FINAL ROUND ONE PROSE BRACKET BATTLE IN MADNESS: DICKENS VS. HAWTHORNE

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The young Nathaniel Hawthorne. He aged quickly.

Empires are obsessed with money.

Their colonies are obsessed with sex.

The greatest author of the British Empire, Charles Dickens, invented Scrooge.

The first great prose writer in America, Nathaniel Hawthorne, wrote a famous book about adultery, The Scarlet Letter.

Religion handles the problem of sexual misconduct—the poor, with their suffering, often find their only real pleasure in sex; the rich have many pleasures, and sex might be one of them: money buys all.

Dickens was immensely popular in England, (the first serialized fiction writer; like TV before TV) but due to international copyright laws, his works were published at no cost in the United States—Edgar Poe complained vociferously of this, because U.S. authors were slighted, since American publishers would rather print British works for free than take a chance on an American author.  Poe, gentleman that he was, cared for money, fame, and country (he did not write about sex).  Dickens agreed with Poe, and on a tour of America in 1842, Dickens collected and delivered to the U.S. Congress signatures of American authors who were against the international copyright laws which hurt both Dickens and Poe.

Hawthorne was a strange, reclusive man, whose ancestor was a Salem witch trial judge, and he married an artistic, reclusive woman.  They did have three children, and Hawthorne was certainly a man of the world, but his fiction deals with madness and secret desires.

Dickens wrote from the Christian, domestic center of an expanding worldwide empire and his morals were sunny and simple—despite London nearly ruling the world, London was full of the wretchedly poor, and Dickens wrote for them.

And this line sums up Dickens quite well:

A loving heart is the truest wisdom

When Hawthorne was a boy living in Salem, two events darkened his life: first, his sailor father died of yellow fever at sea, and second, president Thomas Jefferson imposed a shipping boycott—a response to Great Britain’s piratical belligerence in the early 19th century—which crushed maritime Salem’s economy.

Hawthorne died when the American Civil War was still raging. Pictures of him in his 50s (he died at 59) show a very old man. He was first recognized as a great author by Poe, with some reservations, since Hawthorne belonged to the Transcendentalist clique Poe disliked; Poe theorized brilliantly on the short story while reviewing Hawthorne’s tales—the Scarlet Letter was published after Poe’s death, and there’s whispers Hawthorne’s most famous work was based on the rumored affair of Poe and Fanny Osgood.

Hawthorne wrote, not for an Empire, but for an incestuous, puritan village.

Dickens’ characters had funny names.  Hawthorne’s characters had funny souls.

Here is Hawthorne’s line in the March Madness contest:

She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.

Who is the greater genius?

The soaring, sentimental Dickens?

Or the burrowing, burning Hawthorne?

Purgatory puffing a pipe?

Or hell awake under a stone?

 

 

 

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THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS? NO. THE BRITISH WITCH TRIALS

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Governor Phips: historically obscure, but the British knight ran the Witch Trials in his colonial territory.

Once again, Blog Scarriet, this time with almost the ease of a yawn, sets the whole world straight on something of much notoriety and importance.

The Salem witch trials do not properly belong to Salem, Massachusetts at all.

We do not refer to the quibble that hearings took place in other Massachusetts towns, that hangings took place in nearby Danvers, that judges were from Boston, or some other minor factual matter.

No, the issue is far more prominent: the Salem Witch Trials, as they are known, do not properly belong to American history; they belong to British history.

The famous trials which put 20 people, mostly women, to death, in 1692, were conducted by British officials in a British Colony run by the British.

The Trials, in the popular imagination, are inevitably used as an example of American religious extremism, which eclipsed due process in an orgy of superstitious mayhem, and yes, it is true, ‘seeing ghosts’ was the primary evidence against the accused.

The facts are these:

The trials could not commence until the British Crown created a new charter for their Massachusetts colony: this finally happened, after a lapse of many years due to religious strife in England, in 1692—the year in which all the trials and deaths occurred.

The man who put the trials together, whose authority made them happen, was William Phips, famous in London for recovering, as a British treasure hunter, a large treasure from a Spanish galleon. His successful treasure hunt earned him three things: wealth, a knighthood from the British Crown, and appointment to the 1st Governor of Massachusetts Bay.

Phips, a British knight, was the chief magistrate of the witch trials. Without his authority as British colonialist, the “Salem Witch Trials” simply don’t happen. Phips, neither refined nor educated, will die in London, on trial himself, for assault. If you don’t recognize his name, it’s because focus on Governor Phips gives an entirely different historical slant to the trials.

Was the witchcraft charge against Phips’ wife the reason the whole ugly charade was shut down months after it began?

It’s really not that difficult to be an historian.

We suggest Hollywood do a film on Phips: a colorful character; the so-called Salem Witch Trials would be just a backdrop, one episode, in his amazing life.

And also, it wouldn’t be a fail when they cast a British actor for an American role.

Salem was a great, early American maritime, city; with its ad hoc, privateer navy, Salem merchants, by themselves, captured 450 British vessels during the Revolution—a crucial way to fund a rebellion.

If this doesn’t happen, we probably don’t win the Revolution, and America doesn’t exist.

And yet Salem is known—for witches.

It makes you wonder who is writing our history.

The treasonous Thomas Jefferson’s embargo, as U.S. President, destroyed Salem as a maritime power; it is probably why the writings of the young Hawthorne, growing up in depressed Salem in the beginning of the 19th century, were so dark.

Here is the true darkness of Salem.

Not the Witch Trials.

They belong to an English knight.

 

 

 

COME ALONG QUIETLY

 

Edgar Poe’s take on quietude in this passage from late 1847 is almost identical with Ron Silliman’s general use of the term:

 “It is often said, inconsiderately, that very original writers always fail in popularity–that such and such persons are too original to be comprehended by the mass. “Too peculiar,” should be the phrase, “too idiosyncratic.” It is, in fact, the excitable, undisciplined and child-like popular mind which most keenly feels the original. The criticism of the conservatives, of the hackneys, of the cultivated old clergymen of the North American Review, is precisely the criticism which condemns and alone condemns it. “It becometh not a divine,” saith Lord Coke, “to be of a fiery and salamandrine spirit.” Their conscience allowing them to move nothing themselves, these dignitaries have a holy horror of being moved. “Give us quietude,” they say. Opening their mouths with proper caution, they sigh forth the word “Repose.” And this is, indeed, the one thing they should be permitted to enjoy, if only upon the Christian principle of give and take.”   —Poe (reviewing Hawthorne)

Silliman would never agree with Poe’s idea that “the popular mind most keenly feels the original” since Silliman’s avant-garde poetry stars are anything but popular.  But Silliman would appreciate Poe’s whack at the “cultivated old clergymen” and their “repose.”

Poe qualified his original praise of Hawthorne (1842) when he reviewed the Salem author again, in 1847.  It’s pretty obvious why Poe downgrades Hawthorne from an imaginative original in 1842 to a merely fanciful one in 1847:  Hawthorne was getting in too deep with the Transcendentalists.  He was renting from Mr. EmersonPoe pleads with Hawthorne at the end of his piece: mend [your] pen, [Mr. Hawthorne!] get a bottle of visible ink, come out from the Old Manse, cut Mr. Alcott, hang (if possible) the editor of “The Dial,” and throw out of the window to the pigs all his odd numbers of “The North American Review.” [!!]

Should Poe have changed his mind on Hawthorne just because Hawthorne had become friends with Emerson?  The Transcendalists hurt Poe into Criticism, so I say: why not?   The genius of Poe can love while it is hating, and it’s a pleasure to observe how Poe’s mind siezes on new insights as it ruefully revises in the 1847 article.

It might be worthwhile to take a peek at what Poe has to say regarding this “Quietude” business, since Poe did in fact originate the designation Silliman has for some time leaned on, and Seth Abramson is currently taking great pains to wrestle to the ground.

According to Poe, the novelty of a work is multi-dimensional, but quietude is simpler—either a work calms or agitates.  But it is possible, Poe contends, for a work to have both “repose” and originality, and this is what he praised in Hawthorne.

Originality in fiction, according to Poe, needs to aim at a middle ground above the merely “peculiar,” and below that “metaphysical originality”—reserved for science; the ‘higher’ type of originality will merely irritate the reader of fiction—who is looking for pleasure, not instruction.

As usual, Poe divides poetry from truth.  He also makes a case for literary talent as a quality worthy by itself and in itself and to be demonstrated, first, in a “rhymed composition which can be perused in under an hour” and owes its power to “rhythm,” and, secondly, in a work of short fiction naturally unshackled by that which contributes to beauty—the artificiality of rhythm.

Most moderns consider this all too neat and tidy, of course, but Poe’s course has the advantage of leaving a wider field for invention, creativity, energy, experiment and effort—precisely because he establishes the ‘neat and tidy’ in the beginning, and gets it out of the way.  No matter how rough-edged and complex we consider ourselves, the ‘neat and tidy’ eventually comes around to bite us.  Our metaphysics longs for smoothness at last. 

For instance, look at Seth Abramson.  He doesn’t begin where Poe begins.  Abramson stakes out his analysis this way: he chops the last 100 years of poetry into two tropes: transcendent (language as signifier) and immanent (language as signified).  But why should a writer ever consistenly divide himself, or limit himself, thus, especially since language cannot be interesting unless it do both at once, pretty much all the time?  An artificial division such as this one by Abramson cannot stand, without making a mockery of poetry, and if poetry over the last 100 years is a mockery in many respects, the public having totally deserted it, so much greater the urgency to bring sanity back all clean and such, and easy to demonstrate and see. (“get a bottle of visible ink“—Poe to Hawthorne in 1847)

Poe asks only for originality in a rhymed composition (unless you want to go for the short fiction).  He doesn’t care if it is transcendent or immanent in its use of language, or what manifesto or tribe, or agenda, or school, or what theory attend it.  Rhyme, and if you can’t rhyme, you’re doing it wrong.  You start with one or two simple rules, the simpler the better, and let genius make all the rules after that.

WAS HAWTHORNE’S THE SCARLET LETTER A FICTIONAL TREATMENT OF EDGAR ALLAN POE, REV. GRISWOLD & FANNY OSGOOD?

Did Nathaniel Hawthorne (left) exploit a contemporary, real-life drama in his most famous work?

Two famous poets died in 1850.

One was Margaret Fuller, who died in a shipwreck returning from Italy.   The other female poet was even more famous and more beloved than Margaret Fuller.   She was married to a painter, who painted the oval portaits seen above.  She was widely known in literary circles and was especially close to two men who will be forever linked in history: the anthologist Rufus Griswold and the poet Edgar Poe. (depicted above)

Her name is Frances Sargent Osgood. (depicted above)

Poe (d. 1849) as a dashing poet and a critic sympathetic to women scribblers, Osgood (d.1850) as legendary femme fatale poet and Griswold (d. 1857) Poe’s rival and the best-selling anthologist of his day—these three—helped to create an era that lasted into the 20th century, an era  in which the poetess out-sold the poet.

The Rev. Rufus Griswold’s anthology “Female Poets of America” made him the most powerful man in Letters.

Modernist poetry, more than anything, was about male energy muscling out the Woman’s Muse.   Poe was  libeled and Osgood was forgotten as Ezra Pound’s pedantic, bombastic, Futurist clique took control.

The alleged affair (which may have  produced a child) between Poe and Fanny  hurt Mrs. Osgood’s reputation but Nathaniel Hawthorne was among many literati who came to her defense.

Let’s allow the author of this theory to lay out her fascinating thesis:

“Fanny Osgood was already the most widely written about woman in American literature during the 1840s. Hundreds of stories and numerous poems were written about the Poe-Fanny-Virginia triangle. After their child’s death Fanny’s friends rallied around her to protect her, and the number of stories and poems about her situation increased. Publicly, her reputation suffered; but privately, sympathy was strongly in her court.”

After Poe’s death, and Fanny’s own fatal illness, she came to be regarded as downright saintly by her peers– for having been victimized by society over her relationship with Poe. Fanny Osgood and her plight had become a cause celebre. ‘Fanny worship’ was at an all-time high by the time of her death. Fanny had spent many years living abroad and had many close friends in England. Fanny Osgood was, most certainly, the Scarlet Woman of her time, and therefore, the most deserving of sympathy.

‘Fanny Worship’ was rife in the literary/artistic crowds who adored her. Fanny had spent many years living abroad and had many close friends in England. Fanny’s ‘gypsy life-style’ made her very popular in New York, Philadelphia, Providence, Richmond, Portland and even Saratoga Springs. Fanny also had many friends in her Transcendentalist and ‘Fourierist’ coteries in and around Boston, where both Poe and Fanny were born.

At one time, she and Sarah Helen Whitman were extremely close to Margaret Fuller, another highly controversial figure living and working primarily in the Boston area. Fanny Osgood knew all the people Fuller knew, and that was everyone: The Lowells, the Hawthornes, the Peabodys, the Fields, the Holmes, and surely, both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; but unlike Fuller, who most people (certainly Poe, Lowell and Hawthorne) grew to despise, Fanny was adored as a loving free spirit by virtually everyone.

Under these circumstances, it should not be surprising to learn that Poe, Fanny and their great romantic tragedy were used as characters by some of the greatest writers of their time. One of these was Nathaniel Hawthorne, who indeed, had experimented with Fourierism at Brook Farm, and whose wife, Sophia Peabody, had herself been under the spell of Margaret Fuller, much to Hawthorne’s displeasure.

Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850, within months of Poe’s and Fanny’s deaths. He felt compelled to write the tragedy of these two dear friends, to vent his own fury and sense of helplessness over the great loss he had suffered.

The characters of Hester Prynne and Rev. Dimmesdale are tributes to Poe and Fanny Osgood. The daughter, Pearl, represents Fanny Fay on some level, though Pearl’s personality seems clearly based on Hawthorne’s own daughter, Una, as well as on Fanny’s own childish and mercurial personality. The hideous, predatory Chillingsworth is Rufus Griswold, who was despised by Hawthorne, James Russell Lowell, N.P. Willis and virtually every writer of the time.

It must be remembered that Poe supported and mentored Hawthorne, but there were also bonds between Hawthorne and Fanny Osgood, who indeed, moved in the same circles in the Boston area. The bond between Hawthorne and Poe, between Hawthorne and Fanny Osgood, and their mutual friends provides an answer to, “Why would Hawthorne write a thinly veiled account of the Poe-Osgood melodrama?” For one thing, ‘it made great copy,’ but a close study of the letters and business transactions of the ‘Hawthorne Circle,’ during this period helps us understand that yes, The Scarlet Letter was intended as both a tribute and a requiem, for both Poe and Fanny.”

Cynthia Cirile http://www.10thhousepress.com/fiction.html

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