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"The Dream of Undying Fame: Hawthorne's Fanshawe"



Hawthorne's first novel has as its underlying theme the author's dream of undying fame. Unfortunately his early ambition has not yet found adequate aesthetic expression. The book is badly flawed but offers some intimations of Hawthorne's later mastery.
This is the original version of my essay on Fanshawe, revised in April 2018,
which includes an opening sequence on Hawthorne’s early life. I think this version is
preferable to the published version, since it adds an essential biographical dimension.
The Dream of Undying Fame1: Hawthorne’s Early Life and Fanshawe
If Nathaniel Hawthorne as a young man had been condemned to wear a letter “A”
on his chest, it would have stood for Ambition. Throughout his apprenticeship as a writer
a “dream of undying fame” was the driving force of his life. On March 13, 1821, he
wrote a revealing letter to his mother about selecting a profession before he attended
Bowdoin College in the fall. “Nat” was sixteen at the time—his birthday was the 4th of
July—and, like many a youth his age, he was auditioning identities and preparing to
declare his independence. He did not want to be a minister, that was simply too “dull a
way of life” for a person who “was not born to vegetate forever in one place, and to live
and die as calm and tranquil as—A Puddle of Water.” He had more extravagant plans
than being a small-town preacher. Nor did he want to be a lawyer; there are always too
many of those and he calculated that half of them were starving. Being a physician
would be a bad choice; he did “not want to live by the diseases and Infirmities of my
fellow Creatures,” some of whom might, by one of his mistakes, be sent “to the realms
below,” which would weigh heavily on his conscience. If only he were “rich enough to
live without a profession,” but that was out of the question; besides, he had a final
possibility to share with his mother:
What do you think of my becoming an Author, and relying for support upon
my pen. Indeed I think the illegibility of my handwriting is very authorlike.
How proud you would feel to see my works praised by the reviewers, as equal
to the proudest productions of the scribbling sons of John Bull. But Authors
are always poor Devils, and therefore Satan may take them. I am in the same
predicament as the honest gentleman in Espriella’s Letters. “I am an Englishman/
And naked I stand here/ A musing in my mind what/ Garment I shall wear”2
The humorous tone makes for pleasant reading and displays the ease with which the boy
communicated with his mother, at least in writing. But this remarkable letter also tells us
a great deal about the young man’s thoughts and feelings. He wants to be a writer but he
does not foresee a long seclusion in a “dismal and squalid chamber”3; rather he pictures a
cosmopolitan life of travel—great lakes, possibly high seas, anything but Salem’s shallow
puddles. He rejects medicine, although he will become a kind of analyst of the soul,
specializing in mental disease and infirmities of the spirit; a man preoccupied by the
lasting consequences of fatal mistakes and unpardonable sins on the guilty conscience.
He wishes for a life of luxury where he can indulge his whims, but his actual choice of a
profession suggests a more grandiose goal: he will “equal” the best English literature has
to offer—one of whose “scribbling sons,” it is worth remembering, was William
Shakespeare. Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, America’s most celebrated
authors in the 1820s, were not enough of a challenge.4 To accomplish this lofty goal
might require a Faustian bargain, shaking hands with Satan. And, at the start of his
proposed ascent to the chill heights of Mount Parnassus, young Nat Hathorne5 of Salem
pictures himself as a naked Englishman in need of suitable clothes.
What were the origins of Hawthorne’s ambition to emulate the great writers of
England and seek to make a name for himself? His forefathers, William Hathorne and his
son John, had played leading roles in Puritan New England and were notorious for their
persecution of Quakers and witches respectively; Nat’s grandfather, “Bold Daniel,” had
won a small measure of renown in the Revolution, but the Hathorne family had since
sunken into shabby gentility. The boy’s own father, Nathaniel, was a ship captain who
died of yellow fever in Surinam when Nat was only four. Those with memories of him
recalled a reticent, melancholy man with flashes of sharp temper who spent his free time,
during long months at sea and brief stays at home, reading. Did Nat crave fame in order
to trump the reputations of his famous and infamous ancestors or to redeem the fallen
name of his father? Or perhaps the urge to excel was in the air he breathed. The
founding fathers had assumed that ambition would be the motivating force of the new
republic; certainly Hawthorne’s contemporaries displayed a fierce competitive spirit that
estimated male worth mainly by military and commercial accomplishments. By choosing
to be an “idle” writer, Hawthorne might have appeared to be dropping out of this race for
success, but in truth he was selecting (as would Melville two decades later) the toughest
competition of all. Imagine the audacity of trying to surpass Shakespeare! Yet somehow
he already knew that the best way to be both idle and ambitious was to become a writer;
in that profession indulging one’s daydreams (and nightmares) might pay off.
Shakespeare was an early presence in Nat’s life and an enduring influence on his
work. “When he could not speak quite plainly,” his sister Elizabeth (“Ebe”) recalled, “he
used to repeat, with vehement emphasis and gesture, this line, which somebody had
taught him, from Richard III: ‘My Lord, stand back, and let the coffin pass.’”6 Since Ebe
introduced her younger brother to Shakespeare, I suspect that she may have been his line
prompter. It is poignant to picture this small boy, who never saw his father’s coffin,
vehemently issuing orders upon this courtly stage of his imagining. When Ebe was nine
and Nat five, she first read Shakespeare’s festive comedy, As You Like It, and developed a
love for the outdoors. The Salem woods, where she took long walks, sometimes with
little Nat tagging along, were her Forest of Arden. As he grew older, and they lived part
of the time in Raymond, Maine, it was Ebe who would have to keep pace with the
energetic strides of her brother, hiking around Lake Sebago. Nonetheless, the crucial
connection had been made for both of them: Nature was Elizabethan and idyllic and
followed its own rules; there one could feel free from the constraints of conventional life
and commune with the sensual world.
The most significant event of young Nat’s life was a mysterious foot injury which
caused a period of lameness. Ebe has left two conflicting accounts of what happened. In
a letter of 1870 to James T. Fields, she said that when he was about nine “he hurt his foot,
playing bat and ball, at school,” and, after a long period of convalescence that kept him
on crutches, his cure was finally left to “Doctor Time,” who restored his health by age
twelve.7 Several years later she wrote to Julian Hawthorne, who was preparing a
biography of his father, that he was first injured at age two, and that “his foot pined away,
and was considerably smaller than the other,” and that he was lame for two years; then at
a later date he suffered “another long illness,” which apparently was a recurrence of his
foot injury. For reasons that are not clear, Julian “edited” Ebe’s information in his book
to suggest that his father was only injured once.8 In truth, two seems to be a very young
age to injure a foot playing bat and ball, but on the other hand the key point may well be
that the boy was sickly much of the time before he was twelve; probably he dreaded that
he would live the rest of his life as a cripple. Assuming that psychological underpinnings
of Hawthorne’s work are partly to be found in his early experiences might explain why
his heroes,--Fanshawe, Dimmesdale, Coverdale,--are, like the author, handsome, but also
effete, hypersensitive, and largely ineffectual, even though Hawthorne, as a grown man,
was broad-shouldered and enjoyed robust health. In fact by fifteen Nat had made a full
recovery and was enjoying a vigorous outdoor life; armed with his father’s fowling-piece,
he loved to “savageize”9 in the Maine woods; back in Salem, Ebe noted that he wasn’t
“so very shy” and that he was “a very good dancer, and never avoided company, and
talked as much as others of his age...his boyhood was very happy.10
Most importantly, the boy, provided with one long “holiday” because of his injury
or injuries, developed a love of books. “As soon as we could read with ease,” Ebe
reported, “we began to read Shakespeare.” Since age six, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
was a favorite; he read Milton, Pope, and other English poets; the first book he purchased
for himself was Spenser’s The Faerie Queen. Ebe retained vivid memories of her brother
curled up in a chair by the window at his grandmother’s house, or lying flat on the carpet
at home with his crutches by his side, reading hour after hour. Even in Maine, where he
liked to roam outdoors, rainy days were devoted to his favorite authors. She found the
margins of his books filled by “lines of poetry and other quotations, and with his own
name, and other names.”11 He made lists of what he had read, especially Gothic
romances and Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels, but including such controversial works
as Rousseau’s Julie, or the New Heloise and his Confessions. His keen interest in crime
and punishment was manifested by his perusal of the multi-volume Newgate Calendar.
Before leaving for college Nat boasted, with combined naïveté and ambition, “I have
read…most all the Books which have been published for the last hundred Years.”12
Since Nat read stories and liked to listen to people tell them, it was not long
before he was telling some himself. Ebe remembers that “He used to invent long stories,
wild and fanciful, and tell us where he was going when he grew up, and of wonderful
adventures he was to meet with, always ending, ‘and I’m never coming back again.’”13
He saw the writer as a worldly man, a vagabond who swaps stories and leads an
adventurous life. No bourgeois contentment befits the man of genius. His daughter Rose
believed that “a sense of superiority”14 was an innate trait of the Hawthorne clan;
certainly young Nat was encouraged to believe that he was far above the ordinary. For
one thing, until his final illness, and some say even then, he was an astonishingly
attractive man. All his life people remarked upon his personal beauty. “He was a very
handsome child,” Ebe states, “the finest boy, many strangers observed, whom they had
ever seen.” Because of his delicate health, and because he was a good-looking boy in a
house filled with females, he was often pampered. “Nathaniel was particularly petted,”15
Ebe admitted, and she and her sister, Louisa, were “absurdly obedient”16 to him. During
his injury he was “fond of being carried,” but he would not let one particular kindly
neighbor woman touch him, because she was “ugly, and fat, and had a loud voice.” He
already knew that he was beautiful, and he only wanted to be with his equals. “Beauty,”
he declared as a teenager, was something “he could never dispense with in a wife.”17
His intensive reading of poems inspired him to try to write some himself. “I am
full of scraps of poetry and can’t keep it out of my brain,” he confessed; in fact, he could
“vomit” it up on demand. Soon he was scrawling down his own doggerel, as well as
committing it to print in his own magazine, The Spectator. “Tell Ebe she’s not the only
one of the family whose works have appeared in the press,”18 he wrote to his younger
sister Louisa, suggesting that the first “scribbling woman” he saw as a rival was his own
elder sister and mentor.
The Spectator, editor N. Hathorne announced, would be published every
Wednesday and cost “twelve cents per annum, payment to be made at the end of the
year.” The sixth issue informed its hypothetical readers “that no deaths of any importance
have taken place, except that of the publisher of this paper, who died of starvation, owing
to the slenderness of his patronage.” In fact, the precarious lives and early deaths of
authors were very much on our editor’s mind. He solicited subscriptions for a proposed
“New Edition of the Miseries of Authors,” whose sequel would include remarks “drawn
from his own experience.” Nat’s hunger for unstinting praise is suggested by his lavish
introduction to one of Louisa’s conventional verses: “The lofty sublimity, the refined
tenderness, which breathe throughout every line of this production are unequalled in
modern writings.” How far he was from meriting such panegyrics himself is shown by
this garbled exercise from his essay “On Courage”: “A lady kills a striped snake while
swallowing a toad. We have it from herself. This is true courage.”19 Exactly who
swallowed that toad remains, shall we say, ambiguous, but what is clear is that young
Hathorne, as a poet, had more in common with Mark Twain’s Emmeline Grangerford
than with Emily Dickinson. Premature death and the dream of fame are almost his only
topics. For example a poem on the death of his cat: “Long thy name in Salem’s story /
Shall live, and honor o’re it wave.”20 Those lines may be tongue in cheek, others, are not:
“And genius is a star whose light / Is soon to sink in endless night” or “I saw where in the
lowly grave / Departed Genius lay.21 When Hawthorne visited Poet’s Corner in
Westminster Abbey years later, he said that it was “a spot which I had dreamed about
more reverentially, from my childhood upward, than any other in the world.”22
The Addisonian essays in The Spectator are more promising, including one “On
Solitude,” which opens with the enlightened sentiment that “Man is naturally a sociable
being, not formed for himself alone, but destined to bear a part in the great scheme of
Nature.” Clearly the teenage author was obsessed with the notion of being a famous
writer but had nagging doubts about whether that was possible. The next-to-last
Spectator advertised “Blank books made for sale by N. Hathorne,”23 and within the year
he was writing to Ebe “I have almost given up writing Poetry. No Man can be a Poet & a
Bookkeeper at the same time…. I can scarcely bear the thought of living upon Uncle
Robert for 4 years longer. How happy, I should feel, to be able to say, ‘I am Lord of
myself.’”24 Shortly after, he went to Boston to see Mr. Kean perform King Lear. “It was
enough to have drawn tears from millstones,”25 the much-moved Poet reported, echoing
Lear’s great line, as he holds the dead Cordelia in his arms, “O, you are men of stones!”
The obverse side of young Hathorne’s desire for fame was his dislike of being
criticized. After the death of his father, his mother went into permanent mourning;
although not a complete recluse, she was only fitfully available to her son and deferred to
her brother, who was the chief male authority figure during Nat’s boyhood. Robert
Manning was a hard-headed, down-to-earth business man and a gifted grafter of fruit
trees; his pears, in particular, earned him considerable distinction. He was a demanding,
disciplined man who looked askance at his nephew’s passivity and artistic pretensions. In
Raymond, Maine, Nat was out from under his uncle’s censorious eye and he could “go a
gunning” in the woods or fish the pond from a place that came to be known as “Nat’s
Rock.” Although the boy thought that he “should have made a good Indian if…born in a
wigwam,” he was actually preparing for his future life as a story teller. A companion
recalls that Nat often talked of the supernatural and told tales of witches, ghosts, and
haunted houses, but “there always seemed to be an undercurrent of incredulity.”26 Nat
listened attentively to the men who came to his uncle Richard’s store, recording in his
diary their stories of killing three black bears and two six-foot rattlesnakes and landing a
nineteen-pound trout; he also wrote poems based on oral accounts of local tragedies—a
husband and wife frozen to death in a winter storm not far from their home, various
people who had drowned—yet tall tales of the occult fascinated him the most; one
Dominicus Jordan, for example, deadpanned an elaborate ghost story “with seeming
earnestness, and was listened to as though it was believed,” which caused the budding
author to speculate: “How strange it is that almost all persons, old or young, are fond of
hearing about the supernatural, though it produces nervousness and fear.”27 In fact, Nat
felt so vitally alive in Maine that he assumed that these would prove to be “the happiest
days of my life.”28 There he could run wild and feel as free as a bird. Raymond was
jollity; Salem was gloom. The double-sidedness, if not the duplicity, that would mark
Hawthorne’s mature art had its origins in this tale of two New England towns.
When Nat was sixteen, Robert ordered him to return to Salem (where they shared
a bed), thus separating him from his mother and sisters. He saw to it the boy received a
good education, especially in Latin; but he also steered him toward book-keeping and
away from poetry writing. From Nat’s perspective, most of the Manning clan were
overly critical; Aunt Mary was “continually scolding” and his grandmother “hardly ever
speaks a pleasant word.” Their disapproval served as a sharp goad to get away once he
was of age and it brought out his contrary streak. “One good effect results from their
eternal finding-fault,” he wrote to his mother. “It gives me some employment in
retaliating, and that keeps up my spirits.”29 Although mild-mannered Louisa met with
their favor, strong-willed Ebe shared her brother’s discontent: “Bodily labour comprises
their only idea of intellectual and moral excellence,”30 she disdainfully remarked.
Brother and sister developed a secret system of writing to each other with an invisible ink
of skimmed milk to convey their grievances. The exception to the Manning’s bourgeois
work ethic was free-spirited Uncle Samuel, who took the boy on rollicking summer trips
around New England to purchase horses for the family stagecoach line. Frequent stops at
taverns, where laughing, drinking, and tale-telling prevailed, were the highpoints of their
journeys. Thus Samuel provided the wide-eyed boy with an opportunity to see the
country, meet a variety of people, and sample a life reminiscent of Merry Old England.
Gloria Erlich suggests that “The dream of being a vagabond storyteller derives from this
happy association, which terminated with Samuel’s early death.”31
By the age of sixteen, then, before he went to college, young Nat Hathorne was
dreaming of literary fame as a poet and/or a story teller. At the same time he was still
sleeping with his Uncle Robert (giving him “a most horrible kick”32 one night) and
dreading the prospect of becoming a bookkeeper. A few critics have speculated whether
Uncle Robert might have had sexual designs on the boy,33 but what is absolutely clear is
that Nathaniel strongly felt a need to “own” himself, see the world, and achieve
something worthy of high praise. He was hardly the first callow youth to fantasize a
future life of literary glory—yet the question still to be answered is how he matured so
quickly; how, in Ebe’s words, “his mind developed itself”34; since before the decade was
over, from his “squalid chamber” in Salem, but drawing upon his experiences in
Raymond, he would write some of the finest short stories in the English language.
Nathaniel Hathorne probably chose to attend Bowdoin because Brunswick,
Maine, was not far from Raymond.35 He assumed that his mother and sisters would live
nearby and that he would visit them on vacations. When his mother told him she was
returning to Salem, he pleaded with her not to go: “If you remain where you are, think
how delightfully the time will pass, with all your children round you, shut out from the
world, and nothing to disturb us. It will be a second Garden of Eden.”36 Such a revival
of original innocence was not likely; Nat was growing up, and so was Ebe: “I fear
Elizabeth is too deeply immersed in the vortex of Dissipation,” he wrote to his mother,
“to wish to visit Raymond very soon.”37 Although meant to be humorous, the letter also
implies a latent fear that Ebe, away from his protection, might become sexually active. A
year later, he warned his sister Louisa that if he stayed for Commencement ceremonies he
might be lured into “mischief” and “dissipation,” adding that this would be “a cause of
great grief” to her and their mother but making no mention of Ebe, presumably already
lost to the “vortex.”38 Whatever her sins might have been, however, Ebe and her brother
were not finished with their literary collaboration.
Nathaniel’s college years were memorable more for schoolboy mischief than any
academic accomplishments. Although his professors praised his English compositions
and Latin translations the rest of his work was undistinguished and he graduated at the
middle of his class.39 He refused, in spite of repeated fines, to declaim in chapel, a
standard student requirement in an age when skilled oratory was often essential to
professional success. Two of his friends, Franklin Pierce and Jonathan Cilley, were
headed for political careers and the latter was already a campus leader because of his
“free and natural eloquence.”40 Nathaniel told Horatio Bridge that once on stage in Salem
he had been ridiculed by his schoolmates, causing him such humiliation and rage he
vowed never to speak in public again.41 This anecdote provides a key to Hawthorne’s
character; his intense hunger for fame suggests an aggressive, competitive spirit that
must, to a degree, hide behind a veil of shyness and reserve. He desires adulation but
cannot tolerate derision. If he disparages fame it is because he wants it so intensely.
Later he will censure his own works in order to beat his critics to the punch. One way he
continued to stand out was in his personal appearance. Julian states, not without reason,
that his father was “the handsomest man of his day, in that part of the world,” and he cites
an instance from Hawthorne’s college years when “an old gypsy woman, meeting him
suddenly in a woodland path, gazed at him and asked, ‘Are you a man or an angel?’”42
Nathaniel was particularly upset that his angelic appearance caught the attention of “the
Righteous” on campus; he had to resort to “taking the name of the Devil in vain” and
affecting “the Sunday Sickness”43 to elude their pious clutches.
Nathaniel’s good looks drew people to him, but he preferred to select his own
society—then shut the door. Some classmates resented him for being reserved, if not
aloof. None of his three best friends from college—Bridge, Pierce, and Cilley—was
especially literary or qualified to judge, but all were convinced that young Hathorne was
a man of genius. Bridge, in particular, consistently encouraged his artistic ambitions.
Two years younger, Bridge would perform as Horatio to his Hamlet. For many years
Nathaniel, perhaps unconsciously, would play a kind coy game, expressing his doubts
about his ability as a writer so that his friend could sing his praises. “If anybody is
responsible for my being at this day an author, it is yourself,” Hawthorne wrote in his
preface to The Snow Image (1851). “I know not whence your faith came; but, while we
were lads together at college…it was your prognostic of your friend’s destiny, that he was
to be a writer of fiction.”44 Bridge, in his memoir of Hawthorne, makes no mention of his
friend writing fiction or poetry while at college, but he does recall that “he devoted much
time to miscellaneous reading” and frequently recited poetry, including his own juvenilia
—one on the beauty of moonlight, another on sailors lost at sea.45 He and Bridge once
visited a fortune teller who predicted, as might be expected, that both would enjoy
wealth, fame, and beautiful wives.
Revealing evidence of Hathorne’s obsession with fame while he was in college
was an essay, “On Ambition,” in the final installment of his Spectator in the winter of
1822. Stating that this “passion” is “more noble and more honorable” than any other, the
young author asserts that, “Ambition, even when directed to the wildest and most
extravagant enterprises, still awakens respect and admiration. Satan, as described by
Milton, is the most interesting personage in Paradise Lost. The imperiousness of his
design of making himself master of the Heavens, is forgotten by the reader, in the
contemplation of the daring ambition which impelled him to such a project.”46 All his
life Hawthorne would suggest that great writing is “hell-fired,” implying that his efforts
to ascend Mount Parnassus were aligned with Satan’s storming of Heaven. This
awareness that fame has a dark side may account for his fascination with gothic fiction.
Cilley recalled that Nathaniel was enthused about “the damned ranting stuff of John
Neal,”47 whose excesses influenced his early work. In “P’s Correspondence,” Hawthorne
refers to “that wild fellow, John Neal, who almost turned my boyish brain with his
romances.”48 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a classmate who might have been a better
judge of Nathaniel’s literary potential was not a part of Hathorne’s inner circle.
Longfellow, who had begun publishing poems when he was twelve, excelled as a college
student; in his Commencement address, “Our Native Writers,” he predicted the imminent
and eminent arrival of what we now celebrate as the American Renaissance.49
Brunswick, from its isolated situation in Maine, offered limited opportunities for
vice, but Nathaniel and his “chums” made do the best they could. Although college laws
forbade “any Bacchanalian conduct,” Ward’s Tavern was their hangout of choice and the
preferred meeting place of the college’s many clubs and societies, which often served to
conceal the students’ jolly gambling and drinking activities.50 In the spring the college
card players were caught (the game was “loo”) and one of them was dismissed.
Confronted by the President, William Allen, Nathaniel fibbed that the prize was fifty
cents, not a quart of wine, to avoid being fined “for having a blow.” The only thing he
regretted about the whole affair was that the President assumed he had been duped by
others: “I have a great mind to commence playing again,” he told Ebe, “merely to show
him that I scorn to be seduced by another into anything wrong.”51 He did continue to
gamble and drink at the college (brandy and cider was a favorite), but only in
“moderation.” Bridge said that his friend “could drink a great deal of wine without,
apparently, being affected by it.”52 Many years later Hawthorne advised Richard
Stoddard to “never…let them see you corned.”53 As far as we know, he followed his own
advice; yet a vivid scene in Fanshawe describes a drunken student smashing up a tavern
and then waking up the next morning with a head-splitting hangover. In addition to
tavern-haunting, during his college years Nathaniel was also fined for walking on
Sunday, breaking windows, damaging his room, cutting classes, and skipping chapel. At
a time when he was always short of cash, and reduced to wearing threadbare pantaloons,
these infractions took their toll. Nevertheless, by his senior year—sporting a gold watch-
chain, a cane, and white gloves—he was affecting the look of a dandy when he wasn’t
slipping into depressions brought on by “all the blue devils in Hell.”54
Whether Hawthorne was guilty of any serious “scrapes” as a collegian is a matter
of conjecture. In March, 1822, somebody burned down Maine Hall while Nathaniel was
living on the first floor; he escaped with his possessions intact and only a tear to his coat.
He then moved to the home of the widow Adams, who happened to have “two charming
daughters and only moderate means of support.” Did Nathaniel set any fires or commit
any sins of the flesh while he was at Bowdoin? Setting fires apparently was a campus fad
and the hormones of collegians are known to rage. Bridge says that although he “rarely
sought or accepted the acquaintance of the young ladies of the village, he had a high
appreciation of the sex.” But Bridge was not with him all the time and his memoir,
written seventy years later, placed his long-departed friend in the most favorable light.
One surviving Bowdoin anecdote suggests that he was infatuated with Professor Parker
Cleaveland’s beautiful maid.55 In his surviving letters home, Nathaniel mentions no love
interests, but he was often secretive and burned much of his early correspondence. What
is certain is that in the fall of his senior year he made a remarkable wager with his friend
Jonathan Cilley: “If Nathaniel Hathorne is neither a married man nor a widower on the
fourteenth day of November, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty-Six, I bind myself
upon my honor to pay the said Hathorne a barrel of the best old Madera wine.”56
Remarkably, Hawthorne kept his side of the bet, but Cilly was killed in a duel before he
could send the wine. How could this handsome young man, with a keen eye for feminine
beauty, be so sure he would not marry? Had he already vowed that he would devote
himself to his art for the next twelve years, and only then, once he was famous, look for a
wife? In point of fact, that is exactly what happened. Twice-Told Tales was published in
1837; Nathaniel Hawthorne had finally made a name for himself; within the year he was
engaged, not once, but twice, and, possibly, thrice!57
Although Nathaniel Hathorne proved to be a desultory student at Bowdoin,
excelling in only what interested him, his college years had an enormous influence on his
career. He rarely participated in college sports and was not close to most of his fellow
students, but he frequently went hiking in the countryside. Rather than his classes, he
remembered his time with Bridge “gathering blue-berries…watching the great logs, as
they tumbled along the current of the Adroscoggin; or shooting pigeons and gray
squirrels in the woods; or bat-fowling in the summer twilight; or catching trouts…. Two
idle lads, in short…doing a hundred things that the Faculty never heard of.”58 If he did
little serious studying or actual writing, he was reading authors that interested him and
brooding on life and literature. Whenever he doubted his talents, Bridge was there to
offer support. Perhaps the example of his friend Pierce encouraged him to discipline his
dream of fame. Franklin had been a mediocre student, sliding to the brink of expulsion
before he made “an iron resolution” to do better; starting in his junior year, he studied
from four in the morning until midnight and graduated near the top of his class. Thus his
“self-controlling will…redeemed him from indolence” and brought about “the turning
point of his life.”59 Nathaniel, as a student, could not then imagine that Franklin would
eventually become President of the United States, but he did see him as a born leader and
a man of destiny. With the example of Pierce before him, no wonder Nathaniel could
vow not to marry for twelve years, until he, too, had lived up to his lofty expectations.
On the other hand, there was the cautionary tale of another classmate, Gorham
Dean. A brilliant but sickly young man, his excessive studies and lack of exercise
exacerbated his frail health and brought on a lethal case of tuberculosis. Although he was
fading all through his senior year, he would not give up his beloved books. He died a few
weeks before Commencement. In fact, several other classmates died young.60 Perhaps
overwhelmed with the futility of all human effort, the summer before his graduation
Nathaniel fell into a slough of despondency himself: “I have thought much upon the
subject,” he wrote to Ebe, “and have finally come to the conclusion, that I shall never
make a distinguished figure in the world, and all I hope or wish is to plod along with the
multitude,” claiming that her high regard for his talents was wrong while “Uncle Robert’s
opinion of me was nearer to the truth.”61 This is not the only time when the key to
understanding Hawthorne is to consider whether the opposite of what he says is what he
actually means. The last thing in the world he wants is to merge with the multitude or
accept Uncle Robert’s estimate of his abilities. He has a powerful compulsion to succeed
which must, on occasion, be stimulated by an intense fear of failure that led him to
believe that he was doomed to die early, unhappy, and alone. At about this time he told
Ebe that he did not expect “to live to be twenty-five.” Julian Hawthorne, 124. Ebe told
James Fields that Hawthorne had written “Seven Tales” soon after he left college. “As soon as
the little book was well prepared for the press he deliberately threw it into the fire, and sat by to
see its destruction.” James T. Fields, Yesterdays with Authors (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin
Company, 1925): 65. Hubert H. Hoeltje notes that Ferdinand Andrews, the printer who delayed
to publish the book, left Salem in 1826, thus suggesting that “the tales were written first…while
Hawthorne was still at college.” “Hawthorne as a Senior at Bowdoin” Essex Institute Historical
Collections 94 (1958): 218-9.62 This threat of untimely death served as a goad to
accomplish great things, a plea for pity, and a strategy for being exonerated. Who could
blame him for not fulfilling his youthful promise if he died prematurely? The fault would
be in his fateful stars. This sophistic argument, mildly disguised, would inform
Fanshawe, which he may have begun at Bowdoin.
Many years later, in a letter to Julian Hawthorne, Ebe stated that Nathaniel wrote
to her from college saying that he had “made progress on [his] novel.” Apparently he
was also at work on a collection of stories entitled “Seven Tales of my Native Land,”
which he hoped to publish soon. “It was the summer of 1825 that he showed them to
me,” she recalled. “One was a tale of witchcraft,—‘Alice Doane,’ I believe it was called;
and another was ‘Susan Grey.’ There was much more of his peculiar genius in them than
in ‘Fanshawe,’” which he paid $100 to have printed in 1828.63 Bridge remembered that
“soon after graduating” Nathaniel tried to publish “Seven Tales,” but the publisher
(Ferdinand Andrews of the Salem Gazette) delayed so long that the impatient author
demanded the return of his manuscript and burned it “in a mood half savage, half
despairing.” Shortly after Fanshawe was published, Hawthorne, who had “become
dissatisfied with the book,” tried to destroy all the copies he could; at his friend’s request,
Bridge burned his copy and never mentioned the work again. In a fit of despair,
Hawthorne wrote to him, “I’m a doomed man, and over I must go.”64 The dates here may
have become confused in memory; whether Hawthorne wrote “Seven Tales” and
Fanshawe at Bowdoin or after his graduation, the young man’s industry and ambition are
obvious, as are his wildly fluctuating mood swings. As Brenda Wineapple shrewdly
observed: “He was creating a compound image—artist as pyromaniac, artist as self-hater
—to express the complex, incendiary truth of his feelings.”65 Burning manuscripts
suggests a boy holding his breath to get his own way, but it also implies a man who so
desperately wanted fame that, with at least equal desperation, he consigned to the flames
any manuscript that fell short of his high standards.
Further evidence of Nathaniel’s youthful ambition was his decision to change the
spelling of his last name. As a boy he had compulsively scribbled his signature in the
margins of the books he was reading; in the fall of 1825, upon returning to Salem, we
find him writing “Nath. Hawthorne” in his father’s logbook as well as in a copy of
Memories of the Life of Josiah Quincy. On March 30, 1826, however, he etched
“Nathaniel Hathorne” on the window of his chamber, but by the following year the w was
there to stay.66 What is the meaning of this name change? Bridge recalled that “in tracing
the genealogy of his family, he found that some of his ancestors used the w, and he had
only resumed it.”67 George Lathrop concurs that it was “a return to the mode of spelling
practiced by the English progenitors of the line.”68 The added w encouraged a more
English pronunciation and a broad a, suggesting that he was no thorny hayseed but the
heir of an aristocratic tradition and would have the first “haw” and last laugh at those who
missed the cryptic joke. If Hawthorne was to make a name for himself, it would be one
containing Elizabethan wordplay. After all, was not his name another word for the merry
month of May? He would show his uncle, Robert Manning, and the other stolid citizens
of Salem, that there was more than one way to be a man of distinction.
Since its publication in 1828, Hawthorne’s critics have not quite known what to
make of Fanshawe. William Leggett, the most prophetic of the novel’s reviewers,
declared that “The mind that produced this little, interesting volume, is capable of great
and rich additions to our national literature.” Although Leggett sensed that the author
was a scholar, poet, and gentleman, who possessed “a heart alive to the beauties of
nature, and the beauties of sentiment,” he had to admit that “the book has faults. The plot
lacks all probability…. The flight of the heroine is without sufficient motive [and]…her
rescue is effected by improbable means.”69 John Neal, a writer Hawthorne inordinately
admired at the time, presaged “a fair prospect of future success”70 for the author. Others
were not as generous. The Boston Weekly Messenger noted that Hugh Crombie was the
only original character and New England Galaxy summarized the book as having “a love
story…like ten thousand others, a mystery, an elopement; a villain, a father, a tavern,
almost a duel, a horrible death, and—heaven save the mark! end.”71 His publisher
James T. Fields reports that Hawthorne spoke of Fanshawe “with great disgust,” and
wrote to him that it would be in their “mutual interest to conceal” it and “other follies of
my nonage.”72 Whether the author repudiated his novel because of its artistic failings or
its inadvertent autobiographical revelations is an open question. I suspect that his
revulsion had less to do with the book’s stilted sentences, overwrought plot, and
conventional characters than with the fact that it blatantly reveals, through its title
character, Hawthorne’s own “dream of undying fame.”
Upon Hawthorne’s return from college, Ebe recalled that “he read a great many
novels; he made an artistic study of them.”73 Not surprisingly, many critics have seen
Fanshawe as a by-product of his reading. Doctor Melmoth, the college president, is an
allusion to Charles Maturin’s classic gothic romance Melmoth the Wanderer (1820).
There are certain similarities—a pure maiden in distress who has been abandoned by her
father; a rash young man unable to protect her from a seducer; clandestine meetings,
capture and escape, flight and pursuit; a villain cast to his death from a great height—but
many of these are the standard conventions of the gothic itself.74 As Leslie Fiedler and
others have argued, Hawthorne would eventually write his finest work in the gothic
tradition, yet Fanshawe is lacking in “the power of blackness” we associate with that
genre.75 A reaction against the Enlightenment’s dream of reason bred the gothic romance,
which set out to prove that the road of excess led to the haunted castle of ultimate
abominations. Who knew what evils lurked in the deepest dungeons of the European
soul! Like Jacobean tragedy before it, the gothic romance sought out the horrific in order
to evoke the most intense primal sensations. “Emotions are my events,” a character in
Melmoth explains, telling how he has become an “amateur in suffering” who seeks out
executions or an auto da fe in order to glory in the agony of others.76 With each terror
more terrible than the last, it follows that the gothic style is shrill, grandiloquent,
bombastic. The genre at its best offers the tortured complexity of the gothic hero/villain
and poses troubling psychological and metaphysical questions. Since Fanshawe’s vile
seducer, Butler, is relatively lackluster and the novel rarely probes beneath the surface of
things, Nina Baym labels the book “a sort of ‘smiling gothic,’ which avoids excess and
tries to make events decorous and mild enough to appear probable in the calm American
setting.”77 By splitting the hero/villain between Fanshawe, whose quest for knowledge is
vaguely Faustian, and Butler, a melodramatic automaton of revenge, neither character
achieves human complexity—in sum, no Melmoth or The Monk, let alone Heathcliff or
Lovelace, is in sight. And Ellen, the Persecuted Maiden, is no Clarissa, but merely
another ingénue qua American Girl. Yet Baym overstates just how “calm” and
“probable” the novel is; she fails to see the wish-fulfillment fantasy at the heart of
Fanshawe and that Hawthorne was writing from compulsion as well as calculation; she
assumes that he was merely trying out fictive techniques, not that he was a conflicted and
tormented young man seeking to find his social, artistic, and sexual identity.
If Fanshawe is not a gothic romance and only partially influenced by the tale of
terror, what genre is more appropriate? Otis B. Wheeler is probably correct in terming it
a novel of sensibility, the purpose of which is to enable characters to display virtuous
feelings: “the person of sensibility will sigh, shudder, groan, gasp, tremble, faint, or even
waste away as a result of a particularly affective experience.” Unlike the gothic, the
situations that evoke these emotions are relatively tame; the key scenes evoke tears, not
shrieks, and the stress is on the moral sense of the characters, not on the shocking nature
of the action; thus the plot of Fanshawe is quite conventional: “We find the sensitive
young man doomed to an early death; a dying mother gone mad with grief over an errant
son; an innocent young girl caught in the toils of a hardened villain, through her sense of
duty to her father; two generous and love-stricken young men, each ready to renounce his
claims in favor of the other.”78 Although less lachrymose than most novels of sensibility,
Fanshawe essentially serves to exhibit our titular hero’s noble attributes and sentiments.
Two aspects of the novel, in particular, stand out: how skillfully Hawthorne
handles the low comedy scenes and how ludicrously the book is rigged in favor of
Fanshawe. Hugh Crombie is the novel’s most realistic character and the events at his
tavern have the ring of authentic experience. The other key comic figures, Dr. Melmoth
and his wife, are also well-drawn and in voice; their vitality enlivens the book. On the
other hand, the presentation of Fanshawe is unconvincing, suggesting that the author has
over-identified with this character and is using him to dramatize certain semi-conscious
fantasies. The falsity of Fanshawe contributes to the strained presentations of Ellen
Langton, Edward Walcott, and Butler, thus undercutting the main plot and the novel’s
ultimate meaning. These failings help to explain the reason why Hawthorne, shortly after
his book’s publication, sought to destroy any memory of its existence. A close look at
how the story unfolds, with particular attention to Hawthorne’s presentation of Fanshawe,
is the best way to discuss the novel’s strengths and weaknesses.
One of the first American novels about academia, Fanshawe opens on a comic
note. Harley College in the mid-eighteenth century is pictured as a rural retreat where
yeomen’s sons strive for a smidgeon of refinement that appears to have no positive
impact on the area. The college president, Dr. Melmoth, has agreed to take in the
daughter of an old friend, Mr. Langton, who has “set his heart to gather gold”79 in foreign
lands. The shrewish Mrs. Melmoth, savvier about the ways of the world than her
scholarly husband, wonders what kind of man would abandon his daughter and make
such demands on a friend; she also notes that Ellen is beautiful and eighteen, a fact not
unnoticed among the students, who henceforth devote themselves to love poems rather
than homework. The handsome, wealthy, and high-spirited Edward Walcott becomes her
particular favorite. He gives the novel’s plot away when he tells Ellen that Fanshawe is
“a deep scholar and a noble fellow, but I fear we shall follow him to his grave, ere long”
Significantly, Hawthorne professes that Ellen’s beauty is beyond his powers of
description, but he is more than willing to picture Fanshawe:
The stranger could scarcely have attained his twentieth year, and was
possessed of a face and form, such as Nature bestows on none but her
favorites. There was a nobleness on his high forehead, which time would
have deepened into majesty; and all his features were formed with a strength
and boldness, of which the paleness, produced by study and confinement,
could not deprive them. The expression on his countenance was not a
melancholy one;—on the contrary, it was proud and high—perhaps
triumphant—like one who was a ruler in a world of his own, and
independent of the beings that surrounded him. But a blight, of which
his thin, pale cheek and the brightness of his eyes were alike proofs,
seemed to have come over him ere his maturity. (15)
The pale, studious, strikingly handsome young man, with flashing eyes, a high forehead,
a powerful imagination, haughty pride, and latent physical strength—this Nature’s
nobleman is the author’s narcissistic self-portrait as well as a foreshadowing of such
alter-ego fictional heroes as Dimmesdale and Coverdale. The problem is a lack of ironic
distance: we are expected to empathize uncritically with this doomed, secretly ambitious,
man of genius. Later in the chapter we learn that in his lonely chamber he asks himself
“where was the happiness of superior knowledge?” A self-pitying Fanshawe sees himself
as disconnected from the everyday world; however, Hawthorne tells us, “if his innermost
heart could have been laid open, there would have been discovered that dream of undying
fame, which, dream as it is, is more powerful than a thousand realities” (18).
The poetic epigraph for Chapter III baldly states the novel’s central theme:
And let the aspiring youth beware of love,—
Of the smooth glance, beware; for ‘tis too late,
When on his heart the torrent softness pours.
Then wisdom prostrate lies, and fading fame
Dissolves in air away. –Thomson (20)
If Fanshawe wants to achieve his dream of undying fame, he will have to avoid “the
torrent softness” of womanly wiles and surrender all hope of earthly happiness. On his
twilight walks with Ellen, however, he begins to feel the stirrings of passion. To make
matters worse, the ambitious scholar, as we have already seen, “was distinguished by
many of those asperities around which a woman’s affection will often cling” (21). This
laughable mouthful of a phrase again suggests that Hawthorne has over-identified with
his hero—the more sincere he wants to be the more stilted his prose becomes.80
When a mysterious stranger appears called “the angler” who proves to be Butler,
the seducer with sinister designs on Ellen, Hawthorne skillfully sustain a conceit—fishing
as seduction—for five pages. Butler lures Ellen away for a private conversation and
offers her his rod and line (this is the first college novel to deal with “hooking up”). In a
final ironic image, Edward returns to the scene and finds a fish, abandoned by the
stranger, gasping for breath on the bank. The secret that Butler has contrived to tell Ellen
is that her father is near ruin, and that he, his one remaining friend, “has traveled far, to
prove if his daughter has a daughter’s affection” (28). Although her father is a cold and
distant man who has abandoned her, Ellen remains a dutiful daughter and is ready to go
with the stranger, but Fanshawe, quite improbably, intervenes:
“You speak as one in authority, young man,” he said. “Have
you the means of compelling obedience? Does your power extend to men?—
Or do you rule only over simple girls? Miss Langton is under my protection,
and, till you can bend me to your will, she shall remain so.”
Fanshawe turned, calmly, and fixed his eye on the stranger.
“Retire, Sir,” was all he said.
Ellen almost shuddered, as if there were a mysterious and unearthly
power in Fanshawe’s voice; for she saw that the stranger endeavored in vain,
borne down by the influence of a superior mind… (29-30)
This is sheer wish-fulfillment fantasy —Fanshawe’s speaking with authority rings false,
suggesting a boy’s dream of settling scores with a schoolyard bully. The author is relying
on rhetorical assertion, not creditable behavior grounded in character. Hawthorne does
not offer us any specific evidence of Fanshawe’s superior mind and wisdom; in fact, the
infatuated youth displays little insight into either his own motivations or those of others.
Having introduced his main characters, Hawthorne switches to a secondary plot
that centers on Hugh Crombie and the denizens of his tavern, the Hand and Bottle.
Although his immediate literary predecessors might well be some of Scott’s “low”
characters, the fact that Hugh’s nose “glowed with a Bardolphian fire” (33) tells us that
his true origin was Shakespeare’s Boar’s Head Tavern. Indeed, he brings the spirit of
Merry Old England to the book, suggesting Hawthorne’s enduring fascination with
Elizabethan times and showing that he had more talent for creating realistic characters
than is generally supposed. Hugh has forsaken the life of a pirate to settle down; like
other eighteenth-century men, including George Washington, he has advanced his fortune
by marrying a wealthy widow. For him marriage is not the threat it is for Fanshawe (or
Hawthorne), rather he finds contentment as a tavern owner and is also “sufficiently
attentive to his wife” (36). The dialogue between Hugh and Butler is convincing:
“I little thought to meet you again in this life. When I last heard
from you, your prayers were said, and you were bound for a better world.”
“There would have been no danger of your meeting me there,”
observed the landlord.
“It is an unquestionable truth, Hugh,” replied the traveler. “For which
reason I regret your voyage was delayed.”
“Nay, that is a hard word to bestow on your old comrade,” said Hugh
Crombie. “The world is wide enough for both of us, and why should you wish me
out of it?” (38)
Such crisp banter is unusual in Hawthorne’s work, as are some descriptions showing that
he knew a thing or two about taverns. In passages of sensuous discrimination a drink of
old cider and older brandy is referred to as “extremely felicitous, pleasant to the taste, and
producing a tingling sensation on the coats of the stomach, uncommonly delectable to so
old a toper as Hugh” (37) and “the wine of that period” is judged to be “of purer and
better quality than at the present day” (39). As the festivities mount, both Hugh and
Edward Walcott burst into song in praise of drink and merriment. Edward’s lyric to the
joys of wine and the cares of life strikes an authentic cavalier note and may well be the
best of all Hawthorne’s early poems. And Hugh, before the author interrupts him, has
begun to sing a bawdy limerick.
Although Hugh has renounced his wicked ways, Butler’s arrival revives their old
association. Butler, with Hugh’s aid, had left home at age fifteen; traveling abroad he had
met Ellen’s father, who took him under his protection only to cut him loose for “certain
youthful indiscretions.” Since then the youth had turned “wholly to evil” (108), and
now, believing that Mr. Langton had drowned at sea, was determined to get Ellen to
marry him in order to gain her fortune. “What think you of the plan?” he asks Hugh. “I
have a winning way with me, when opportunity serves; and it shall serve with Ellen
Langton. I will have no rivals in my wooing” (42-3). Again, Hawthorne’s artistry fails
him. He can’t imagine what Butler would say to Hugh to win his co-operation, so he
merely asserts that Hugh “reluctantly” agreed to help. Ellen is then lured to Hugh’s
tavern, where Edward and his friend Glover, joined by a champagne-sipping Fanshawe,
enjoy a drunken revel.81 Ellen hears Edward’s “mirth and wild laughter” and is troubled
by his “reckless gaiety” (56). When Glover announces that he has seen “a lady with a
small white hand” (48), Hugh assures the young men that he “keeps no angels” (47). The
lady is Ellen, whose presence at the tavern puts her reputation in question:
Terror had at first blanched her as white as a lily, or as a marble statue….
Shame next bore sway; and her blushing countenance, covered by her
slender white fingers, might fantastically be compared to a variegated
rose, with its alternate stripes of white and red. The next instant, a sense
of her pure and innocent intentions gave her strength and courage; and
her attitude and look had now something of pride and dignity. (55)
We will meet this woman again, with a babe in her arms and a scarlet letter on her bosom,
enduring the public gaze of infamy in the Boston marketplace. Here the issue is not how
strongly Ellen can endure censure, but rather which one of her suitors will stand up for
her. Edward fails the test: “He was ungenerous enough to believe that Ellen—his pure
and lovely Ellen—had degraded herself” (57). Not surprisingly, since the novel has been
rigged to display his superior nobility, it is Fanshawe who rises to the occasion: “‘She has
been deceived,’ he whispered—‘she is innocent. You are unworthy of her if you doubt
it’” (55). Edward, in a drunken passion, not only doubts but accuses Fanshawe of being
her seducer. This remark, Hawthorne improbably asserts, almost roused our mild-
mannered hero to “fierceness;” instead he masters his emotions and walks
“contemptuously away” (56). Edward’s anger next centers on Butler, causing Hugh to
intervene to prevent a duel: “I will take charge of these pop-guns” (59). Finally, Edward
in his rage wrecks the tavern, awaking the next morning with a “raging thirst” and a head
that “throbbed almost to bursting” (68).
Even though these tavern scenes open on a realistic note, they are ultimately used
to showcase Fanshawe, not as a young man of refined sensibility and superior
knowledge, but rather as a heroic figure of force and action. Meanwhile, Ellen has been
returned to the Melmoth home; however, during the dark and stormy night and still in
search of her father, she slips away to the tavern and is abducted by Butler. The
discovery that she is missing is one of the book’s better comic scenes—the Melmoths, in
their frantic search for the missing girl, even have a slapstick collision on the stairs.
Regretting the part he played in Butler’s plot, Hugh supplies Ellen’s largely ineffectual
rescuers with what he deems to be the fitting mounts—a nag for Mr. Melmoth, the old
white for Fanshawe, the gray for Edward. When Edward’s faster horse catches up,
Hawthorne makes sure that he registers the appropriate response, admitting that
Fanshawe is “a gallant and manly youth, whom a lady might love, or a foe might fear….
He was a rival not to be despised, and might yet be a successful one, if by his means
Ellen Langton were restored to her friends” (74). Having vouched for our hero’s bona
fides, Edward rides on, leaving Fanshawe far behind.
Edward next encounters Dr. Melmoth mounted on his nag; Hawthorne treats their
meeting as a Cervantine interlude: “‘Alas, youth! These are strange times,’ observed the
President, ‘when a Doctor of Divinity and an under graduate set forth, like a knight-errant
and his squire, in search of a stray damsel’” (76). This stilted dialogue continues until
they encounter Ellen’s father, returned alive from foreign lands, whose concern for his
missing daughter is less urgent than it should be. Although time is of the essence if
Ellen’s purity is to be saved, Mr. Langton suggests that they stop at a tavern in a nearby
village, where he can be told “at…leisure…the particulars of this unfortunate affair” (79).
This uncalled-for delay allows Fanshawe time to catch up with the chase. Meanwhile
Ellen and Butler in their flight happen on the lowly cottage of his dying mother, who
expires amid a flood of tears upon seeing her long-lost son. This sob scene is the most
sentimental of the novel, but Butler is not brought to repentance; rather his mother’s
death makes him even more “desperate” and he melodramatically vows to devote himself
to evil: “Thus it was that the Devil wrought within him to his own destruction” (92).
Ellen is now aware that she is “in the power of a lawless and guilty man; though what
fate intended for her, she was unable to conjecture” (92). At the mercy of a ruthless
seducer, Hawthorne insists that Ellen is so pure and childlike that she cannot foresee the
threat of sexual violation. Even when Butler leads her into the forest and conceals her in
a cave beneath a cliff, she has “an inability to realize the evils of her situation” (96).
In her effort to be a dutiful daughter, Ellen is the first of Hawthorne’s heroines to
break the rules and take a risk. That her cold, stern father has abandoned her and semi-
adopted Butler adds a sly undercurrent of incest to the ensuing seduction scene at the
cave in the forest. Now that she is in his power, the dark-visaged Butler plays his
villainous part in language that anticipates Hawthorne’s portrayal of Chillingworth: with
“an ironical smile writhing his features” and eyes filled with “a wild, fierce joy,” he
threatens her with a fate worse than death. In her virgin purity Ellen still “knew not what
to dread, but she was well aware that danger was at hand, and that, in the deep
wilderness, there was none to help her, except that Being, with whose inscrutable
purposes it might consist, to allow the wicked to triumph for a season, and the innocent to
be brought low.” The viper Butler, Ellen now within his coils, challenges her to cry for
help: “Shriek, and see if there be any among these rocks and woods to hearken to you!”
To which Ellen steadfastly replies, “‘There is—there is one…. He is here—He is
there.’ And she pointed to heaven” (97), before clasping her hands and falling to her
knees in supplication. As if in answer to her prayers that a “Being” on high would come
to her rescue, at this moment of peril “a fragment of rock” falls from the crag above
them. To sustain the suspense, Hawthorne abruptly ends this chapter with captive Ellen
“in the hope of deliverance” (98).
While setting up his seduction, Hawthorne has lost track of his hero; hence he
must break into the narrative to announce that “the tale now returns to Fanshawe” (99).
In a rare passage of introspection, we see our hero attempting to assess his motives, but
the author admits that “the most powerful minds are not always the best acquainted with
their own feelings.” Certainly this is true of Fanshawe, who never displays the supposed
power of his intellect, apparently confuses self-pity with self knowledge, and knows
nothing of women. He pictures himself as someone set apart from the mainstream of
humanity, and thus an unfit mate for Ellen, even though he desires her: “It was the
yearning of a soul formed by Nature in a peculiar mould, for communion with those to
whom it bore a resemblance, yet of whom it was not” (99). Since he is not formed to
plod along with the multitude, “a dream of bliss” with Ellen as his wife is out of the
question. Fanshawe’s musings recall Goethe’s Werther, another sensitive artist at odds
with bourgeois society, but Werther, although also lacking in self-knowledge, is more
creditable as a person of intelligence. The irony, which may also elude the youthful
author, is that Fanshawe’s “dream of undying fame” is also out of the question unless he
learns more about human nature and the power of passion.
The rescue scene, in which Fanshawe casts his small stone and brings down the
villain, is the most ridiculous in the book. As he strives for sublimity, Hawthorne slides
into bathos. He has effectively transposed the European gothic conventions of castle
keep and parapet into American caves and cliffs, and used a fallen boulder to suggest
crumbling ruins, but his handling of the human situation strains credulity. When we last
saw Ellen, remember, she was pointing toward the sky and praying for deliverance from a
heavenly “Being.” Lo and behold, who should at that moment appear occupying the
moral high ground but Fanshawe, far above her on the verge of the precipice! The mere
sight of her deliverer causes Ellen to faint away and drives Butler to distraction: “There
was something awful, to his apprehension, in the slight form that stood so far above him,
like a being from another sphere, looking down on his wickedness” (105). The villain
then grits his teeth and ascends the cliff’s face to attack this superior, awe-inspiring
“being,” but instead slips and falls to his richly deserved death: “With all the passions of
hell alive in his heart, he had met the fate that he intended for Fanshawe” (106).
Fanshawe then descends the precipice unscathed—supposedly to come to aid the
still unconscious Ellen—but what follows is wish-fulfillment of a rather peculiar kind:
He lifted the motionless form of Ellen in his arms, and resting her head
against his shoulder, gazed on her cheek of lily paleness, with a joy—
a triumph—that rose almost to madness. It contained no mixture of hope,
it had no reference to the future—it was the perfect bliss of the moment—
an insulated point of happiness. He bent over her and pressed a kiss—
the first, and he knew it would be the last—on her pale lips; then bearing her
to the fountain, he sprinkled its water profusely over her face, neck, and
bosom. She at length opened her eyes, slowly and heavily; but her mind
was evidently wandering till Fanshawe spoke.
“Fear not, Ellen, you are safe,” he said. (106-7)
How safe Ellen is in the hands of a man whose creepy fantasy if to kiss a corpse-like girl
may be a question Hawthorne would prefer we not ask. This scene is clearly at the center
of Fanshawe’s (and perhaps Hawthorne’s) fantasy life. Because of his fear of female
desire, his lips can only touch Ellen when she is unconscious and unable to respond. As
Leslie Fiedler noted, “It is a way of not eating your cake and having it, too. It is clear
from the logic of Fanshawe’s character as Hawthorne has conceived it that he cannot
have the girl, any girl, that he is psychologically impotent.”82
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) when
was twenty-four; a comparison of his early novel with Hawthorne’s helps define some of
Fanshawe’s artistic shortcomings. Goethe’s triangle of Werther, Albert and Lotte
anticipates Hawthorne’s Fanshawe, Edward and Ellen; both present two male rivals—one
a sensitive scholar, the other a solid citizen—in competition for an idealized female. For
all his affectation, Werther displays more intellect and force than Fanshawe. He is
convinced that Lotte “would have been happier with me than with him [Albert]. Oh, he
is not the man to satisfy the needs of her heart.”83 Lotte, happily married to Albert, is
troubled by Werther’s obsession with her and repeatedly urges him to be less emotional
and more reasonable; but one day when he is reading his translation of the songs of
Ossian to her, she is so moved that Werther’s belief in their shared sensibility is proved, at
least temporarily, to be true: “The anguish of his heart consumed his spirit’s remaining
powers. The world was lost to them. He clasped her in his arms, held her close against
him, and covered her trembling lips with a shower of passionate kisses. “Werther!” she
cried with choking voice, turning away, “Werther!”84 This scene in its own way is as
melodramatic as Hawthorne’s, but at least the lovers are conscious of each other and
share one passionate moment as kindred spirits before Lotte returns to her contented
bourgeois life and the sorrowful Werther commits suicide. At this stage of his career,
Hawthorne can only fantasize his hero stealing a furtive kiss from a woman in a swoon.
The reciprocal passion of a man and a woman is beyond his powers to dramatize.
Ellen’s unsullied purity and lack of curiosity survive the seduction scene; she is
“instinctively” so demure that she does not notice Butler’s dead body or “inquire of
Fanshawe the manner of her deliverance” (107). And she unquestionably accepts the
chauvinistic notion that Fanshawe, because he rescued her from the villain, is entitled to
her soft, little, white hand. Ellen, for all her earlier display of gumption on behalf of her
less-than-loving father, has no say in the matter. The two rivals Fanshawe and Edward,
however, are locked in one more competition, this time not for bravery but for
benevolence. Each tries to outdo the other in practicing renunciation and not pressing his
advantages. Ellen is properly impressed with Fanshawe’s attributes: “Yours is a heart,
full of strength and nobleness,” but our fastidious hero resists the temptation of earthly
happiness. When she extends her hand, Fanshawe refuses it, knowing that he was
“turning from an angel, who would have guided him to Heaven.” Instead of indulging “a
selfish passion…stronger than my integrity,” he anticipates his early death: “When you
hear that I am in my grave, do not imagine that you have hastened me thither” (112).
Fanshawe believes he is speaking the truth about his feelings, the question is whether
Hawthorne sees how deluded his titular hero is. The author asserts at the end that
Fanshawe “was in reality the thoughtful and earnest student that he seemed. He had
exerted the whole might of his spirit over itself—and he was the conquerer” (113). This
hymn to the strength of will power is not convincing; the passage suggests that
Hawthorne still had a lot to learn about the deeper psychology. While Goethe admits that
in Werther’s case “the anguish of his heart consumed his spirit’s remaining powers,”85
Hawthorne maintains that Fanshawe has repressed all his anguished longing and dies
instead of unremitting study.
Many tears were shed over his grave; but the thoughtful and the wise,
though turf never covered a nobler heart, could not lament that it was so soon
at rest. He left a world for which he was unfit; and we trust that, among the
innumerable stars of heaven, there is one where he has found happiness. (113)
In contrast to his later work, Hawthorne does not “mix in the marvelous” in Fanshawe,
though he does slip into the improbable; nor does he offer alternative explanations, no
“some say Fanshawe died of a broken heart.” Instead, against the preponderance of
evidence, he insists on the power of Fanshawe’s will. This, perhaps, was the author’s
final wish-fulfillment. Hawthorne’s sexual fears and desires were on a deeper level of his
unconscious than his adolescent fantasy of undying fame as a man of letters. At the start
of his career he apparently thought he could indulge his wish for fame without exposing
his inner demons. Although he dies young, Fanshawe achieves celestial fame as a star in
heaven. After four years of mourning, Ellen marries Edward, who, Hawthorne claims,
“never regretted the worldly distinction of which she thus deprived him” (114). Any
hopes Hawthorne harbored that Fanshawe would win him fame were soon dashed. It
would take ten more years of hard work before Twice-told Tales appeared in print.
Clearly, Fanshawe is a semi-autobiographical work that reveals much more
about the young author than he probably intended to tell. At the same time, the novel
is not strictly based on Hawthorne’s life; Goethe, after all, did not blow out his brains
over a lost love and Hawthorne did not die of excessive studiousness at an early age.
Both authors are trying to exorcise facets of their personalities, or at least bring them
under control. Hawthorne wants to convince himself that will power is greater than
the power of passion and that the love of a woman must be avoided at all costs by the
aspiring young writer. It is not hard to surmise that the superior wisdom Fanshawe
thinks he seeks in books is, in part, an unconscious ploy to hide his desire to know
about women and passion. The ultimate irony is that until the would-be artist in
Hawthorne can create a woman of passion like Hester Prynne he will not write a
novel of lasting value and his own dream of undying fame will not yet be realized.
1All serious writers strive to write works that that shall outlive them; I am certainly not the only critic to
notice Hawthorne’s early hunger for fame; George Parsons Lathrop, his first biographer, stated that
Fanshawe’s “dream of undying fame” had its source in Hawthorne’s “own heart,” and his most recent,
Brenda Wineapple, uses the phrase as a chapter title; see A Study of Hawthorne (Boston: James R. Osgood
and Company, 1876), 121, and Hawthorne: A Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003): 58-72. See also,
Thomas Woodson, “Hawthorne and the Author’s Immortal Fame” Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 30 (2004):
56-91. In this essay I study how a preoccupation with fame developed in Hawthorne’s early
2Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Letters, 1813-1843, I, edited by Thomas Woodson, L. Neal Smith, and Norman
Holmes Pearson (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1984): 138-39.
3Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hawthorne’s Lost Notebook: 1835-1841, transcript by Barbara S. Mouffe.
(University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1978): 25.
4“The profession of authorship in the United States began in the 1820s when Washington Irving and James
Fenimore Cooper discovered that they could turn out regularly books which readers were willing to buy
regularly.” William Charvat, The Profession of Authorship in America, 1800-1870, edited by Matthew J.
Bruccoli (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1968): 29. Irving’s The Sketch Book was published in
1820, Cooper’s The Spy in 1821, the year Nathaniel wrote to his mother; at that time he was probably
unaware of either American author, but during his apprenticeship Irving, in particular, was on his mind.
5Later in the essay I will discuss why Hawthorne, in his twenties, added a w to the family name. As a boy he
was apparently known as “Nat” or “Nath.”
6Randall Stewart, “Recollections of Hawthorne by His Sister Elizabeth” American Literature, 16 (1945):
7Stewart, 319. A Hawthorne letter of 1813 confirms that he suffered a foot injury at age nine. “It’s almost
too perfect,” T. Walter Herbert has stated, “this psychologically loaded incident from boyhood of a man who
had trouble learning to stand on his own two feet.” Dearest Beloved: The Hawthornes and the Making of the
Middle Class Family (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993): 61.
8Maurice Bassan, “Julian Hawthorne Edits Aunt Ebe” Essex Institute Historical Collections, 100 (1964):
9Letters, 119.
10Stewart, 325.
11Stewart, 319, 331.
12Letters, 134. Hawthorne’s reading was broad; in addition to literature, he read a great deal of history,
philosophy, theology, and travel accounts, especially on the Orient.
13Stewart, 321. In another version the small boy says, “I is going away to sea and I’ll never come back
again!” See George Lathrop, 64.
14Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, Memories of Hawthorne (New York: AMS Press, 1969): 6.
15Stewart, 320, 319.
16Julian Hawthorne, Hawthorne and His Wife (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1884), I, 124.
17Stewart, 326.
18Letters, 114-16.
19Richard Henry Stoddard, “Nathaniel Hawthorne” Harpers New Monthly Magazine, 45 (1872): 687-88.
20Edwin Haviland Miller, Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Iowa City:
University of Iowa Press, 1991): 55.
21James R. Mellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne In His Times (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980): 22.
22Our Old Home (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1970) 5: 264.
23Stoddard, 687-88.
24Letters, 132.
25Letters, 136. See Pat M. Ryan, Jr., “Young Hawthorne at the Salem Theatre” Essex Institute Historical
Collections, XCIV (1958): 249-54.
26Samuel T. Pickard, Hawthorne’s First Diary (Boston: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1897): 8, 52, 37-
38. The authenticity of this diary is in dispute, because it is based solely on newspaper excerpts supplied by
William Symmes, a boyhood friend, who died before the actual diary could be produced for scholarly
verification; at least one episode in the diary happened after Hawthorne left Raymond. Gloria Erlich, “Who
Wrote Hawthorne’s First Diary?” Nathaniel Hawthorne Journal (1977): 37-70, argues that Pickard himself
wrote the diary, which, either way, contains an insider’s account of Raymond during Hawthorne’s boyhood.
See, George Lathrop, 333-37.
27First Diary, 79.
28Letters, 117.
29Letters, 117.
30Gloria C. Erlich, Family Themes and Hawthorne’s Fiction (Rutgers University Press, 1984): 52.
31Erlich, 13.
32Letters, 138.
33Sharing a bed was common in the nineteenth century, and so most Hawthorne biographers do
not see anything sinister here; however, Erlich, who has written the most detailed study of
Hawthorne’s relationship with his uncle, suggests there might have been a sexual dimension, pp, 118-19;
Mellow, Hawthorne In His Times, note 66, pp. 610-611, speculates about sexual assault.
34Stewart, 321.
35As Manning Hawthorne points out, it was also significantly less expensive than Harvard. “Nathaniel
Hawthorne at Bowdoin” The New England Quarterly, 13, 2 (June 1940): 247.
36Letters, 150.
37Letters, 153.
38Letters, 182.
39Woodson, “Hawthorne…and Fame,” suggests that Hawthorne’s reading Pindar and Horace,
may have encouraged him to believe that poetry was “a monument more lasting than bronze,” 64.
40“Jonathan Cilley,” Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tales and Sketches (New York: The Library of America, 1982):
608. He did declaim on a few occasions. See Manning Hawthonre, 266-67.
41Bridge, 33-34.
42Julian Hawthorne, I, 121.
43Letters, 159-60, 168.
44Tales and Sketches, 1155. Bridge told Lathrop that his high estimation of Hawthorne’s ability was based
on “the whole drift of his friend’s mind as he saw it,” A Study of Hawthorne,113-14.
45Horatio Bridge, Personal Recollections of Nathaniel Hawthorne (New York: Harper & Brothers
Publishers, 1893): 33-37.
46Thomas Woodson, “A New Installment of Hawthorne’s SpectatorNathaniel Hawthorne
Review 12 (Fall 1986): 1.
47Julian Hawthorne, I, 145.
48Tales and Sketches, 1020.
49Ironically enough, Hawthorne’s friend Cilley gave a graduation address entitled “The Effects of
Fictitious Writing on Morals,” while President Allen’s Baccalaureate sermon on “Humility”
warned “all who are engaged in literary pursuits” to always “carry with you a deep sense of your
unworthiness and guilt.” See Manning Hawthorne, 277-278.
50Hawthorne belonged to the Athenaean Society, the Androscoggin Club, the Navy Club, and the
Pot-8-0 Club, the latter feasted on “roasted Potatoes, Butter, Salt and Cider,” while stipulating, a
tad too forcefully, that “ardent spirits shall never be introduced.” Manning Hawthorne, 267-68.
51Letters, 171, 174. In addition to Ward’s Tavern, or Wardworth’s Tavern, on the road to Bath, Maine, there
was one next to the campus known as the New Inn and several more in town.
52Bridge, 40.
53Stoddard, 695.
54Letters, 184.
55George T. Little, “Hawthorne’s Fanshawe and Bowdoin’s Past” The Bowdoin Quil, VIII, (1904): 186.
56Bridge, 43-44, 47.
57He was more or less engaged to Mary Silsbee, Sophia Peabody, and possibly Elizabeth Peabody. He
married Sophia in 1842. Ebe mentions that on his summer travels he used to fall in love on a regular basis,
whether any of these young ladies considered themselves engaged, such as the Susan of Swampscott
memorialized in “The Village Uncle,” is unknown.
58Tales and Sketches, 1155.
59Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Life of Franklin Pierce, in The Complete Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne,
edited by George Parson Lathrop, Vol. XII (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1897): 437-38.
60Robert Cantwell, Nathaniel Hawthorne: The American Years (New York: Rinehart & Company, Inc.,
1948): 100-1. Because of the author’s erratic interpretations (Hawthorne was a spy, etc.) this study must be
used with caution, but it provides a detailed account of Hawthorne’s college years: 68-103. Deane died of
“dyspeptic consumption” on August 11th 1825, and Hawthorne’s Commencement was held September 7th
1825. See Manning Hawthorne, 275, 277.
61Letters, 194. Hawthorne wrote from Brunswick to Ebe on July 14th 1825.
62Stewart, 320.
63Julian Hawthorne, 124. Ebe told James Fields that Hawthorne had written “Seven Tales” soon after he
left college. “As soon as the little book was well prepared for the press he deliberately threw it into the fire,
and sat by to see its destruction.” James T. Fields, Yesterdays with Authors (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin
Company, 1925): 65. Hubert H. Hoeltje notes that Ferdinand Andrews, the printer who delayed to publish
the book, left Salem in 1826, thus suggesting that “the tales were written first…while Hawthorne was still at
college.” “Hawthorne as a Senior at Bowdoin” Essex Institute Historical Collections 94 (1958): 218-9.
64Bridge, 67-8.
65Wineapple, 58.
66Wineapple, 63, 400.
67Bridge, 50.
68George Lathrop, “Biographical Sketch of Nathaniel Hawthorne” Complete Works, XII, 443. David
Leverenz points out that Melville, Whitman, Emerson, Thoreau, and Frederick Douglass, as well as several
female authors, also changed their names. Manhood and the American Renaissance (Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell
University Press, 1989).
69Brian Harding, Nathaniel Hawthorne: Critical Assessments I (Mountfield, East Sussex: Helm
Information, 1995): 47-48.
70Wineapple, 74.
71Harding, Critical Assessments, 45. Boston Weekly Messenger, XVIII, 13 November 1828.
72Fields, 48. A few critics are effusive. Among Hawthorne’s biographers, Robert Cantwell is the most
enthusiastic about the novel’s artistry, see pp. 119-123. Louise Desalvo, Nathaniel Hawthorne (Atlantic
Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press International, Inc., 1987) finds in the scarcely realized character of Ellen
“a far more radical critique of presumptions about maleness and femaleness than anything Hawthorne would
write in his maturity,” 56. David Greven, “Fear of Fanshawe: Intransigence, Desire, and Scholarship in
Hawthorne’s First Published Novel” Nathaniel Hawthorne Reivew 29 (Fall 2003) argues that Fanshawe is “a
(tragic) hero,” whose “onanistic characteristics and abnegation of normative desire can be observed as
inviolate manhood’s queer threat to reproductive capitalist futurity,” 14, 2. Most critics concentrate one
aspect of the novel—its style, characters, humor, and antecedents—and make modest claims for its literary
merits. F. O. Matthiessen is closer to the mark when he asserts that Hawthorne’s “comic strain called out his
best efforts both in style and characterization,” but “the serious characters in the book have scarcely the
thickness of cardboard,” noting a “cleavage…between an achieved manner of writing and an unmatured
content.” American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1941): 204. E. Cifelli adds that “The
characters in many of the humorous scenes come to life as they do nowhere else.” “Hawthorne as Humorist”
CEA Critic, 38 (1976): 14. Mr. and Mrs. Melmoth and Hugh Crombie are the most memorable characters
and the tavern scenes the most vivid. Unfortunately, in terms of Hawthorne’s artistry, the novel’s hero is
supposed to be Fanshawe.
73Julian Hawthorne, I, 125.
74Jesse Sidney Goldstein, “The Literary Source of Hawthorne’s FanshaweModern Language Notes, 60
(Jan., 1945): 1-8.
75Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel (New York: Criterion Books, 1960). Fiedler sums
up Fanshawe as an “absurdly conventional action…rendered in the style of the female epigones of
Richardson, with no real inwardness,” 226.
76Charles Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer (London: Oxford University Press, 1989): 204, 207.
77Nine Baym, “Hawthorne’s Gothic Discards: Fanshawe and ‘Alice Doane’” The Nathaniel Hawthorne
Journal (1974): 107-8.
78Otis B. Wheeler, “Hawthorne and the Fiction of Sensibility” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 19, 2
(September 1964): 160.
79Nathaniel Hawthorne, Novels (New York: The Library of America, 1983): 7. Subsequent quotations will
be cited by page in the text.
80Elsewhere, Butler refers to a fishing hook as a “piscatorial instrument of death,” but perhaps we shouldn’t
judge Hawthorne’s circumlocutions too harshly.
81Greven, “Fear of Fanshawe,” argues that Fanshawe’s “fairy speech” presents a “queer
challenge to coherent male identity,” 16-19. I see this scene more as evidence that Fanshawe has affinities
with Shakespeare’s Oberon, Hawthorne’s early nom de plume.
82Fiedler, 227.
83Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther, translated by Elizabeth Mayer and Louise
Bogan (New York: Random House, 1971): 100.
84Goethe, 154.
85Goethe, 126.
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