Tag Archives: Nathaniel Hawthorne

American Gothic

The British Library’s blockbuster Gothic exhibition, Terror and Wonder:  the Gothic Imagination opened yesterday across the pond, complete with a (rather suspect-looking) vampire-slaying kit. I like the title: that’s just what makes Gothic literature so compelling, the combination of fear and curiosity. Horror is something else entirely: it’s just repulsive. Gothic is humanistic; horror is not. I hope to see the exhibition myself but it has already inspired me to think about my favorite examples of American Gothic literature: I can’t go back to the eighteenth century, where Terror and Wonder begins with Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, because I haven’t read anything by the man whom everyone identifies as the first Gothic author, Charles Brockden Brown, so my list begins with Edgar Allen Poe and then proceeds rather conventionally: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables, The Yellow Wallpaper, the amazing short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman which I read for the first time just last week, several stories by Ambrose Bierce, Henry James’ Turn of the Screw (I know–it’s very British but he was born American), anything by Flannery O’Connor (I know–southern Gothic deserves its own special categorization, but I’m only really familiar with Flannery, the namesake of my first cat), and also pretty much anything by Shirley Jackson:  I particularly like We have always Lived in the Castle (1962). Just a short list as my fiction-reading has been limited, for the most part, to an earlier phase of my life, but I would love more suggestions for the years to come.

Gothic

Gothic Gables Folio Society

Gothic Gillman

Gothic Bierce (1893)

American Gothic James

Gothic O'Connor

American Gothic Jackson

Harry Perkins illustration of Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart (1923), from the “Terror and Wonder” Exhibition at the British Library; Francis Mosley illustration from the Folio Society’s edition of the  House of the Seven Gables; Title Page of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Stetson (Gilman), New England Magazine, 1892; Ambrose Bierce’s collection of short stories (1893); Penguin English Library edition of Henry James’ Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw; Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories; and Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962).


One, two, three, four, five……….

GABLES. Before I knew anything about historic architecture (and I still really don’t know all that much, to be honest), I always thought the gables (generally one, occasionally two or three) that seem to burst out of the roofs of mid-19th century houses were rather radical departures from the more straightforward colonial and Federal styles. Radical for American architecture, that is: obviously gables are a long-standing feature of European structures. But now I know they are just another revived element, derived not only from much older European elements but also 17th century “medieval” houses built in America (I know that term is widely used by architectural historians, but I find it awkward, as the 17th century is decidedly not medieval). Just the word gables in Salem is a reference to the House of the Seven Gables, which is more early nineteenth-century creation than seventeenth-century survival: when philanthropist Caroline O. Emmerton acquired the fabled mansion it had three gables rather than seven and she hired Boston architect Joseph Everett Chandler in 1909 to “restore” the “missing” gables and transform the house into Hawthorne’s inspiration. Chandler was more of Colonial Revival architect than a restoration architect, and he writes about the “development” of the House of the Seven Gables in his 1916 book The Colonial House, citing other first-period gabled structures in Salem and Boston as his inspiration. Hawthorne scholars believe that the author was also inspired by Boston gabled houses in his conception of the House of the Seven Gables, including Captain John Turner’s mansion on Beacon Street and the famous  “Old Feather Store” at Dock Square. Certainly there were gables aplenty to choose from in Hawthorne’s time, both new and old.

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old feather store

Drawing of “Julien’s Restorator” in Boston, taken down in 1824, from James Henry Stark, Antique Views of Ye Towne of Boston, 1901, and center-gabled houses in Danvers and Salem; a two-gabled house in Danvers, and two adjacent three-gabled houses in Salem; The “Old Feather Store” in Boston, c. 1680-1860, shortly before it was taken down, Boston Public Library.


The Death of Nathaniel Hawthorne

150 years ago today Nathaniel Hawthorne died, far from either his native city of Salem or his adopted town of Concord, in the company not of his beloved family but that of his devoted friend, former President Franklin Pierce. Really he died alone (as Pierce reported), very peacefully, in his sleep. I don’t think there are any plans to mark this memorial here in Salem (remember, we are Witch City, not Hawthorne city, and Nathaniel doesn’t seem to have cared much for Salem anyway), but (as usual) there will be events in Concord. It appears that Hawthorne had been unhappy and unsettled for some time before his death (just shy of 60; his birthday is July 4): there were money worries, health issues, the separation from his family, and of course the war–he doesn’t seem to have been enough of an Abolitionist or enough of a Yankee for his friends and neighbors– but at least his passing was peaceful, very peaceful according to President Pierce. I did a quick search of newspaper front pages for the week after May 19–and Hawthorne’s death was on the front page of every single newspaper I scanned, even in the South, although generally it was just a line or two in the midst of all the war news. He was famous in his own time, and has become even more so with time. There are many compelling and contradictory things about the work and the character of Nathaniel Hawthorne–he was both intensely shy and so handsome that people would stop him in the street– but for me, he’s always been the ultimate New Englander, and that is how and why I am thinking about him today.

PicMonkey Collage

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Hawthorne on the Move

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Hawthorne Plymouth

Manuscript copy of The Dolliver Romance, which Hawthorne was working on before his death, New York Public Library; Newspaper reports from The (Washington, D.C.) Evening Star and The Daily State Sentinel (Indianapolis), May 20, 1864, Library of Congress Historic Newspapers Collection; Hawthorne’s birthplace in its original location on Union Street in Salem and its journey to the House of the Seven Gables campus in 1958; Hawthorne’s Concord milieu, from Samuel Adams Drake, Our World’s Greatest Benefactors (1884); The Pemigewasset House in Plymouth, NH: where Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864, Library of Congress

 


Mapping the Book

For some reason, I belong to all of these membership shopping sites. They send me daily notices of their “special” sales, which usually just annoy me; seldom do I click through and look at their wares. But I did click on the Fab link the other day, and found some really neat pictorial maps of the scenes, plots, characters and places of some classic books, including Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, and Robin Hood, produced by the Harris-Seybold  Company of Cleveland, Ohio in the 1950s, presumably to showcase their cutting-edge printing equipment. These are different from the make-believe maps you find in children’s books (NeverlandMiddle Earth) because they are representations of real places, superimposed with fictional characters (well, all of them except for Treasure Island). The Library of Congress also featured these maps, in its exhibition and accompanying book Language of the Land:  Journeys into a Literary America.

Literary Maps Moby Dick

Literary Maps Huck Finn

Literary Maps Virginian

Literary Maps Robin Hood

Literary Maps Treasure Island

Harris-Seybold Literary Maps of Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, and The Virginian, 1953, Library of Congress, and of Robin Hood and Treasure Island, 1953, Fab.com.

So much better than those old-fashioned literary maps where authors’ heads are placed on their state or town–but many of these can be found in the Library of Congress’s exhibition as well. I spent considerable time (now lost) trying to make a literary map for Salem based on Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables following this Google Earth procedure, with less than impressive results. Instead, I’m featuring a cropped image from another vivid mid-century map, Alva Scott Garfield’s Scott-Map of SALEM MassachusettsThe Wealth of the Indies to the Uttermost Gulf!” Scott’s maps are always extremely well-annotated–and often very cleverly so: the caption underneath the requisite witch on her broomstick reads “aviation started in Salem” while a nearby musket-bearing Puritan is captioned “the anti-aircraft is surprised” (see below). In the proximity of the actual House of the Seven Gables she has assembled many of the characters from the House of the Seven Gables (Clifford and Hepzibah, Phoebe, Judge Pyncheon), creating a perfect literary map of this little corner of Salem. And in another corner, Scott has placed characters from The Scarlet Letter, and the author himself, near the Mall Street house where Hawthorne penned his first novel, charting more literary territory.

Literary Maps Scott

Scott Salem

Scott Map

Alva Scott Garfield, A Scott-Map of Salem, c. 1950s, Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps, Inc.


Cake and the Custom House

This weekend marked the 75th anniversary of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the first federal heritage site (as opposed to national park) in the nation. On Sunday, a spectacularly clear and cold day, the staff of Salem Maritime presented a program of commemoration and appreciation which included lovely succinct speeches, cake, and the opportunity to wander around all of the site’s buildings at leisure. As usual, I was short on time (with a stack of midterms waiting at home), so I went straight for the Custom House (after my cake, of course), which I had not been inside for quite a while. In retrospect I wish I had had time for the Derby House as well, as it has recently been restored. But that’s alright, I can easily go back at another time–I live here.

Custom House Cake

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Custom House 014

Salem has been a port of entry since 1649, so there have been a succession of custom houses:  this one, built in 1819, is the last, and while beautiful, it’s a bit of a white elephant really. It was built by a new American government that expected Salem’s dynamic trade to keep expanding, but it declined precipitously almost as soon as the cornerstone of the new building was laid. In his introduction to The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel captures this decline better than anyone possibly could, as he was a first-hand observer working (or watching) from this very custom house. Writing in 1850, he observed:  The pavement round about the abovedescribed edificewhich we may as well name at once as the CustomHouse of the porthas grass enough growing in its chinks to show that it has not, of late days, been worn by any multitudinous resort of business. In some months of the year, however, there often chances a forenoon when affairs move onward with a livelier tread. Such occasions might remind the elderly citizen of that period, before the last war with England, when Salem was a port by itself; not scorned, as she is now, by her own merchants and shipowners, who permit her wharves to crumble to ruin while their ventures go to swell, needlessly and imperceptibly, the mighty flood of commerce at New York or Boston.

Economic stagnation and historic preservation can often, ironically, go hand in hand, and as stately as it is, I’ve always thought that the Custom House has that air of a building that time forgot, where the front door was shut long ago and seldom opened afterwards. There is “minimal” interpretation, which I prefer, just old rooms without people–and the tools of the trade.

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The one room that doesn’t look like everyone just picked up their things and left has a HUGE gold eagle in it: this is the original eagle crafted by Salem woodworker Joseph True and installed at the front of the Custom House in 1826. When it was found to be seriously deteriorated, it was removed, restored, and replaced with a fiberglass copy in 2004. The rooms across the second-floor hall, with their period furniture on which are randomly-placed papers, really reinforce that abandoned ambiance.

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I particularly love the entrance of the Custom House, with its fanlight and sidelights, and then of course there’s the view, of Derby Wharf and the Friendship. Below, the Custom House in 1906 and this past weekend. It was a beautiful bright day, but as I write everything you see is covered with snow, again.

Custom House 1906

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Red Christmas

Even before I read a nice little article yesterday on how the holidays obtained their color themes, I was already planning to focus on red:  it’s been a dreary week and I needed a little cheering up. The red that we now associate with Christmas comes from an amalgamation of historical and cultural forces:  iconic images of St. Nicholas of Myra wearing red robes, holly berries and the apple props of medieval mystery plays, the Victorian poinsettia craze, the colorful depictions of Santa Claus by nineteenth-century cartoonist Thomas Nast, and the Coco-Cola Santa Claus of the early twentieth century. I’ve already covered Saint Nicholas in a lengthy post a week or so ago, so this perspective is going to be structural. Here are some of my favorite red houses, tastefully decorated for the season in typical understated New England fashion. I’m starting up north, in my hometown of York, Maine, where I happened to be last week before our weather turned dreadfully dreary, and then I’ll work my way home to Salem via Newburyport.

Two of the Historic House Museums of Old York:  the 1719 Old Gaol (Jail) and the 1754 Jefferds Tavern. As you can see, the gaol is situated on a little hill that overlooks York Village below. There is a large new barn-like structure attached to the tavern which I dont really care for (despite the fact that it is named after my wonderful high school guidance counselor) so Im showing a vantage point that excludes it.

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red Gaol 2

red gaol

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Heading south, I stopped in Newburyport–a city of white houses for the most part–and found two adorable colonial side-shingled houses on side streets in the south end.

red house Newburyport

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Back in Salem, where there are not a lot of red houses, really. But there is venerable Red’s Sandwich Shop downtown, and the Manning house in North Salem, which was once in the midst of one of the most famous orchard nurseries in Massachusetts. This was the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s uncle, Robert Manning, a famous “pomologist” (an expert in the cultivation of fruit trees) and according to the sign, also a stagecoach agent–news to me. The last picture in this group is a rare red Greek Revival on Essex Street: you seldom see a house in this style painted red, as they are meant to mimic stone. From these pictures it appears we like our red houses with white trim in Salem.

Red's Sandwich Shop

red house North Salem

red Manning House

red greek revival

Finally, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s c. 1750 birthplace, moved to its present location adjacent to the House of the Seven Gables on the harbor in 1958 from downtown. A rather gnarly tree seems to be threatening it! And last but not least, a wonderful old (fishing?) shack on the other side of the Gables: a little worse for wear maybe, but still red and picturesque–it does seem to be crying out for a wreath at this time of year.

Red Hawthorne House

Red Hawthorne House rear

red shack


Picturing Louisa

Today is the birthday (in 1832) of Louisa May Alcott, who I have always thought of as a real Massachusetts girl, with her Transcendentalist upbringing, her independent spirit, and her lifelong reformist tendencies. Sometimes it’s hard to separate her from Jo in Little Women, but she was a real person who served as a Civil War nurse (briefly) rather than waiting at home in Concord, who had many menial jobs, who wrote sensationalistic penny dreadfuls under a pseudonym as well as her classic bestsellers, and who was a lifelong abolitionist and suffragette. She never married, and died at 55 from what some people say was lupus, others mercury poisoning, and she herself thought might be meningitis. I know Louisa had her own life, but I can’t help associating her with Jo, primarily because of the movies rather than the book.  When I picture Louisa, I generally think of Katherine Hepburn playing Jo in the 1933 version of Little Women, rather than June Allyson in the 1949 version or Winona Ryder in the 1994 film; I think June and Winona did well, but Kate is seared in my memory.  If I had not seen any of these films, perhaps I could separate Louisa and Jo; but I have (and there you see my main teaching challenge:  many of my students have learned their “history” from films).

Stacy Tolman drawing of Louisa, reproduced in Lilian Whiting’s Boston Days (1902); a 1933 publicity pamphlet for George Cukor’s 1933 Little Women.

Back to the book.  I have several editions of Little Women, but my most prized one is an 1880 copy published by Roberts Brothers in Boston and illustrated by Frank Thayer Merrill. I’ve looked at other editions, but I like my Merrill best, and since I’ve made the Louisa/Jo connection, this is how I picture the Louisa and her world as well.

The last way I picture Louisa is in Concord, at Orchard House and its environs.  And when I think of her there, I wonder about her and her family’s relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, who purchased the Alcott’s first Concord house after he fled Salem.  He renamed their “Hillside” the Wayside, and it is just down the road from Orchard House:  apparently the Alcotts even became the Hawthorne’s tenants while their house was undergoing renovations.  Nevertheless, the relationship does not appear to have been a close one, and I wonder why. A recent book by Eva LaPlante, Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother, explores the relationship between Louisa and her mother, Abigail May Alcott, who was a descendant of the Salem Witch Trials judge Samuel Sewall.  Of course, we know that Nathaniel Hawthorne was a descendant of another Witch Trials judge, John Hathorne. You would think that Louisa and Nathaniel could have bonded over these shared skeletons in their closets, but perhaps not.


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