Wednesday, November 16, 2011

American Author #2 Nathaniel Hawthorne

Young Hawthorne
American Author #2            Nathaniel Hawthorne 

I remember reading the House of the Seven Gables in high school and I also remember not really understanding it too well. So I decided to re-visit some of this author’s work to try and get a better picture of what he is all about. To finish this particular quest of mine, I suppose I will have to read Seven Gables again, from an adult point of view and see if it makes any more sense to me now. But, I started off my study this time with some of his stories that I found on Gutenberg, to broaden my horizons a bit.

Hawthorne was born on July 4th, in Salem, Mass. His writings centered on the New England portion of the U.S. Being in Salem, in and of itself, would be good fodder to stoke the imagination but he also approached writing from a Puritan point of view and wrote about moral allegory. His works can be classified as dark romanticism and generally have a complex moral undertone or meaning.

When he was 16 yrs old, Hawthorne started a handwritten newspaper called “The Spectator”.  He was a contemporary of Emerson, Longfellow, Poe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Thoreau. He knew Franklin Pierce and Melville dedicated Moby Dick to Hawthorne. That’s quite a powerful list of important acquaintances and friends!

 The Scarlet Letter is supposed to be one of the most important works by Hawthorne. Other works include Twice-Told Tales, Young Goodman Brown, many others not listed, and the stories I recently read Chippings with a Chisel and Buds and Bird Voices.
Here are some vocabulary words I learned while reading these two stories:

Exuviae- something stripped off the body, cast off skins or coverings of various organisms.
Penurious- stingy, scanty, yielding little.
Lugubrious- mournful or gloomy, dismal, especially to an exaggerated or ludicrous degree.
Bedizened- to ornament or dress in a showy or gaudy manner.
Torpid- dormant, numbed, lethargic or apathetic.
Verdure- vigorous greenery, the lush greenness of flourishing vegetation.
Seine- a fish net that hangs vertically in the water (also the name of a river in France).

I feel so educated now my eyebrows are going way up!!!!! Ha!
In Chippings with a Chisel the author muses over conversations he’s having with a skilled workman who uses a chisel to fashion decorations and titles on headstones. The subject matter discussed is likened to life and ponderings about the meanings of sometimes everyday things, joys and sorrows and short stories about peoples loved ones who have passed on as they come to the skilled chisel-man to pick out gravestones. I loved the author’s descriptive language and enjoyed the story.

A few quotes to illustrate the descriptive language: In spite of his gray head and wrinkled brow, he was quite like a child in all matters…

Soul clings to soul; the living dust has a sympathy with the dust of the grave…

A comely woman, with a pretty rosebud of a daughter, came to select a
gravestone for a twin-daughter…
"They are not under the sod," I rejoined; "then why should I mark the
spot where there is no treasure hidden!

In Buds and Bird Voices the author is describing his native New England and the gardens and citizens of nature that he is observing. He muses again about what meanings these things he is observing have to everyday life and uses personification to give human characteristics and emotions to non-human things. I enjoyed this story and would like to read more by Hawthorne in the future.

But who can estimate the power of gentle influences, whether amid material desolation or the moral winter of man's heart?

The moss-grown willow- tree which for forty years past has overshadowed these western windows will be among the first to put on its green attire.

In the garden are the dried bean-vines, the brown stalks of the asparagus-bed, and
melancholy old cabbages…

Along the hither shore a row of trees stood up to their knees in water; 

The blackbirds, three species of which consort together, are the noisiest of all our feathered citizens. Great companies of them--more than the famous "four-and-twenty" whom Mother Goose has immortalized--congregate in contiguous treetops and
vociferate with all the clamor and confusion of a turbulent political meeting.

Older Hawthorne

Hawthorne Quote:
 “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

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