Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Introducing Genius

Until recently, my contact with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work was limited to his short stories. I have read nothing approaching all of them, of course—rather, only a tiny percentage. But none of those I had read impressed me.

When they were written their storytelling was innovative and interesting. Now, I can see the ending from page one. That is probably a big part of my disappointment with these tales, but it is not its full extent. Even were they to seem original (which, actually, they largely are—it’s the later rip-offs that aren’t), I suspect I would be put off by the “nugget of wisdom” each is constructed around.
Even so, I continued to hold Hawthorne in high regard.

I am now justified in doing so, having read The Scarlet Letter.
While it is sometimes classed as allegory, this novel is grounded much more in reality than are the majority of Hawthorne’s works. The plot is not entirely predictable, and here the author’s characterizations are given the breathing room needed to develop extra dimensions.

The Scarlet Letter is impressive on many levels. From a historical standpoint, I particularly enjoyed the prismatic view of Puritan New England. Hmm… ‘prismatic’? Does that convey what I want it to? Whatever.

Yes, I have definitely found my favorite Hawthorne. (Of those I’ve read, of course.)
But it’s not the story of Hester Prynne and her mark of the adulteress. That one takes second place.

More enjoyable to me personally than the novel was it’s introduction, entitled “The Custom House.” Goodly sized, it took me longer to read it than the book it preceded, if only because I didn’t want to miss anything. It is the autobiographical tale of Hawthorne as a politician. Well, not politician exactly. But a politically elected official.

A brilliantly hilarious account of (among other things) bureaucracy in action, “The Custom House” left me with an intense desire to read more of Hawthorne’s work in this vein of personal revelation.
Yes, the man can construct a reasonable narrative, but how much more fun to hear his relating his inner thoughts on such people as the man who never forgot a meal!

Now, I must read Blithedale. It’s crossed my mind before, but now I am resolved…

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