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Probably begun while Hawthorne was enrolled at Bowdoin, the novel has as its setting Harley College, a picturesque, secluded institution.Formal classroom tutoring is not the novel’s central interest, however, just as it was not in Hawthorne’s own life; nor is the novel completely a roman à clef in which actual people and places are thinly disguised.
Westervelt is one type; sophisticated and learned in mesmerism, he takes as his victim the innocent Priscilla.
Chillingworth, whose literary ancestry can probably be traced to Miltonic devil-figures, is old and bent but possesses a compelling intellect that belies his lack of physical strength.
In , Hawthorne goes to Italy for his “sense of the past,” although Hilda and Kenyon are both Americans.
The past in this novel is represented not only in the setting but also in Donatello’s pagan nature; at the end, both Miriam and the faun figure engage in a purgatorial expiation of the past. Certainly Hawthorne himself felt distanced from normal social converse by his authorial calling.
Finally, the worldly Judge Pyncheon manifests a practical, unimaginative streak that connects him to Peter Hovenden of Hawthorne’s short story “The Artist of the Beautiful.” As for Hawthorne’s heroines, Hilda and Phoebe embody the domesticity that Hawthorne admired in Sophia; Priscilla, like Alice Pyncheon before her, is frail and easily subjugated; and Hester, Zenobia, and Miriam exhibit an oriental beauty and intellectual pride. Although he almost immediately repudiated the work, it remains not only a revealing biographical statement but also a testing ground for themes and characters that he later developed with great success.
“No man can be a poet and a bookkeeper at the same time,” Hawthorne complained in a letter he wrote while engaged in his Uncle Robert’s stagecoach business before college.
For the last ten years, I have not lived, but only dreamed about living.” For Hawthorne, Sophia was his salvation, his link to human companionship.
Perhaps that is why he wrote so evocatively of Hester Prynne’s isolation; indeed, Hester’s difficult task of rearing the elfin child Pearl without help from Dimmesdale is the obverse of Hawthorne’s own happy domestic situation.
as a place “somewhere between the real world and fairy-land, where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other.” A romance, according to Hawthorne, is different from the novel, which maintains a “minute fidelity . Thus, for example, while certain elements—the stigma of the scarlet letter, or Donatello’s faun ears—are fantastical in conception, they represent a moral stance that is true to nature.
to the probable and ordinary course of man’s experience.” In the neutral territory of romance, however, the author may make use of the “marvellous” to heighten atmospheric effects, if he or she also presents “the truth of the human heart.” As long as the writer of romance creates characters whose virtues, vices, and sensibilities are distinctly human, he or she may place them in an environment that is out of the ordinary—or, that is, in fact, allegorical.