Wilfred McClay reviews two recent biographies of Nathaniel Hawthorne in the August 23 Weekly Standard, and argues for a rehabilitation of Hawthorne's reputation. He gives a superb short summary of Hawthorne's characteristic tone in a brief discussion of the 1837 short story collection, Twice-Told Tales: "One could plausibly argue that Hawthorne was at his most inspired in his early short fiction. Certainly the reader can see the characteristic lines of his thought, in ways that would not be much altered or improved upon in the later work. The penchant for symbolism and allegory is there Etogether with the spooky echoes of past sins and the creepy defamiliarization of ordinary life, which is seen to hide strangeness and horror beneath its thin veneer. These early stories all show the typically static Hawthornian characters frozen compulsively in moral dilemmas, often self-chosen, and they all run on a prose style that conveys gauzy, dreamlike distance rather than novelistic clarity and specificity."
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, August 16, 2004 at 05:07 PM
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