no better. This pattern of critical appreciation and public neglect continued throughout Hawthorne's literary career, and he was forced to occupy a series of minor governmental posts in order to...

(This entire section contains 1742 words.)

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supplement the meager income from his writings.

Soon after the publication of Twice-Told Tales, Hawthorne became engaged to Sophia Peabody, a neighbor who had admired his work. Hoping to find a permanent home for himself and Sophia, Hawthorne joined Brook Farm in 1841. An experimental utopian community outside of Boston, Brook Farm was intended to be an agricultural cooperative that would provide its members—through the principle of shared labor—with a living while allowing them leisure for artistic and literary pursuits. The community was founded by the literary critic and social reformer George Ripley, and various prominent authors expressed interest in the scheme, including Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker, and Orestes Brownson. Hawthorne's enthusiasm for the venture quickly wore off, however. He left after six months, convinced that intellectual endeavor was incompatible with hard physical exertion. Although his literary efforts at Brook Farm proved a failure, Hawthorne kept careful records of his time there in his journals and letters; these later informed the plot, physical settings, and characters of The Blithedale Romance (1852).

In July of 1842, Hawthorne married Peabody, and the couple moved into a large house in Concord, Massachusetts, known locally as the "Old Manse." There Hawthorne wrote many of the pieces included in his next collection of stories and sketches, Mosses from an Old Manse (1846). He worked in the Salem customhouse from 1846 to 1849, when he was fired because of a change in political administrations. After his dismissal, in an intense outpouring of creative effort, he wrote The Scarlet Letter in just four months. The book was an immediate success, and Hawthorne soon followed with a number of others, including two important novels, The House of the Seven Gables (1851) and The Blithedale Romance, as well as a volume of short pieces, The Snow-Image, and Other Tales (1851). The years 1850–1852 were Hawthorne's most intensely productive period. After this time, he had great difficulty writing any more fiction. His position as United States consul at Liverpool from 1853 to 1857 left him with enough free time to write, but during that period he could only fill up his notebooks with jottings from his travels in Europe. In 1860 he did manage to finish one last novel, The Marble Faun, which was drawn from his tour of Italy, but the remaining years of his life were marked by a frustrating series of false starts. His unfinished manuscripts were periodically interrupted by marginal notes asking, "What meaning?" Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864 in Plymouth, New Hampshire, at the age of fifty-nine.


Hawthorne's stories written shortly after he graduated from college indicate his early interest in the occult and the supernatural. "The Hollow of the Three Hills" (1830) and "An Old Woman's Tale" (1830), for example, use Gothic devices and contain witches and burial grounds. They display as well Hawthorne's concern with questions of religion and morality, sin and guilt. Stories written just a few years later and published in the 1837 volume Twice-Told Tales, such as "Roger Malvin's Burial," "The Minister's Black Veil," and "The May-Pole of Merry Mount," illustrate Hawthorne's mastery of the technique of the symbolic tale, as they present deeply felt moral and psychological concerns in a highly evocative fictional form. Other important fabular tales in Twice-Told Tales include "The Prophetic Pictures," in which a painter captures the fates as well as the faces of his subjects; "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," about an elixir of life; and "Legends of the Province-House," which features three rationalized ghost stories.

Mosses from an Old Manse is often regarded as Hawthorne's best collection of short stories. It features "Young Goodman Brown," regarded as perhaps Hawthorne's greatest work of Gothic fiction, which expresses the darkest and most universal truths about human nature with particular simplicity and intensity. In the story, Young Goodman Brown goes into the forest one night for an admittedly evil purpose, leaving behind his young wife, Faith. There he meets the devil and, in a gradual series of revelations, learns that everyone in his world—including his minister, the pious old woman who taught him his catechism, all the elders of his church, even his father and mother—has gone into the forest before him, and has met with the devil. He returns to the village a changed man: stern, sad, darkly meditative, and distrustful; he has lost all faith in the human race and he spends a gloomy life cut off from the chain of humanity. Other tales of psychological horror in Mosses from an Old Manse include "The Birthmark," about a scientist who tries to erase a slight flaw in his wife's complexion and obliterates her entirely; "Rappaccini's Daughter," in which a young student falls in love with a girl raised in a garden of poisons; and "Ethan Brand," about the unpardonable sin which a laborer-turned-showman claims to have discovered after a long search.

Gothic elements and devices abound in Hawthorne's longer fiction as well. The Scarlet Letter, which treats the cruel and unusual punishment of an adulteress, begins with the discovery of a dusty manuscript found in a garret from which the narrator learns the story he recounts. The House of the Seven Gables is a Gothic romance in which a monstrous house infects and corrupts all who live in it. Hawthorne's last completed novel, The Marble Faun, is a symbolic romance as well as a story of a murder and a parable of the Fall of Man. In these works, as in his shorter fiction, Hawthorne uses gothicism to create a sense of mood and place in which to explore the somber truths about human nature, morality, and the struggles of the human soul.


Critics have long acknowledged Hawthorne to be among the United States' most important writers. He projected profound moral concerns on a distinctly American background and sought to interpret the spiritual history of a nation. He is regarded as one of the architects of the modern short story and an important figure in the development of Gothic American fiction. His portrayal of the protagonists in The Scarlet Letter set the standard for psychological realism for generations of writers. Through his depiction of the consequences of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale's adulterous union, Hawthorne explored the historical, social, theological, and emotional ramifications of sin, concealment, and guilt. In this novel as in his other fiction, he used gothicism as a vehicle to investigate the dark side of the human soul, not terrifying readers but horrifying them with clinical depictions of the inner workings of his characters' minds. Critics who have investigated Hawthorne's Gothic vision have focused on the Gothic influences on his work, his use of particular Gothic devices for symbolic purposes, the thematic importance of horror in his fiction, and his concern with sin and evil. They have also paid particular attention to the relationship between religion and the fantastic in Hawthorne's work and to his use of the supernatural to explore the psychological and social effects of guilty knowledge.

Neal Frank Doubleday (Essay Date February 1946)

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SOURCE: Doubleday, Neal Frank. "Hawthorne's Use of Three Gothic Patterns." College English 7, no. 5 (February 1946): 250-62.

In the following essay, Doubleday illustrates Hawthorne's view of the Gothic tradition and how he adapted it to treat moral and psychological themes.

Hawthorne's critics have generally considered Hawthorne's literary methods as manifestations of his temperament and, in particular, his use of the Gothic convention as evidence of limited imaginative resources or of morbidity. There is a tempting picturesqueness in a disproportionate emphasis upon the "spectral" qualities of Hawthorne's art; but the interpreters of Hawthorne have often lost sight of important contemporary influences upon his literary practice and important motives for it. Hawthorne's use of the Gothic is a particularly good illustration of his way of adapting conventional materials to allegorical and psychological uses.1

In Hawthorne's work the familiar resources of the Gothic romancer are not used primarily to awaken terror or wonder but to embody a moral—not to induce an intense psychological state in the reader but to make imaginatively concrete a truth of general and permanent significance or to symbolize a condition of mind or soul. A romance, Hawthorne tells us, whatever its liberties, "sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart." He has been, he avers, "burrowing, to his utmost ability, into the depths of our common nature"; he has "appealed to no sentiment or sensibilities save such as are diffused among us all"; he has been "merely telling what is common to human nature." "Everything," he makes Sybil Dacy say, "has its spiritual meaning, which to the literal meaning is what the soul is to the body."2 Hawthorne's use of Gothic materials for his special artistic purpose sets us interesting questions in the problem of his relation to his time and in the problem of literary convention.

Certainly, Hawthorne had read a sufficient number of Gothic romances.3 Wilbur Cross has written:

Nearly all the Gothic machinery of Walpole, Mrs. Radcliffe, and Godwin is to be found in this Puritan: high winds, slamming doors, moonlight and starlight, magic and witchcraft, mysterious portraits, transformations, malignant beings, the elixir of life, the skeleton, the funeral, and the corpse in its shroud. To these were added, as time went on, mesmerism and clairvoyance.4

But Hawthorne is never more in accord with the general fictional practice of his time than he is in the use of these Gothic materials. It is entirely natural—almost inevitable—that a young writer in America looking for material should work a vein that had been present in English literature since the mid-eighteenth century; that was an important part of the German literature which was becoming so influential in New England; and that had been apparent in, almost characteristic of, American literature since its very beginnings.5 The appeal of the Gothic is strikingly illustrated by Poe's deliberate choice of the tale of terror as the form calculated to win immediate acceptance.6 Hawthorne, no less than Poe, was under the necessity of writing salable material, and he paid attention to his market, adapting his work to the conventions of that market and, at the same time, adapting the conventions to his peculiar purposes. As time went on, the Gothic became part of his literary habit—perhaps too persistently.

The use of the Gothic convention was a recognized method of making romance from American materials, which were considered too new to be entirely available for fiction. Hawthorne was very much influenced by the demand for the use of American materials in fiction;7 and the Gothic convention and literary nationalism had already been combined by Charles Brockden Brown, by John Neal, and, to some extent, by Cooper. A passage from an 1826 review of Cooper by W. H. Gardiner makes explicit a motive for the use of the Gothic which the modern interpreter may easily overlook:

The same sort of magical authority over the spirit of romance, which belongs in common to Scott, Radcliffe, Walpole, and our countryman Brown, is, for us at least, possessed by this writer in an eminent degree. Places, for example, familiar to us from our boyhood, and which are now daily before our eyes, thronged with the vulgar associations of real life, are boldly seized upon for scenes of the wildest romance; and yet our imaginations do not revolt at the incongruity…. A military conclave at the Province House possesses something of the same interest as if it were holden before the walls of Tillietudlem; and we attend a midnight marriage at the altar of King's Chapel, and feel our blood curdle at the overshadowing arm upon the wall, with the same superstitious terror as when the gigantic armor rattles in the purely imaginative Castle of Otranto…. It is the creation and adaptation of a kind of machinery, which may be original in its character, and yet within the narrowed limits of modern probability, that stretch to the utmost the inventive faculties of the novelist….8

Acknowledging this motive as his own, Hawthorne remarks at the end of "Howe's Masquerade": "In truth, it is desperately hard work, when we attempt to throw the spell of hoar antiquity over localities with which the living world, and the day that is passing over us, have aught to do." And he frequently uses the Gothic for atmospheric effect, as well as for allegorical or psychological purposes.

Hawthorne's debt to his Gothic sources is more general than specific; and although specific derivation, when it can be found, is important, discussion of Hawthorne's Gothic is not therewith complete. And we can hardly assume that the influences upon him came exclusively from the well-known writers we know him to have read; we must at least assume his familiarity with the publications to which he contributed. Nor need we suppose that everything in his work that has a Gothic flavor has an immediate literary source: mesmerism and clairvoyance, for instance, although they may be considered Gothic, did not come into Hawthorne's work from literary tradition, for they were present in his New England.9

The three Gothic patterns which appear in Hawthorne's tales (each one at least twice) and recur in his romances best illustrate his attitude toward the convention and his special uses of it. They are (1) mysterious portraits, (2) witchcraft, and (3) the esoteric arts or researches which would break through the limitations of mortality.


From The Castle of Otranto down, the mysterious portrait is an important item in the list of Gothic paraphernalia and sometimes, as in Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer, a most effective one. Hawthorne's use of it is a particularly good example of his way of taking a wholly conventional property and making it a symbol for a moral truth. Two stories—"The Prophetic Pictures" (1837) and "Edward Randolph's Portrait" (1838)—are built around mysterious portraits, and the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon is an important element in The House of the Seven Gables. Old portraits interested Hawthorne, as they do any sensitive person—indeed, the mysterious portrait is one of the most imaginatively convincing of Gothic properties. He records in his notebooks for 1837 his impressions of some old portraits in the Essex Historical Society—a portrait of John Endicott ("Endicott and the Red Cross" was published in the same year); a portrait of Sir William Pepperell, a sketch of whom he had published in 1833; a portrait of Governor William Pyncheon; and others. His comment in summary of his impressions suggests the use he was to make of a portrait in The House of the Seven Gables, some thirteen years later: "Nothing gives a stronger idea of old worm-eaten aristocracy—of a family being crazy with age, and of its being time that it was extinct—than these black, dusty, faded, antique-dressed portraits…."10

"The Prophetic Pictures" is characteristic of Hawthorne's attitude toward Gothic materials. The suggestion for the story, Hawthorne's footnote tells us, came from Dunlap's History of the Arts of Design in the United States (1834). Hawthorne works out the suggestion in a Gothic manner, but he does not exploit the elements of terror and wonder and, indeed, refuses obvious opportunities to play upon his reader's nerves. He is usually careful and here particularly careful, not to allow the interest of the Gothic element to obscure the theme—in this story the theme that individual destiny is the result of what the individual is and does. What is Gothic is merely a vehicle for the theme—a theme that Professor Leach does not hesitate to compare with that of Oedipus Rex: "The portentous knowledge of the oracle does not save the man; as with Oedipus, the impulsive nature flashing out in wrath brings upon him the very doom he sought to escape. Does not the Greek drama, in its treatment of oracles, express something similar to the profound truth here uttered by the American novelist?"11

The Gothic element in "Edward Randolph's Portrait" has a comparable use. The suggestion for the story, it has been pointed out, may have come from The Bride of Lammermoor, though the mysterious portrait with glaring eyes is too common a device to be positively identified with a specific source. The story concerns an awful warning against trampling on a people's rights, a warning that comes to Colonel Hutchinson in the "peculiar glare" in the eyes, and in the tortured countenance, of the temporarily restored portrait of Edward Randolph. The story may be considered as a sort of companion piece to "The Grey Champion," which concerns Randolph's contemporary, Sir Edmund Andros. In "Edward Randolph's Portrait" the Gothic is used as atmosphere, but it is primarily, as in "The Prophetic Pictures," a vehicle for the theme, this time a nationalistic one. Hawthorne is never closer to the main stream of the American fiction of his time than he is when, in this story, he uses materials from the Gothic convention to fulfil the demand for "patriotism and native incident."

When, in The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne returns to the use of the mysterious portrait, he makes clear at the outset how we are to take the portrait of old Colonel Pyncheon. And, frequently reminding us in the course of the book that the portrait is a symbol, he depreciates the notion that there may be any real terror connected with it: he "is tempted to make a little sport with the idea"—as if he were afraid that his readers might become interested in the portrait as a thing in itself and that, therefore, the delicate balance of atmosphere and meaning might be destroyed.12

Hawthorne, then, in his use of mysterious portraits, finds a way of adapting a common device to his peculiar purposes. Yet he is also careful to give the Gothic property a local habitation: it was supposed that the painter of the prophetic pictures was "the famous Black Man, of old witch times"; one of the speculations about Edward Randolph's portrait, before its restoration, was that it was "an original and authentic portrait of the evil one, taken at a witch meeting, near Salem"; the Colonel's portrait gets its significance from "the affair of the old Puritan Pyncheon and the wizard Maule." The Gothic device is made part of New England legend.


In witchcraft, indeed, Hawthorne found a special opportunity. "We know not the country or age," wrote J. G. Palfrey in 1821, "which has such capacities" for the purposes of fiction "as N. England in its early day."13 But American writers, deeply influenced by the Gothic tradition, complained for a long time about the lack of ruins and castles; even Cooper felt American materials unsatisfactory. Charles Brockden Brown attempted in Edgar Huntly to find an American Gothic in Indian material instead of in "Gothic castles and chimeras," and Freneau was once reduced to writing some stanzas about the ruins of a country inn. Hawthorne echoes the complaint in the Prefaces to the The Blithedale Romance and The Marble Faun; and the ancestral home of the Pyncheons is probably the best substitute for a Gothic castle any American romancer ever devised. Witchcraft, however, was part of American history and legend, and Hawthorne's treatment of New England witchcraft is an American Gothic that deserves separate consideration, an answer to the demand for the use of distinctively American materials.

If it is true that "Alice Doane's Appeal" was written in its original form before Hawthorne's graduation from college in 1825, the first version was one of the earliest fictional treatments of New England witchcraft.14 The tale as published in the Token (1835) suggests the influence of John Neal or "Monk" Lewis and has a macabre quality; but it is not, certainly, in Hawthorne's best vein. The original seems to have escaped15 the holocaust of tales which Hawthorne describes in "The Devil in Manuscript"; but it is just such tales that Hawthorne has in mind when he makes Oberon say to his friend:

You have read them, and know what I mean,—that conception in which I endeavored to embody the character of a fiend, as represented in our traditions and the written records of witchcraft. Oh, I have a horror of what was created in my own brain, and shudder at the manuscripts in which I gave that dark idea a sort of material existence!"16

The version published in the Token is a description and summary of a tale, not the tale itself, and has for a frame an account of the narrator's afternoon walk on Gallows Hill with two young women. I think we may take it that Hawthorne is really giving us a condensed account of a tale he once wrote and that we are fortunate not to have the original. Although he speaks of "good authority in our ancient superstitions," the tale obviously does not come out of New England legend but out of the Gothic tradition, in which the motif of potential incest is not infrequent.17 But if Hawthorne was unable to make use, in "Alice Doane's Appeal," of the possibilities for fiction in New England witchcraft, he nevertheless had shown himself aware of them, probably before he was twenty-one.

In "The Hollow of the Three Hills" (1830), which may also have been written before 1825,18 Hawthorne's treatment of the Gothic is somewhat more restrained, and his use of it has a moral purpose. But Hawthorne here makes no use of New England witchcraft materials, and the setting is not localized. Poe, who speaks as an expert in the Gothic, finds the tale original in that it makes the ear instead of the eye the medium by which the witch's revelations are received, a substitution for the conventional pictures in a mirror or a cloud of smoke.19 And the use made of the Gothic device is probably more original than the change made in the device. Nevertheless, the tale has the marks of Hawthorne's immaturity, for it is over-written and without the imaginative substantiation of tradition and locale.

Hawthorne's later treatments of witchcraft are governed by carefully worked-out principles. "Almost all forms of popular superstition," he says, "do clothe the ethereal with earthly attributes, and so make it grossly perceptible."20 And witchcraft in particular has a serious import. Randall Stewart quotes an interesting passage from a letter of 1845 in which Hawthorne replies to Evert A. Duyckinck's suggestion that he write a history of witchcraft:

I had often thought of such a work, but I should not like to throw it off hastily, or to write it for the sole and specific purpose of getting $500. A mere narrative, to be sure, might be prepared easily enough; but such a work, if worthily written, would demand research and study, and as deep thought as any man could bring to it. The more I look at it, the more difficulties do I see—yet difficulties such as I should like to overcome. Perhaps it may be the work of an after time.21

Moreover, traditional material is particularly valuable to the artist. Hawthorne puts the principle into the mouth of Septimius Felton: genuine legends

adopted into the popular belief … incrusted over with humanity, by passing from one homely mind to another … get to be true, in a certain sense, and indeed in that sense may be called true throughout, for the very nucleus, the fiction in them, seems to have come out of the heart of man in a way that cannot be imitated of malice aforethought.22

And this quality of traditional material must be preserved in its literary treatment. In a review of Whittier's The Supernaturalism of New England, Hawthorne writes:

The proper tone for these legends is, of course, that of the fireside narrative, refined and clarified to whatever degree the writer pleases…. Above all, the narrator should have faith, for the time being. If he cannot believe his ghost-story while he is telling it, he had better leave the task to somebody else.23

The principles of simplicity and imaginative assent are exemplified in "Young Goodman Brown" (1835), although balanced against the imaginative assent there is an alternative explanation, characteristic of Hawthorne and used (I think) to point up for the reader the symbolic value of the action. If the reason would conclude that Goodman Brown had a dream, "be it so if you will"; the reason thus satisfied need not interfere with the imagination's assent to the fable and to its spiritual implications. Even when Hawthorne is writing, in "Main Street," as a historical essayist, he implies that, though the witch judges were horribly wrong in their interpretation, witchcraft was a psychological state and often a manifestation of a wilful devotion to evil. His remarks about Martha Carrier and George Burroughs serve as a commentary on "Young Goodman Brown." If such persons were wilfully devoted to evil, witchcraft would be only the sign of their spiritual pride. The symbolic value of witchcraft is inherent in the thing itself. Martha Carrier "the Devil found in a humble cottage, and looked into her discontented heart, and saw pride there, and tempted her with his promise that she should be Queen of Hell"; as for George Burroughs, "it may have been in the very strength of his high and searching intellect that the Tempter found the weakness which betrayed him."24

Certainly, the witchcraft material of "Young Goodman Brown" functions as imaginative substantiation for a parable of the soul. The tale holds in solution much witch-lore and some historical incident, most of which is from Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World.25 But this material is not precisely the source of the tale, though it gives the tale substance. "Young Goodman Brown" may be read on at least three levels: as a witch story; as an analysis of a state of mind in which, through the contact of the individual with evil, all virtue seems hypocrisy; and as a theological allegory, the allegorical interpretation being pointed up by the double meaning of the title character's name and by the name of his wife, Faith, whom he left for one night. Yet the discrimination of those three levels is the result of analysis and not the experience of the tale itself, in which the three fuse and in which meaning does not separate itself from symbol.

We, as readers, view the action through Hawthorne, who consistently maintains the air of one who tries to interpret an action that has come to his knowledge, not an action created by him—an air which gives the tale the effect of legend. That effect may be illustrated: the staff of Goodman Brown's guide looked like a snake, but perhaps that was "an ocular deception assisted by the uncertain light"; "some affirm that the lady of the governor was there," but we cannot be sure; Goodman Brown did not actually see the minister and Deacon Gookin, but "he could have sworn" he heard their voices. But illustration is insufficient; the effect must be realized in its totality.

The allegory is very delicately pointed. Faith is not an allegorical type; she does not represent Goodman Brown's creed. Her name and his duty to her are enough to give her husband's simple statement, "Faith kept me back a while," or his question, "But where is Faith?" sufficient meaning. That Goodman Brown's guide was his own evil nature is never explicit, but the quide was like Goodman Brown in expression, and even, but for a worldly air, in manner. The guide's discourse, moreover, was so apt "that his arguments seemed rather to spring up in the bosom of his auditor than to be suggested by himself." When he left Goodman Brown, "as if he had vanished into the deepening gloom," it is a sign to us that no longer were a good and an evil nature contending in Goodman Brown; he was, for the time being, governed completely by "the instinct that guides mortal man to evil."

"Young Goodman Brown" has been called morbid. That judgment arises (I think) from not taking the tale on Hawthorne's terms. Goodman Brown comes from his experience, not disillusioned, but under a terrible illusion. Goodman Brown put himself in peril; of his own will he went into the wood of evil, "and there is this peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveller knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and thick boughs overhead." The tale may appear morbid to one who assumes that men do not will evil. Hawthorne uses witch-craft as a symbol of the will to evil.

And so it is, too, in the twentieth chapter of The Scarlet Letter. Just after Dimmesdale "had yielded himself, with deliberate choice, as he had never done before, to what he knew was deadly sin," he met the governor's sister and reputed witch, old Mistress Hibbens; and this encounter, "if it were a real incident, did but show his sympathy and fellowship with wicked mortals, and the world of perverted spirits." "If it were a real incident"—just as in "Young Goodman Brown," the doubt of actuality is the sign of symbolic value, and witchcraft becomes the symbol for the will to evil. When Dimmesdale returned from the forest and the interview with Hester in which he had chosen to flee with her, he had put aside the possibility of atonement and confession; like Goodman Brown in his homecoming, "another man had returned out of the forest; a wiser one; with a knowledge of hidden mysteries which the simplicity of the former never could have reached." "A bitter kind of knowledge that!" Hawthorne exclaims and shows that from his new knowledge came temptations—temptations the minister had never known before—and the ability to lie with fluency and grace. "Am I mad?" the minister asked just before he saw Mistress Hibbens, "or am I given over utterly to the fiend? Did I make a contract with him in the forest, and sign it with my blood? And does he now summon me to its fulfilment by suggesting the performance of every wickedness which his most foul imagination can conceive?"

Despite the nineteenth-century setting of the book, witchcraft is an important element in The House of the Seven Gables. The prophecy of the wizard Matthew Maule was used, Professor Orians shows, in John Neal's Rachel Dyer (1828) and has a source in actual records.26 But in Hawthorne's romance the fulfilment of the prophecy is the symbol of retribution: "The act of the passing generation is the germ which may and must produce good or evil fruit in a far-distant time." So far Hawthorne's use of witchcraft serves to unify his "legend prolonging itself from an epoch now grey in the distance, down into our own broad daylight." Nevertheless, the reader is likely to feel that Hawthorne's use of witchcraft in The House of the Seven Gables does not always make for unity of impression. One difficulty is that Holgrave, a type who "in his culture and want of culture … might fitly enough stand forth as the representative of many compeers in his native land," is made the descendant of the legendary Matthew Maule. Now, although that descent may be taken to signify, perhaps, the new importance of the economic class to which the Maules belong, the hereditary connection between the Gothic wizard and a type disciple of the "newness" is hard to realize. Then, too, Holgrave's experiments in mesmerism and the interpolated story of Alice Pyncheon and Matthew Maule offer a disappointing explanation for the power of the Maules. Of course, the "explained supernatural" is a part of the Gothic convention27 and so characteristic of Gothic fiction in America that Professor Coad finds Mrs. Radcliffe the dominant influence on it before 1835.28 But mesmerism and apoplexy as the cause of the sudden deaths of the Pyncheons remind us of the kind of explanation in Brown's Wieland; and Hawthorne himself suggests, in The Marble Faun, that he thought the "explained supernatural" tedious.29 His near-approach to it in The House of the Seven Gables is less subtle than his way, in earlier work, of suggesting a doubt of the literal witchcraft even while asking imaginative assent, and seems less characteristic.

The success of any portion of an artist's work is to a great extent imponderable. But Hawthorne's success with witchcraft material admits of some definition. He discovers an inherent symbolism in the material itself, and he pays careful attention to historical appropriateness and to the congruity of his treatment of witchcraft in a particular work with the other elements in that work.30 In "Young Goodman Brown" and in The Scarlet Letter the imaginative strength of his treatment of witchcraft is fully displayed.


A considerable body of Gothic literature concerns itself with the transcendence of the limits of mortality. The legend of the Wandering Jew, the compact with the devil for extended existence, and elixir of life had been, by Hawthorne's time, often used and often combined,31 and they are the elements of the Gothic tradition which most influence Hawthorne. He was attracted to these materials because they were capable of carrying much meaning; indeed, Gothic work with serious implications had already been written around them. In Hawthorne's work the attempt to transcend the limits of mortality is a symbol for intellectual pride, a symbol that has for him, I believe, immediate contemporary reference.32 As in his treatments of witchcraft, there is an inherent symbolism in the material itself. And his specialized use of his materials takes him far enough beyond his literary sources so that those sources are never entirely apparent.

Hawthorne wrote no story around the Wandering Jew, but that significant and credible figure turns up sometimes in his work. He is a guest of the Man of Fancy in "A Select Party" (1844), and Hawthorne remarks that he "had grown so com-mon by mingling in all sorts of society and appearing at the beck of every entertainer that he could hardly be deemed a proper guest in a very exclusive circle." Yet Hawthorne had made him curator of "A Virtuoso's Collection" (1842); and the aged Seeker in "The Great Carbuncle" (1837), though not the Wandering Jew, has much in common with him. In his notebooks for 1845 Hawthorne records a plan for a treatment of the Wandering Jew, a plan which would give him a career remarkably like that of Goethe's Faust and which suggests the career Septimius Felton hopes for when he shall have found the elixir of life:

A disquisition—or a discussion between two or more persons—on the manner in which the Wandering Jew has spent his life. One period, perhaps, in wild carnal debauchery; then trying, over and over again, to grasp domestic happiness; then a soldier; then a statesman & c—at last, realizing some truth.33

And in "Ethan Brand" (1851) the showman who operates the diorama is, I take it, the Wandering Jew. The showman and his diorama Hawthorne took from his notebook account of a visit to North Adams in 1838, but there the showman is merely "the old Dutchman."34 This transformation, not essential to Hawthorne's fable, suggests the persistence of the Wandering Jew in his imagination and something of the literary background of his tale.

Bliss Perry has shown us how interesting an example of Hawthorne's literary methods "Ethan Brand" is;35 and its combination of the Gothic with the materials of Hawthorne's own observation makes it important to the present purpose. The person, character, career, and death of Ethan are all in the Gothic tradition; one may find almost every aspect of them paralleled in Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer. Particularly, "Ethan Brand" resembles the last two chapters of the romance, and Hawthorne's subtitle, "A Chapter from an Abortive Romance," points up that resemblance; for, if "Ethan Brand" be considered a chapter from a romance, it must surely be the last.36

This likeness suggests that Hawthorne was influenced by Maturin; but, because Maturin's book combines many elements of the Gothic tradition,37 it may only indicate Hawthorne's general indebtedness to Gothic literature. Both Ethan and Melmoth are distinguished by their wild laughter and their unearthly gleaming eyes.38 They are alike, too, in essential character: Ethan's sin was the "sin of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God, and sacrificed everything to its own mighty claims"; Melmoth's sin, he says, "was the great angelic sin—pride and intellectual glorying. It was the first mortal sin—a boundless aspiration after forbidden knowledge."39 The careers of the two are said to have had the same sort of inception: the legend was that Ethan invoked a fiend to aid him in his search for the Unpardonable Sin; "it has been reported of me," says Melmoth, "that I obtained from the enemy of souls a range of existence beyond the period allotted to mortality" and other preternatural powers.40 Yet neither has the direct aid of the devil; Ethan's remark, "I have left him behind me," is true of both. Both are wanderers, driven by their own unrest to and fro upon the earth, though Ethan's time of wandering is shorter. Both, having worn out their fate, come home to die. Ethan casts himself into the lime kiln, and in their sleep the lime burners hear a fearful peal of laughter; Melmoth casts himself (or is cast, the matter is left unclear) over a cliff, and there are horrible sounds in his room and then at the cliff. The night before his death the Wanderer dreams of a sea of flame into which he must go—Ethan's lime kiln seems to be that sea in little. But the most important parallel is that both suffer in the same kind of awful isolation. Maturin's best critic says: "The character of Melmoth the Wanderer becomes … distinct from all common men … what causes him his keenest sufferings is not that he is shut out of paradise but that he is shut out of the community of the good among human beings."41 Yet nothing in Maturin's book approaches the power of Hawthorne's irony. Ethan's success in his quest is his punishment for it: "My task," he says, "is done and well done."

Neither of the two suggestions for "Ethan Brand" which Hawthorne wrote in his notebook in 1844 does more than outline the bare allegory of the tale.42 When he wrote it more than four years later, he used material from his notebook account of a visit to North Adams in 1838. Perhaps the story came about in this manner: No way of embodying the allegorical outline of 1844 occurred to Hawthorne until 1848, when a reminiscence of Melmoth the Wanderer suggested a Gothic treatment, which he found a way to substantiate and to localize with material from the account of his North Adams visit.

"Rappaccini's Daughter" (1844) may be considered a companion piece to "Ethan Brand." Both concern the efforts of an individual to transcend the limits of mortality, and both are treatments of the sin of pride. "Rappaccini's Daughter," however, is concerned primarily with the effect of the sin on persons innocent in intent, not with the effect of the sin on the sinner himself; Beatrice is united in "fearful sympathy" with Giovanni, isolated from all the world beside. Though the tale is connected in theme with other tales in which Gothic symbols represent the sin of pride, in treatment it stands apart. The Gothic atmosphere is intense, unrelieved, and used for an effect different from any in Hawthorne's other work. The suggestion for a tale that Hawthorne found in Sir Thomas Browne and recorded in his notebook43 is developed in that half-real, half-imaginary Italy that has been, since Elizabethan times, traditional in English fiction for romantic terror. There, experienced readers will easily believe, such a toxicologist as Dr. Rappaccini might have lived. And Hawthorne is careful to recall the associations which his readers will have with the locale by references to Dante's Inferno, the University of Padua, Benvenuto Cellini, and the Borgias. The persons in the tale are less allegorical types than the persons in his tales with similar themes, and the symbolism less explicit. He develops the hectic and unwholesome atmosphere of terror and wonder to enforce the truth and the horror "of the fatality that attends … perverted wisdom."

From "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" (1837) to the unfinished romances of the last years of his life, Hawthorne frequently used in his fiction, or referred to, the search for the elixir of life and kindred attempts to transcend the limits of mortality. Randall Stewart has pointed out that Hawthorne's interest in the subject may have come from his early reading of William Godwin's St. Leon, and one can see that the moral isolation of the hero is like that of several of Hawthorne's characters.44 Yet when Hawthorne writes of practitioners of the esoteric arts in old New England, he is in historical keeping. Lowell, in "New England Two Centuries Ago," notes the presence of students of the esoteric in Colonial New England and, implying that Hawthorne could not have known historical instances, remarks: "And yet how perfectly did his genius divine that ideal element in our early New England life, conceiving what must have been without asking proof of what actually was!"45 Hawthorne could not have seen the work Lowell was reviewing, but the appearance of students of the esoteric in his work is not all based on divination. In "Sir William Pepperell" (1833), he refers to an alchemist and seeker for the elixir of life as a historical person of Colonial times; in his notebooks for 1838 he speaks of a Salem house where an alchemist had resided and of "other alchemists of old in this town,—one who kept his fire burning seven weeks, and then lost the elixir by letting it go out"; and again in "Main Street" (1849) he speaks of the house of an alchemist.46

Of all the tales, "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," in its apparent simplicity, reveals most clearly Hawthorne's attitude toward his Gothic materials. Those materials are entirely conventional; the attitude toward them is peculiarly fresh. In a single paragraph, just after the doctor has welcomed his friends to his study, Hawthorne crowds in and heaps together a welter of Gothic properties and devices—this one room, indeed, has enough Gothic paraphernalia for all the romances Jane Austen's Catherine Morland ever read. There is, in this catalogue of the Gothic romancer's stock in trade, a delicate satire on the very convention Hawthorne is using. Yet "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" is not primarily satire; it has an intent as a parable. The touch of satire is a sign to the reader to accept the tale as allegory—a way of restraining one kind of interest in the action so that another kind may emerge. We have noted in the treatment of the portrait in The House of the Seven Gables somewhat the same kind of whimsical depreciation of Gothic materials.

In "The Birthmark" (1843), Hawthorne depends upon his reader's familiarity with the materials he is using to insure their acceptance on the lowest level of approach. But the Gothic figures, by their very familiarity, are available for symbolism; and Hawthorne, having the existing type, simply makes it a symbol. Aylmer's assistant, the earthly Aminadab, "seemed to represent man's physical nature." Aylmer himself represents the intellectual and spiritual and (as the theme develops) the intellectual gone wrong, or at least defeated in an attempt to break through the limits of mortal power. Aylmer will not accept the fact that imperfection is a necessary part of mortality, that perfection and existence are incompatible. Too wise to attempt the unnatural extension of life—though that seems to be within his power—he is not wise enough to know the limits to which human aspiration ought to keep. For Georgiana, Hawthorne has taken the Gothic lady of remarkable and perfect beauty and added a tiny hand, the color of blood, to her cheek—added the symbol of the imperfection in everything mortal.

Hawthorne's most interesting use of the esoteric arts is in the development of the character of Roger Chillingworth. Nothing in the action of The Scarlet Letter requires that he be an adept, and the frequent suggestion that he is has value primarily as psychological symbolism. Chilling-worth speaks of his "old studies in alchemy" and of teaching the Indians "some lessons … as old as Paracelsus"; his medical knowledge seems to be a by-product of his unholy researches; it is reported that he has been an associate of Dr. Simon Forman and that his dark knowledge has been extended by instruction by Indian priests; the popular opinion is that he is "Satan himself, or Satan's emissary."47 In Chillingworth—as in Ethan Brand, Dr. Rappaccini, and Aylmer—the Gothic furnished Hawthorne a means of representing the sin of pride. But Chillingworth's skill in unholy arts means something more, for the suggestion that Chillingworth is the servant of Satan prepares us for his greatly enlarged significance in the final scene. The people of Boston (who, like the chorus in Greek tragedy, comment on the action without full knowledge of it) see Chillingworth as a diabolical agent pitted against Dimmesdale, but look "with an unshaken hope, to see the minister come forth out of the conflict transfigured with the glory he would unquestionably win." Their hope is ironically fulfilled; and in the moment of Dimmesdale's victory, Chillingworth has a representative character beyond his significance as a vengeful individual. If this were not so, his words to Dimmesdale in this final scene would be mere fustian, but I think few readers take them so. He has "thrust himself, through the crowd,—or, perhaps, so dark, disturbed, and evil, was his look, he rose out of some nether region." And he says: "Hadst thou sought the whole earth over, there was no place so secret,—no high place nor lowly place, where thou couldst have escaped me,—save on this very scaffold!"

Hawthorne's last attempts at romance—Dr. Grimshawe's Secret, The Dolliver Romance, and Septimius Felton—throw into relief his successful practice in the Gothic, for in them the Gothic materials get out of hand, assume too great an importance in and for themselves, and get in the way, therefore, of the meaning. And this is not just another way of saying that the romances are unfinished; Hawthorne's own term for this work—"abortive"48—is precise, for it had never come to full birth. The intention itself cannot be understood, for the relationship between symbol and theme is never fully established. Of course, it is true that Hawthorne sometimes had been embarrassed by the plot material of his long fictions, but his meaning had never been frustrated. He seems to have been aware of the trouble without being able to correct it; for example, in Septimius Felton we can observe him endeavoring to balance and offset the Gothic interest of Septimius' quest for the elixir by long reflective expositions, often in his best manner. But the delicate balance of interest that distinguishes Hawthorne's best work is gone.

Taken all together, the tales and romances which have characters who refuse to recognize the conditions in which humanity subsists are an important part of Hawthorne's work and of his thought. A recent critic complains that Hawthorne did not know the meaning of his own symbols.49 But he was at least in positive opposition to the spiritual attitudes of his own time; he was, indeed, preoccupied throughout most of his career with allegorical warning against the sin of pride. That is why Gothic symbols for the effort to be more than mortal, more than man, recur so often in his work.

Hawthorne's use of the Gothic extends much beyond the three patterns here discussed; there is, for example, evidence of Radcliffean influence in The Marble Faun and in Dr. Grimshawe's Secret, the two romances with settings in which Mrs. Radcliffe's materials might be appropriate. But because the three patterns considered in this paper recur most often, they are the best means of illustrating his intent in the use of the Gothic. The illustrations must substantiate, as best they may, the paper's initial generalizations; for a summary would inevitably reduce Hawthorne's practice to a formula, and no formula will represent the flexibility and the convolution of his use of Gothic materials or his way of making them the means to individual and often significant ends. "There are some works in literature," Hawthorne once wrote, "that bear an analogy to his [Bernini's] works in sculpture, where great power is lavished a little outside of nature, and therefore proves to be only a fashion, and not permanently adapted to the tastes of mankind."50 The impulse of Gothic literature has evidently often been abnormal, and it is one of the distinctions of Hawthorne's work in the Gothic that in it he has kept to a humane purpose. His control of the Gothic is a double control—a control of his materials and a control of his reader's reaction. The reader's response to a tale or romance by Hawthorne is, on its final level, intellectual, and toward such response he carefully directs his work.


1. I am indebted to Professor Austin Warren for his generous help and for a copy of his unpublished "Hawthorne and the Craft of Fiction," a paper read at the 1941 meeting of the Modern Language Association.

2. Works ("Riverside" ed.), III, 13, 386; II, 44; IX, 336; XI, 330.

3. Hawthorne read Mrs. Radcliffe, Godwin, Scott, and John Neal in his youth (see Julian Hawthorne, Hawthorne and His Wife [Boston, 1885], I, 105 and 145; G. P. Lathrop, A Study of Hawthorne [Boston, 1876], p. 108; Works, II, 426). It is likely that his first reading of Charles Brockden Brown and Walpole was also early (see Lathrop, op. cit., p. 343; Works, II, 198 and 428, and VIII, 528).

4. Development of the English Novel (New York, 1926), pp. 163-64.

5. See Oral Coad, "The Gothic Element in American Literature before 1835," JEGP, XXIV (January, 1925), 72-93.

6. See Napier Wilt, "Poe's Attitude toward His Tales," Modern Philology, XXV (August, 1927), 101-5.

7. See my "Hawthorne and Literary Nationalism," American Literature, XII (January, 1941), 447-53.

8. North American Review, XXIII (July, 1826), 152-53.

9. See Works, III, 312; V, 544-45; IX, 244-45.

10. Works, IX, 88-89.

11. Abby Leach, "Free Will in Greek Literature," in Lane Cooper (ed.), The Greek Genius and Its Influence (New Haven, 1928), p. 137.

12. See, e.g., Works, III, 50, 116-17, 236, 329-31.

13. North American Review, XII (April, 1821), 480.

14. Julian Hawthorne, op. cit., I, 124; G. H. Orians, "New England Witchcraft in Fiction," American Literature, II (March, 1930), 54-71.

15. Works, XII, 282.

16. Ibid., III, 575.

17. See Eino Railo, The Haunted Castle (London, 1927), pp. 269-72.

18. See Elizabeth Chandler's study of Hawthorne's sources in Smith College Studies in Modern Languages, VII, No. 4 (July, 1926), 8-9.

19. Works ("Virginia" ed.), XI, 112.

20. Works, VIII, 271.

21. Randall Stewart, "Two Uncollected Reviews by Hawthorne," New England Quarterly, IX (September, 1936), 505.

22. Works, XI, 326.

23. Stewart, op. cit., p. 507.

24. See Works, III, 467-71.

25. Austin Warren cites the most important passages in a note on the tale (Nathaniel Hawthorne [New York, 1934], pp. 361-62).

26. Op. cit., p. 67.

27. See Montague Summers, The Gothic Quest (London, n.d.), pp. 135-40.

28. Op. cit., pp. 91-92.

29. Works, VI, 514.

30. Two witches, Mother Rigby, of "Feathertop" (1852), and Septimius Felton's Aunt Keziah, Hawthorne makes humorous, not strictly Gothic, figures. Yet in his treatment of them he in no way violates his general principles.

31. Eino Railo's discussion of these materials, though disappointing, is perhaps the best (see op. cit., pp. 191-217).

32. See my "Hawthorne's Inferno," College English, I (May, 1940), 658-70.

33. American Notebooks, ed. Stewart, p. 117; cf. Works, XI, 404-10.

34. American Notebooks, pp. 58-59.

35. "Hawthorne at North Adams," The Amateur Spirit (Boston, 1904).

36. The reader will remember that Melmoth is a series of six tales, connected only by the appearance of Melmoth in each, set in a frame consisting of five chapters of introductory narrative and two concluding chapters. Melmoth, in return for his preternatural powers, must endure an existence prolonged by one hundred and fifty years unless he can persuade someone to take his place. But no one will lose his soul to gain the whole world (which is Maturin's theme), and the Wanderer cannot leave the existence he comes to hate until his time comes. Only in the last two chapters does the nature of his curious destiny become clear.

37. See Niilo Idman, Charles Robert Maturin (London, 1923), pp. 197 ff.; Edith Birkhead, The Tale of Terror (New York, n.d.), pp. 84-85. H. Arlin Turner has noted the likeness of Ethan's laugh to Melmoth's (see his "Hawthorne's Literary Borrowings," PMLA, LI [June, 1936], 556).

38. See Melmoth the Wanderer (3 vols.; London, 1892), I, 44 and 50.

39. Ibid., III, 358.

40. Ibid., pp. 326-27.

41. Idman, op. cit., p. 265.

42. American Notebooks, ed. Stewart, p. 106.

43. Works, IX, 209.

44. American Notebooks, pp. lxxxii-lxxxviii; and see St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century (4 vols.; London, 1816), II, 110-11.

45. See Writings ("Riverside" ed.), II, 46-57.

46. Works, XII, 239; IX, 206; III, 456.

47. Works, V, 94-95, 146-47, 155-56.

48. Works, VII, 16; VIII, 10.

49. Yvor Winters, Maule's Curse (Norfolk, Conn., 1938), p. 20.

50. Works, X, 143.

Jane Lundblad (Essay Date 1946)

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SOURCE: Lundblad, Jane. "Hawthorne and the Gothic Romance." In Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Tradition of The Gothic Romance. 1946. Reprint edition, pp. 24-94. New York: Haskell House, 1964.

In the following excerpt from an essay originally published in 1946, Lundblad surveys the impact of Gothic works on Hawthorne's writing.

The student of Hawthorne's life and writings is usually regarded as a privileged person because of the fact that Hawthorne's posthumous notebooks, manuscripts, and letters have been so scrupulously kept and published. It is true that his widow, out of misguided zeal and exaggerated modesty, made a great many deletions and alterations in his manuscripts before she authorized their publication, in order to weed out items and remarks concerning the family or herself that she deemed improper. But on the whole, all this extensive material remains intact. Day by day, the reader may follow Hawthorne's life, step by step the composition of his romances and stories. As has already been remarked, Hawthorne applied the method of the later naturalistic school: he made notes of every spectacle, every acquaintance, idea or memory that might be turned to literary use. But there are nearly no notes on his reading. The scholar who is looking for literary influences on Hawthorne must therefore avail himself largely of the method of indirect induction. During my work on this essay, I have had direct access only to printed editions of Hawthorne's note-books and his unfinished manuscripts. The letters have not been available to me otherwise than as quotations in the works of various other authors.

It has been pointed out that the chief Gothic novels written in English may be presumed to have been well known in America during the first decades of the nineteenth century, while the works of the German writers were only partly translated or reviewed in the periodical press. Hawthorne's own disposition, and the environment in which he grew up, made him receptive, from the beginning, towards tales concerning the supernatural world. In the above-mentioned review of Morris's biography,1 we find an excellent characterization of Hawthorne's attitude: "… he was no mystic, and was, if anything, repelled by mysticism. But he was absorbed in something which is often confused with mysticism—in mystery and mysteriousness. And this fact is really the clue to his character, if we can arrive at an understanding of it." In the introduction to his edition of Hawthorne's first diary, Samuel T. Pickard mentions a letter from one of the young Nathaniel's friends, W. Symmes, who wrote in later years:2 "One of your correspondents … describes the mother of Nathaniel as being somewhat superstitious, and from what I recollect of her, he is correct. Not a gross and ignorant, but a polished and pious superstition. Perhaps this proclivity in the parent may account for his filling his journal with so many of the local stories of the supernatural." The stories referred to treat of Pulpit Rock Hill, from which the devil was said to have preached to the Indians, thereafter to make them sink down into a swamp, so that great masses of skeletons were still lying under the surface of the field—or of an enchanted apple-tree, whose fruit was guarded by spirits, so that the reapers were in constant danger of being hit by stones thrown from nowhere—or of a bewitched house, the windows of which perpetually sprang open, etc., etc. Certainly Nathaniel also heard in childhood many of the stories from the early immigration days when witchery was rampant among the pious settlers—stories which have left so many traces in his later works.

Like any other American schoolboy, Hawthorne was, from his early youth, acquainted with the English classics. Spenser and Bunyan are generally indicated as the most important sources of inspiration derived from his early reading. Randall Stewart3 also mentions Shakespeare and Milton. A. Turner, in his treatise on Hawthorne's literary borrowings,4 points to the important influence wrought on Hawthorne by the historical writings of Increase and Cotton Mather on the legends and customs of 17th century Massachusetts, especially stressing "the Mather witch tradition" with its accounts of witch meetings, ridings through the air on broomsticks, etc., which we shall meet in some of Hawthorne's stories, e. g. "Young Goodman Brown."5 As to the literature of terror and wonder, we have direct evidence of his having read some of the best-known novels in a couple of letters written to his sister Elizabeth. On September 28th, 1819, he writes:6 "I have read Waverley, Roderick Random and the first volume of The Arabian Nights." And on October 31st, 1820:7 "I have read Hogg's Tales, Caleb Williams, St. Leon and Mandeville. I admire Godwin's Novels, and intend to read them all." The deep impression which Mathurin's Melmoth had made on him is apparent in the evident traces that its reading has left on his first novel, Fanshawe, as also in the fact that the motto of one of its chapters is directly drawn from Melmoth. An item in his English note-book of 1857 shows that Walpole's The Castle of Otranto was once familiar to him. Hawthorne is wandering about in a picture-gallery, and remarks:8 "Of all the older pictures, the only one that I took pleasure in looking at, was a portrait of Lord Deputy Falkland, by Vansomer, in James I's time—a very stately, full-length figure in white, looking out of the picture as if he saw you. The catalogue says that this portrait suggested an incident in Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto; but I do not remember it."

That the contemporaries of Hawthorne, or at least his European critics, were fully aware of the fact that a considerable part of his literary background was of the traditional Gothic kind, is clearly shown by an article in the Revue des deux mondes, of 1852,9 by E. D. Forgues. The writer is speaking of the rôle assigned to the portrait of Colonel Pyncheon in The House of the Seven Gables: "Ce portrait se trouve mêlé à l'action, où il joue le rôle réservé aux fantômes avant l'invention de la peinture à l'huile: c'est lui qui cache le document perdu; c'est lui qui suspend et dénoue la chaîne des revenants, comme Walter Scott, Lewis, Mme Radcliffe et Washington Irving, sans parler de Maturin, de Hoffmann et de bien d'autres encore, en ont tous écrit."

Hoffmann is here mentioned in the same breath as the English and American authors of novels of terror and wonder. We have already discussed the question of Hawthorne's acquaintance with the German Romanticists, and only a few facts shall here be added. Contemporary criticism sometimes accused Hawthorne of being influenced by the Germans. As an example may be cited an article in the National Magazine of 185310 where it is cursorily remarked: "Saving certain shadowy resemblances to some of the Germans …" and above all Poe's criticism of Mosses from an Old Manse, where he deliberately accuses Hawthorne of having imitated Tieck. The critical discussion of this problem has attracted many participants (Cp. p. 13, note 3) but may be regarded as settled. H. M. Belden11 has succeeded in proving beyond doubt that Hawthorne may have read in translation some of Tieck's better-known tales before 1833, but that the imitation with which Poe tried to charge him is exceedingly unlikely. Another scholar who has thoroughly examined the possibilities of European influence on Hawthorne's writings, A. Schönbach, arrives at a similar result:12 "Am ehesten räume ich noch Balzac etwas Einfluss auf Hawthorne ein, ferner mag sein Liebling Walter Scott ihn ermutigt haben, die Geschichten aus der Colonialzeit zu schreiben, später hat er noch von Dickens ein weniges gewonnen. Aber, wie Poe glaubte, und seither mit Ausdauer nachgeschrieben wird, dass Tieck Hawthornes Muster gewesen und von ihm nachgebildet worden sei, das ist mir schon aus diesen inneren Gründen höchst unwahrscheinlich. In Tiecks Erzählungen sind Dargestelltes und Darsteller von derselben Stimmung erfüllt: wird das Reale an einer Stelle verlassen, dann aber sofort auch an allen und im Ganzen." To Hawthorne's attitude towards the unreal and supernatural we will revert later on. First, we shall for a moment occupy ourselves with the possibilities of an influence from the earlier American versions of the Gothic novel.

The most prominent representative of the Gothic school in America was, as has already been said, Charles Brockden Brown. It is to be assumed that Hawthorne was well versed in his tales. An American scholar, Professor Quinn, who has devoted a study13 to the rôle of the supernatural in the literature of his country, is of opinion that no impressions of real import derive from this source: "Brown, however, has little direct influence upon Poe or Hawthorne." We have greater reason to assume an influence from Washington Irving. From the point of view of literary form, it is likely that Hawthorne acquired something of his early predilection for the short story by reading the works of his countryman. There are also stylistic similarities. Woodberry remarks:14 "From the former (the eighteenth century) he had that pellucid style, whose American flow began with Washington Irving and ceased with his own pen." But neither in respect of actual plots, nor when it comes to the general trend of ideas, need we believe Hawthorne to be indebted to the author of the Tales of a Traveller—so perfect in their kind, where common sense pervades the atmosphere far too thoroughly to permit any kind of transcendental extravagance.

There is a close affinity between Hawthorne's taste for magic and supernatural stories and his interest for Swedenborg, for spiritualism and mesmerism, which we find expressed in different ways in his writings and is surreptitiously mentioned in his notebooks. During his stay in England, in 1857, he discusses spiritualism thoroughly with some friends, and sums up his own position in a passage in his note-book, which gives a fair idea of his view on these matters:15 "Do I believe in these wonders? Of course; for how is it possible to doubt either the solemn word or the sober observation of a learned and sensible man like Dr―? But again do I really believe it? Of course not; for I cannot consent to have heaven and earth, this world and the next, beaten up together like the white and yolk of an egg, merely out of respect to Dr―'s sanity or integrity. I would not believe my own sight, nor touch of the spiritual hands; and it would take deeper and higher strains than those of Mr. Harris to convince me. I think I might yield to higher poetry or heavenlier wisdom than mortals in the flesh have ever sung or uttered. Meanwhile, this matter of spiritualism is surely the strangest that ever was heard of, and yet I feel unaccountably little interest in it—a sluggish disgust, and repugnance to meddle with it—insomuch that I hardly feel as if it were worth this page or two in my not very eventful journal." But regarded as literary themes, these things possessed for him an interest as great as all other problems concerning the human soul.

The scenery and the whole machinery of Gothic Romance became, just like Puritanism or Spiritualism, one of Hawthorne's media of artistic expression. He called all his whole-length stories romances,16 and has given reason for this in the introduction to The House of the Seven Gables: "When a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume had he professed to be writing a Novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience. The former—while, as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart—has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or creation. If he think fit, also, he may so manage his atmospherical medium as to bring out or mellow the lights and deepen and enrich the shadows of the picture. He will be wise, no doubt, to make a very moderate use of the privileges here stated, and especially to mingle the Marvellous rather as a slight, delicate, and evanescent flavour, than as any portion of the actual substance of the dish offered to the public. He can hardly be said, however, to commit a literary crime, even if he disregard this caution."

Hawthorne's literary ideal has been in a certain measure foreshadowed by Leigh Hunt who once wrote:17 "A ghost story, to be a good one, should unite as much as possible objects such as they are in life with a preternatural spirit. And to be a perfect one—at least to add to the other utility of excitement a moral utility." Moral utility is, however, not the accurate term for the aim of Hawthorne's writings. Utility of any kind was hardly sought by this "Artist of the Beautiful."18 And moralist is certainly not the right word to denote this indefatigable seeker, incessantly hunting for the innermost motives of human actions. Henry James, whose Life of Hawthorne19 is of a masterly composition but stamped by too much cool insensibility wholly to convince the reader, has, however, in this respect found a good formula: "He was not a moralist," says James, "and he was not simply a poet. The moralists are weightier, denser, richer in a sense; the poets are more purely inconclusive and irresponsible. He combined in a singular degree the spontaneity of the imagination with a haunting care for moral problems." It is difficult to find a label to fix on to this methodical and intense, not to say frantic plumber of the depths of sin in the human soul. Childhood remembrances, religious and philosophical conceptions, literary reminiscences, and the creations of his own fantasy are to him only artistic means for throwing a penetrating light over the truths of the human soul, which he believes to have found out during years of never-ceasing, devoted study. His work is of a deeply individual stamp. We cite P. Kaufman who writes:20 "… into traditional form he infused profound brooding and achieved the distinction of making romance profoundly subjective. Hitherto this genre both in prose and verse had been, in the psychological phrase of our day, of extrovert nature. He created an original introvert form true to his own character, thus introducing the recent romantic preoccupation with individual feeling and imagination into the traditional type." But at the same time, Hawthorne always remained the "detached observer" of which Erskine21 speaks in his biographical study. His oversensibility and his scepticism alike prevented him from giving way to any kind of self-reflection. He consciously sought to avoid any form of it, as he expressly declares in the introduction to Mosses from an Old Manse: "Has the reader gone wandering hand in hand with me, through the inner passages of my being, and have we groped together into all its chambers and examined their treasures or their rubbish? Not so. We have been standing in the greensward, but just within the cavern's mouth, where the common sunshine is free to penetrate and where every footstep is therefore free to come. I have appealed to no sentiment or sensibilities, save such as are diffused among us all. So far as I am a man of really individual attributes, I veil my face; nor am I nor have I ever been, one of those supremely hospitable people, who serve up their own hearts delicately fried, with brain-sauce, as a tit-bit for their beloved public." Hawthorne is no psychologist in the proper meaning of the word. Hardly any of his figures possesses a life of its own. They are all embodiments of ideas that have been made to borrow features from his Puritan forefathers, from honest citizens of Salem or Concord, from the intellectuals of Brook Farm or from artists and tourists he had chanced to meet in his work or during his travels. Not one of them finds his own path, being driven by that inner necessity which may compel a figure of fiction to develop in a way contrary to the original intentions of its creator. They all move more or less like puppets in skilfully constructed tracks which go to prove the author's ethical theories. Of this art, Hawthorne attained an ever-growing mastery.


1. The Times Literary Supplement, May 3rd, 1928.

2. Hawthorne's First Diary. With an Account of its Discovery and Loss, by Samuel T. Pickard. London 1897.

3. Randall Stewart, The American Note-books. New York 1932.—The author classifies Hawthorne's villains into three types, of which one, the type of Chillingworth, "old men stooped and gray," traces his ancestry to Spenser's Archimago (Faerie Queene I. 1.29. 1-7). He also refers to Milton's Paradise Lost IV, 127-130.

4. A. Turner, Hawthorne's Literary Borrowings. Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 1936.

5. Cp. pages 35, 36, 37 of the present essay.

6. Cited from J. Hawthorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Wife.

7. Cited from Randall Stewart, Hawthorne's American Note-books.

8. Hawthorne's English Note-book, July 30th, 1857.

9. E. D. Forgues, Nathaniel Hawthorne. La revue des deux mondes. 15.4. 1852.

10. Cited from Bertha Faust, Hawthorne's Contemporaneous Reputation. Philadelphia, 1939.

11. Anglia, 1900.

12. Anglia, 1886.

13. Quinn, Some Phases of the Supernatural in American Literature. Modern Language Association of America, XVIII, Baltimore, 1910.

14. Woodberry, Hawthorne, How to Know Him.

15. Hawthorne's English Note-book. December 20th, 1857.

16. Cp. p. 14.

17. Cited from Cross, The Development of the English Novel. London, 1905.

18. The title of a story included in Mosses from an Old Manse.

19. Henry James Jr, Hawthorne. London, 1902.

20. Paul Kaufman, The Romantic Movement. In the Reinterpretation of American Literature.

21. In the Cambridge History of American Literature.

Principal Works

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Fanshawe: A Tale (novel) 1828
Twice-Told Tales (sketches and short stories) 1837
Twice-Told Tales [second series] (sketches and short stories) 1842
Mosses from an Old Manse (sketches and short stories) 1846
The Scarlet Letter: A Romance (novel) 1850
The House of the Seven Gables, a Romance (novel) 1851
The Snow Image, and Other Tales (short stories) 1851
The Blithedale Romance (novel) 1852
Life of Franklin Pierce (biography) 1852
A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys (short stories) 1852
Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys; Being a Second Wonder-Book (short stories) 1853
The Marble Faun; or, The Romance of Monte Beni (novel) 1860; published in England as Transformation; or, The Romance of Monte Beni, 1860
Our Old Home (essays) 1863
Passages from the American Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne (journal) 1868

Passages from the English Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne (journal) 1870
Passages from the French and Italian Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne (journal) 1872
Septimius Felton; or, The Elixer of Life (unfinished novel) 1872
The Dolliver Romance and Other Pieces (unfinished novel) 1876
Doctor Grimshawe's Secret: A Romance (unfinished novel) 1883

Primary Sources

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SOURCE: Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "The Hollow of the Three Hills." In Great Ghost Stories: 34 Classic Tales of the Supernatural, compiled by Robin Brockman, pp. 305-09. New York: Gramercy Books, 2002.

The following short story was originally published in 1830 in the Salem Gazette.

In those strange old times, when fantastic dreams and madmen's reveries were realized among the actual circumstances of life, two persons met together at an appointed hour and place. One was a lady graceful in form and fair of feature, though pale and troubled and smitten with an untimely blight in what should have been the fullest bloom of her years; the other was an ancient and meanly-dressed woman, of ill-favored aspect, and so withered, shrunken, and decrepit, that even the space since she began to decay must have exceeded the ordinary term of human existence. In the spot where they encountered, no mortal could observe them. Three little hills stood near each other, and down in the midst of them sunk a hollow basin, almost mathematically circular, two or three hundred feet in breadth, and of such depth that a stately cedar might but just be visible above the sides. Dwarf pines were numerous upon the hills, and partly fringed the outer verge of the intermediate hollow, within which there was nothing but the brown grass of October, and here and there a tree trunk that had fallen long ago, and lay mouldering with no green successor from its roots. One of these masses of decaying wood, formerly a majestic oak, rested close beside a pool of green and sluggish water at the bottom of the basin. Such scenes as this (so gray tradition tells) were once the resort of the Power of Evil and his plighted subjects; and here, at midnight or on the dim verge of evening, they were said to stand round the mantling pool, disturbing its putrid waters in the performance of an impious baptismal rite. The chill beauty of an autumnal sunset was now gilding the three hilltops, whence a paler tint stole down their sides into the hollow.

"Here is our pleasant meeting come to pass," said the aged crone, "according as thou hast desired. Say quickly what thou wouldst have of me, for there is but a short hour that we may tarry here."

As the old withered woman spoke, a smile glimmered on her countenance, like lamplight on the wall of a sepulchre. The lady trembled, and cast her eyes upward to the verge of the basin, as if meditating to return with her purpose unaccomplished. But it was not so ordained.

"I am a stranger in this land, as you know," said she at length. "Whence I come it matters not; but I have left those behind me with whom my fate was intimately bound, and from whom I am cut off forever. There is a weight in my bosom that I cannot away with, and I have come hither to inquire of their welfare."

"And who is there by this green pool that can bring thee news from the ends of the earth?" cried the old woman, peering into the lady's face. "Not from my lips mayst thou hear these tidings; yet, be thou bold, and the daylight shall not pass away from yonder hill-top before thy wish be granted."

"I will do your bidding though I die," replied the lady desperately.

The old woman seated herself on the trunk of the fallen tree, threw aside the hood that shrouded her gray locks, and beckoned her companion to draw near.

"Kneel down," she said, "and lay your forehead on my knees." She hesitated a moment, but the anxiety that had long been kindling burned fiercely up within her. As she knelt down, the border of her garment was dipped into the pool; she laid her forehead on the old woman's knees, and the latter drew a cloak about the lady's face, so that she was in darkness. Then she heard the muttered words of prayer, in the midst of which she started, and would have arisen.

"Let me flee—let me flee and hide myself, that they may not look upon me!" she cried. But, with returning recollection, she hushed herself, and was still as death.

For it seemed as if other voices—familiar in infancy, and unforgotten through many wander-ings, and in all the vicissitudes of her heart and fortune—were mingling with the accents of the prayer. At first the words were faint and indistinct, not rendered so by distance, but rather resembling the dim pages of a book which we strive to read by an imperfect and gradually brightening light. In such a manner, as the prayer proceeded, did those voices strengthen upon the ear; till at length the petition ended, and the conversation of an aged man, and of a woman broken and decayed like himself, became distinctly audible to the lady as she knelt. But those strangers appeared not to stand in the hollow depth between the three hills. Their voices were encompassed and re-echoed by the walls of a chamber, the windows of which were rattling in the breeze; the regular vibration of a clock, the crackling of a fire, and the tinkling of the embers as they fell among the ashes, rendered the scene almost as vivid as if painted to the eye. By a melancholy hearth sat these two old people, the man calmly despondent, the woman querulous and tearful, and their words were all of sorrow. They spoke of a daughter, a wanderer they knew not where, bearing dishonour along with her, and leaving shame and affliction to bring their gray heads to the grave. They alluded also to other and more recent wo, but in the midst of their talk their voices seemed to melt into the sound of the wind sweeping mournfully among the autumn leaves; and when the lady lifted her eyes, there was she kneeling in the hollow between three hills.

"A weary and lonesome time yonder old couple have of it," remarked the old woman, smiling in the lady's face.

"And did you also hear them?" exclaimed she, a sense of intolerable humiliation triumphing over her agony and fear.

"Yea; and we have yet more to hear," replied the old woman. "Wherefore, cover thy face quickly."

Again the withered hag poured forth the monotonous words of a prayer that was not meant to be acceptable in heaven; and soon, in the pauses of her breath, strange murmurings began to thicken, gradually increasing so as to drown and overpower the charm by which they grew. Shrieks pierced through the obscurity of sound, and were succeeded by the singing of sweet female voices, which, in their turn, gave way to a wild roar of laughter, broken suddenly by groaning and sobs, forming altogether a ghastly confusion of terror and mourning and mirth. Chains were rattling, fierce and stern voices uttered threats, and the scourge resounded at their command. All these noises deepened and became substantial to the listener's ear, till she could distinguish every soft and dreamy accent of the love songs that died causelessly into funeral hymns. She shuddered at the unprovoked wrath which blazed up like the spontaneous kindling of flame, and she grew faint at the fearful merriment raging miserably around her. In the midst of this wild scene, where unbound passions jostled each other in a drunken career, there was one solemn voice of a man, and a manly and melodious voice it might once have been. He went to and fro continually, and his feet sounded upon the floor. In each member of that frenzied company, whose own burning thoughts had become their exclusive world, he sought an auditor for the story of his individual wrong, and interpreted their laughter and tears as his reward of scorn or pity. He spoke of woman's perfidy, of a wife who had broken her holiest vows, of a home and heart made desolate. Even as he went on, the shout, the laugh, the shriek, the sob, rose up in unison, till they changed into the hollow, fitful, and uneven sound of the wind, as it fought among the pine-trees on those three lonely hills. The lady looked up, and there was the withered woman smiling in her face.

"Couldst thou have thought there were such merry times in a madhouse?" inquired the latter.

"True, true," said the lady to herself; "there is mirth within its walls, but misery, misery without."

"Wouldst thou hear more?" demanded the old woman.

"There is one other voice I would fain listen to again," replied the lady faintly.

"Then, lay down thy head speedily upon my knees, that thou mayst get thee hence before the hour be past."

The golden skirts of day were yet lingering upon the hills, but deep shades obscured the hollow and the pool, as if sombre night were rising thence to overspread the world. Again that evil woman began to weave her spell. Long did it proceed unanswered, till the knelling of a bell stole in among the intervals of her words, like a clang that had travelled far over valley and rising ground, and was just ready to die in the air. The lady shook upon her companion's knees as she heard that boding sound. Stronger it grew and sadder, and deepened into the tone of a death bell, knelling dolefully from some ivy-mantled tower, and bearing tidings of mortality and wo to the cottage, to the hall, and to the solitary wayfarer, that all might weep for the doom appointed in turn to them. Then came a measured tread, passing slowly, slowly on, as of mourners with a coffin, their garments trailing on the ground, so that the ear could measure the length of their melancholy array. Before them went the priest, reading the burial service, while the leaves of his book were rustling in the breeze. And though no voice but his was heard to speak aloud, still there were revilings and anathemas, whispered but distinct, from women and from men, breathed against the daughter who had wrung the aged hearts of her parents—the wife who had betrayed the trusting fondness of her husband—the mother who had sinned against natural affection, and left her child to die. The sweeping sound of the funeral train faded away like a thin vapor, and the wind, that just before had seemed to shake the coffin pall, moaned sadly round the verge of the Hollow between three Hills. But when the old woman stirred the kneeling lady, she lifted not her head.

"Here has been a sweet hour's sport!" said the withered crone, chuckling to herself.

Title Commentary

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SOURCE: Elder, Marjorie. "Hawthorne's The Marble Faun: A Gothic Structure." Costerus, no. 1 (1972): 81-8.

In the following essay, Elder studies Hawthorne's Gothic narrative structure in The Marble Faun.

Hawthorne has frequently been referred to as, to some extent and in some ways, a "Gothic" novelist. Whether mentioned in general revaluation of the Gothic,1 looked at within the tradition of the Gothic Romance for his use of devices like castles, ghosts, crime and blood, or works of art with signs of life,2 or cited for his appreciation of Gothic architecture,3 Hawthorne is variously labeled "Gothic." It is the purpose of this study to interrelate Hawthorne's use of what may be called Gothic structure in a work of art with his use of specific Gothic devices and techniques in The Marble Faun.

It is, in part, the uniqueness in the Hawthorne canon of his last finished romance that prompts the critic to try to account for the different "art of style of narrative"4 characterizing this work. One of the most obvious differences is in the extent and kind of mystery and its effect on the reader. No other Hawthorne work has a "Postscript" to deal with "the mysteries of the story."5 Since mystery characterizes the Gothic novel, and reader involvement within a particular atmosphere is of central significance in both Gothic and romantic writings, it may be asked whether it is the Gothic element that accounts in some ways for the uniqueness of this work.

In his French and Italian Notebooks, where he entered the idea for and extensive details used in The Marble Faun, Hawthorne admires a Gothic structure for its delightful intricacies comprehended into one idea: "that solemn whole, mightily combined out of all these minute particulars."6 Such a view is quite consistent with his aesthetics as expressed in earlier statements and works.7 But a new emphasis may well be suggested when he writes: "the multitudinous richness … the thousand forms of Gothic fancy … A majesty and a minuteness, neither interfering with the other; each assisting the other; this is what I love in Gothic architecture."8 This implies (1) an increased majesty and (2) a more extensive minuteness which could be artistically combined to produce a Gothic structure of "multitudinous richness" surpassing any of Hawthorne's other work.

The majesty of The Marble Faun is evident first in Hawthorne's idea. Hawthorne himself felt that "a high truth" could "add an artistic glory" to a work though "never any truer, and seldom any more evident, at the last page than at the first."9 While for Hawthorne any work of art was a reflection by the imagination of the artist acting upon life to produce an image of "the truth of the human heart,"10 his usual method in both stories and romances is to speak what might be called a side of the truth to reflect the whole; whereas in The Marble Faun, he begins with the whole truth, noting a symbol for the scope of his thought in the first paragraph of his work: "the Human Soul, with its choice of Innocence or Evil close at hand, in the pretty figure of a child, clasping a dove to her bosom, but assaulted by a snake" (5). Or as he phrases his thought midway in the book: "Every human life, if it ascends to truth or delves down to reality, must undergo a similar change" (262). Hawthorne undertakes, then, to delineate "the mystery of human life," "as Gothic structures do."11 One can ask of The Marble Faun the large questions of life, though for answers he may well get "mysteries."

As Hawthorne shapes his idea in The Marble Faun, he introduces symbolically some of the mysteries. Miriam, with her "ambiguity" (Hawthorne's word in the chapter, "Subterranean Reminiscences," 20), is representative of a human life with which most readers can identify. What human life has not its own past of guilt or sorrow, however deeply buried within? Hawthorne emphasizes the mystery of Miriam, centering it in her relation to the spectre of the catacombs, who comes out of "that immenser mystery which envelopes our little life" (26-27). She is shadowed by that "mysterious, dusky, death-scented apparition" (36) through some "sadly mysterious fascination" (93). Where does the guilt, the sorrow, come from? Why is it related to us as it is? Why are we tormented and fascinated, shadowed, perhaps destroyed? The reader may fill in Miriam's ambiguous past with Gothic details brought to mind by the suggestions in the work: perhaps incestuous love? perhaps a bloody crime? Perhaps something even more horrible than the imagination can suggest. The mystery of the spectre's demonic relation to Miriam is the "mystery of human life" with all its horror. Hawthorne's "Postscript" shows that he knew that readers who asked questions about Miriam's past asked questions whose answers are mystery: "the mystery of evil."

While the central mystery in The Marble Faun lies in the source and nature of evil, a related mystery is symbolically pictured through another question left mysterious: Where was Hilda when the light went out? Literally, the saintly Hilda is imagined pursued by all the corruptions of Rome, but to Kenyon she is hope and truth personified. Hawthorne's "Postscript" leaves the reader with the question: What happens to hope and truth in times of great evil? Without attempting to answer that unanswerable question, Hawthorne pictured them as somewhere in the midst of all the corruption and believed they could be found again. This is the transcendent majesty of hope, the hope of redemption, that (in the last words of the romance) sees "sunlight on the mountain-tops" (462).

Not only does Hawthorne's idea reach into the unfathomable darkness and toward the infinite heavens, but his development to show every human life has the majesty of four interrelated parallel plots. Each of his four major characters moves through human life toward truth or reality. Donatello finds a soul in the depths and struggles with it toward the light of heaven. Miriam in her relation to Donatello exemplifies a second search. Hilda comes down from her high and isolated tower to know reality through Miriam's crime. Kenyon symbolically seeks truth in seeking Hilda.

The Marble Faun has a majesty not only in idea but also in the keynote of the work: resemblance: the resemblance of an actual young Italian to a marble statue, The Faun of Praxiteles. Hawthorne points this up both within the work (22) and by the double title, The Marble Faun: or, The Romance of Monte Beni. This is the sublimity of a double removal of the artist from his work with a centering at the heart of the creative: resemblance. Hawthorne creates artists who create, and those artists picture the inner selves. Miriam's inner torments, her haunted mind with its grotesqueness and sadness, her thoughts of bloodshed—she recognizes in her sketches as "ugly phantoms that stole out of my mind" (45). Hilda's "Beatrice," a copy of Guido's, which she let sink into her heart, "makes us shiver as at a spectre," with its "mysterious force" (64-65). Beatrice Cenci, whose look is a mystery of innocence, guilt, and oppressive sorrow indescribable, at first reflects Miriam and, later in the story, Hilda herself. Kenyon models the bust of Donatello and the Cleopatra that Miriam resembles.

Often the Gothic novel used works of art in more or less magical ways as they "came to life," and modern critics may read Gothic actions as revealing an inner grotesqueness. But in The Marble Faun, Hawthorne chose to use works of art as better than magical devices by having his artists reveal the inner selves through their created art works.

Since a picture kindles the imagination more than the reality would, the keynote of The Marble Faun places the reader in a doubly-removed position which will involve his imagination to a greater degree than would otherwise be possible. If the atmosphere of any good romance or Gothic novel is unique to itself, expecting the reader to adopt a somewhat different set of values, it may at least be said that here Hawthorne not only chooses his usual romantic atmosphere, his "poetic or fairy precinct" (3) but gives the reader more room yet for imagination in reading the mystery. In one instance he indicates that the reader should not depend too heavily on suspense (28), an important factor in Gothic stories of flight and pursuit, but more than once he talks of the importance of the imagination of the reader. He says, "A picture, however admirable the painter's art, and wonderful his power, requires of the spectator a surrender of himself, in due proportion with the miracle which has been wrought … There is always the necessity of helping out the painter's art with your own resources of sensibility and imagination" (335).

Hawthorne may be termed Gothic in that he builds on terror and horror, but the building is from the inside out and moves from physical terror to psychological horror. Between Miriam and the model the feeling has at some time in the ambiguous past developed into horror; Miriam's heart trembles with horror and the model finds "an equal horrour" in his own heart as her presence makes a "tremour and horrour" seize her persecutor until he shakes and turns "ashy pale" (95). But Donatello, though capable of terror, is psychologically and spiritually incapable of horror in his early state. When he first sees Miriam's inner self reflected in her self-portrait, her dark mood produces terror for him. But through Miriam's influence and his active response he comes to know horror. First, he witnesses "a spectacle that had its own kind of horrour," when Miriam, fancying herself unseen, "began to gesticulate extravagantly, gnashing her teeth, flinging her arms wildly abroad, stamping with her foot" (157). Then, on the edge of the precipice with Miriam, he seems "to feel that perilous fascination which haunts the brow of precipices, tempting the unwary one to fling himself over, for the very horrour of the thing" (169-70). But the understanding of horror comes with his own personal crime; with "the dead thump" of the murdered model upon the stones beneath the precipice comes to him "an unutterable horrour" (173).

Then Hawthorne shadows both the terror and the horror: after the crime they are afraid of the "terrour and deadly chill" of solitude (174), but a more fearful day comes when Donatello is "horrour-stricken" (188) at Miriam. When Miriam sees a "little stream of blood" oozing "from the dead monk's nostrils" (189), it is not the obvious "vulgar horrour" (191) that makes her quail; her horror comes from within herself. After viewing the crime, Hilda sees, "nor was it without horrour" (205), that her own face resembles the face of Beatrice. The horror follows the young count to his ancestral home and leaves the observant Kenyon "aghast at the passionate horrour," "wild gestures, and ghastly look" (261). Then Donatello recognizes the "distorted and violent look" which Kenyon accidentally catches in the countenance of Donatello's bust, a look "more horrible" than "the dead skull" his forefathers had handed down to him (272). His horror is in and of himself and is a horror from which only divine hope can save him.

Kenyon studies "the group of the Laocoon, which, in its immortal agony," impressed him "as a type of the long, fierce struggle of Man, involved in the knotted entanglements of Errour and Evil, those two snakes, which (if no Divine help intervene) will be sure to strangle him and his children, in the end … Thus, in the Laocoon, the horrour of a moment grew to be the Fate of interminable ages" (391).

The second major component of Hawthorne's "multitudinous richness" of the Gothic is the minuteness. He notes in his preface to The Marble Faun that he was surprised in rewriting the novel "to see the extent to which he had introduced descriptions of various Italian objects, antique, pictorial, and statuesque" (3), and any serious reader of Hawthorne senses a proliferation of such details beyond the usual Hawthorne technique. The specific details of atmosphere and setting, of character and plot, in a typical Hawthorne story can usually be shown to be effective in terms of what Hawthorne called an "iron rod" of truth running through the tale.12 This view of the use of all details in a work of art is essentially the romantic view which sees "every natural fact" as "symbol of some spiritual fact."13 Typically, in Hawthorne, this minuteness is evident, and one senses the specificity of meaning suggested by a "transcendental" image of that meaning. However, in The Marble Faun, it appears that the minuteness of detail expands beyond this. Whether one argues that Hawthorne included more realistic details because of the highly imaginative nature of the "tissue of absurdities" he wished "to impose … upon the public"14 or because of the larger scope of his thought, the fact remains that while the minuteness of individual detail never interferes with the majesty of single idea, neither can each minute detail be taken as quite so individually meaningful to the central idea. It is as though the reader passes through the ruins and through the galleries with Hawthorne and his artists, catching glimpses of many details among which he chooses some on which to focus his imagination, often helped along by one of the artists or by Hawthorne himself in authorial comment. This proliferation of detail is of itself meaningful in the Gothic structure of The Marble Faun. Obviously, somewhere beneath the great idea of "the mystery of human life" there must be room for all details, but as Hawthorne suggests a great many, creating an atmosphere of "multitudinous richness," he chooses to center his attention and the reader's minutely on those details that speak most meaningfully to the imagination. These details are often significantly Gothic.

Hawthorne's Italian setting, a romantic, even a Gothic setting of desolation and decay, provides its ruins, artistic and religious—its catacombs, its old castles and palaces. Of all the castles and palaces Hawthorne chooses several for particular picturing, among them, for a sketch of his total picture, the ancestral home of Monte Beni. It is here where all sorts of mystical suggestions hover over the pedigree of Donatello, and it is Donatello's tower which Hawthorne uses to make a symbolic sketch of the pathway of the soul's struggle toward heaven when he pictures Donatello showing Kenyon the slow movement up the long staircase toward the summit, with the details of each successive room suggesting the inner progress of that soul. Donatello shows Kenyon up the first flight of stairs to a forlorn chamber with brick-paved floor, bare iron-grated holes in the massive walls, and one old stool—the prisoner's cell; up the narrow staircase to another room, with the pair of owls; up the third flight, as the windows and narrow loop-holes give more extensive eyeshots over the hills and valleys, to the topmost chamber with its crucifix, its holy emblems, and its gray alabaster skull; and after one more flight of stairs, out upon the summit whence can be seen all the surrounding area, where the sculptor gets such a view of God's dealings with mankind that he says: "It is a great mistake to try to put our best thoughts into human language. When we ascend into the higher regions of emotion and spiritual enjoyment, they are only expressible by such grand hieroglyphics as these around us" (258).

Of the number of palaces in Rome, perhaps the most Gothic for its suggestion through name alone is the Palazzo Cenci, to which Hilda was to deliver the secret packet from Miriam as Hawthorne lets the very secrecy of the packet represent an inward giving of Miriam's secret that made her look a Beatrice Cenci to Hilda, who came to appear so after she saw Miriam's and Donatello's crime.

Not only are Hawthorne's minutely detailed settings particularly Gothic, but the plot itself is a "succession of sinister events" that "followed one spectral figure" (426) out of the catacombs. That "death-scented apparition" (36) produces the grotesqueness often characteristic of the Gothic novel—an insidious and horror-filled grotesqueness that through Miriam's influence reaches Donatello and Kenyon, each in a different way.

The overt crime and scenes of blood, often a large part of "Gothic horrour" (156), are suggested in The Marble Faun through the single murder committed near "one of the especial blood-spots of the earth" (154), overshadowed by the crimes of ages, and effected by the influence of the vile spectre from the surrounding darkness. Then that "individual wrong-doing melts into the great mass of human crime, and makes us—who dreamed only of our own little separate sin—makes us guilty of the whole" (177). There is "an odour of guilt, and a scent of blood," "a stain of ensanguined crime" (97), no doubt flowing from some "fatal gulf," some "mighty subterranean lake of gore, right beneath our feet" (163). In one sense all mankind becomes "cemented with blood" (175).

So Hawthorne creates the "multitudinous richness" of The Marble Faun, to speak the majestic mystery of human life, a majesty of horror and hope, with its majestic keynote in resemblance, doubly involving the reader's imagination to see the inner soul revealed outwardly and so to be caught up in a deeper, truer horror and a higher, more eternal hope. Assisting the majesty by the thousand forms of Gothic fancy, Hawthorne enriches the work by unusually extensive minuteness. He selects and elaborates such Gothic devices of setting as the catacombs and the castle tower while he chooses for the protagonist a spectre who prompts the mysterious Miriam to a crime of blood. In its "multitudinous richness," with "a majesty and minuteness, neither interfering with the other, each assisting the other,"15The Marble Faun is Hawthorne Gothic at its best.


1. Robert D. Hume, "Gothic Versus Romantic: A Revaluation of the Gothic Novel," PMLA, 84 (1969), 282-90.

2. Jane Lundblad, Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Tradition of Gothic Romance, Essays and Studies on American Language and Literature, 4 (Upsala: A.-B Lundequistska Bokhandeln, 1946).

3. Maurice Charney, "Hawthorne and the Gothic Style," NEQ, 34 (1961), 36-49.

4. Hawthorne letter quoted in James T. Fields, Hawthorne, Modern Classics (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1879), p. 79.

5. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun: or, The Romance of Monte Beni, Centenary Edition (Ohio State Univ. Press, 1968), IV, 463. All subsequent page citations in the text are to this edition.

6. Quoted by Charney from Norman Holmes Pearson, ed. (Unpublished Yale doctoral diss., 1941), p. 555.

7. See my study of Hawthorne's art, Nathaniel Hawthorne: Transcendental Symbolist (Ohio Univ. Press, 1969), for detailed analysis of Hawthorne's aesthetic theory and practice.

8. French and Italian Notebooks, p. 555. Italics mine.

9. "Preface," The House of the Seven Gables, Centenary Edition, 1965, II, 2-3.

10. House of the Seven Gables, II, 1.

11. Randall Stewart, ed., The English Notebooks by Nathaniel Hawthorne (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1941), p. 413.

12. Letter to Charles A. Putnam, The Critic, N. S. 3 (Jan. 17, 1885), p. 30.

13. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, Centenary Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Co., 1903), I, 26.

14. Fields, pp. 78-79.

15. French and Italian Notebooks, p. 555.

Further Reading

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Scharnhorst, Gary. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Metuchen, N. J.: Scarecrow Press, 1990, 416 p.

Provides a list of nineteenth-century reviews and book-length studies of Hawthorne.


Stewart, Randall. Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Biography. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1948, 279 p.

Full-length biography that contains commentary on Hawthorne's interest in the works of Radcliffe, Godwin, Maturin, and Scott.


Allen, M. L. "The Black Veil: Three Versions of a Symbol." English Studies 47 (1966): 286-89.

Discusses the significance of the veil in Hawthorne's fiction.

Baym, Nina. "Hawthorne's Gothic Discards: Fanshawe and 'Alice Doane.'" Nathaniel Hawthorne Journal (1974): 105-15.

Studies Hawthorne's attempts to Americanize the English Gothic tradition.

Berthold, Dennis. "Hawthorne, Ruskin, and the Gothic Revival: Transcendent Gothic in The Marble Faun." ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 74 (1974): 15-32.

Delineates the influence of the Gothic on The Marble Faun and relates this to the novel's theme.

Calhoun, Thomas O. "Hawthorne's Gothic: An Approach to the Four Last Fragments: 'The Ancestral Footstep,' 'Dr. Grimshawe's Secret,' 'The Dolliver Romance,' 'Septimus Felton.'" Genre, no. 3 (1970): 229-41.

Examines the Gothic elements in Hawthorne's unfinished works.

Charney, Maurice. "Hawthorne and the Gothic Style." The New England Quarterly 34, no. 1 (March 1961): 36-49.

Discusses Hawthorne's affinity for Gothic art and architecture.

DeLamotte, Eugenia C. "'Deadly Iteration': Hawthorne's Gothic Vision." In Perils of the Night: A Feminist Study of Nineteenth-Century Gothic, pp. 93-117. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Analyzes Hawthorne's use of the Gothic narrative pattern of repetition in his works, and in The Marble Faun in particular.

Elbert, Monika M. "Bourgeois Sexuality and the Gothic Plot in Wharton and Hawthorne." In Hawthorne and Women: Engendering and Expanding the Hawthorne Tradition, edited by John L. Idol Jr. and Melinda M. Ponder, pp. 258-70. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1999.

Maintains that in Hawthorne's opinion, the judgment of others is itself the profoundest evil.

Graham, Wendy. Gothic Elements and Religion in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Fiction. Marburg: Tectum Verlag, 1999, 101 p.

Explores the parallels and differences between English Gothic fiction and its religious critique and the fiction of Hawthorne.

Levin, David. "Shadows of Doubt: Specter Evidence in Hawthorne's 'Young Goodman Brown.'" American Literature 34, no. 3 (November 1962): 344-52.

Examines Hawthorne's short story from a seventeenth-century perspective and notes that Goodman Brown succumbs to despair on only spectral evidence of evil.

Lewis, Paul. "Mournful Mysteries: Gothic Speculation in The Scarlet Letter." American Transcendental Quarterly 44 (fall 1979): 279-93.

Examines the use and function of mystery, particularly as a challenge to orthodoxy, in The Scarlet Letter.

Lloyd-Smith, Allan. "Hawthorne's Gothic Tales." In Critical Essays on Hawthorne's Short Stories, edited by Albert J. Von Frank, pp. 232-43. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall, 1991.

Overview of Hawthorne's gothicism.

Ringe, Donald A. "Nathaniel Hawthorne." In American Gothic: Imagination and Reason in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, pp. 152-76. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1982.

Discusses the Gothic influences on Hawthorne's work and analyzes the Gothic elements and devices in various novels and stories.

Voller, Jack G. "Allegory and Fantasy: The Short Fiction of Hawthorne and Poe." In The Supernatural Sublime: The Metaphysics of Terror in Anglo-American Romanticism, pp. 209-39. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1994.

Discusses the use of symbolism and allegory in Hawthorne's fantastic tales.


Additional coverage of Hawthorne's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: American Writers; American Writers: The Classics, Vol. 1; American Writers Retrospective Supplement, Vol. 1; Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 18; Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography and Resources, Vol. 2; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 3; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 103; Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1640–1865; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 1, 74, 183, 223, 269; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British; DISCovering Authors: Canadian; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors and Novelists; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Exploring Novels; Exploring Short Stories; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 1; Literature Resource Center; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 2, 10, 17, 23, 39, 79, 95, 158; Novels for Students, Vols. 1, 20; Reference Guide to American Literature, Ed. 4; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers; Short Stories for Students, Vols. 1, 7, 11, 15; Short Story Criticism, Vols. 3, 29, 39; Supernatural Fiction Writers, Vol. 1; Twayne's United States Authors; World Literature Criticism; Writers for Children; and Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children, Vol. 2.


Nathaniel Hawthorne Long Fiction Analysis