Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tales and Sketches. Nathaniel Hawthorne.

1830’s 1840’s. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1982.

Why read it? Reading Hawthorne’s tales and sketches is a study in creativity. His topics are varied and often unexpected. His language and ideas invite reflection. Each story is a world in itself. And each story is in Technicolor, at least in my imagination. His stories are a perfect combination of narrative, images and ideas.

Sample some of his quotes:

“There is hardly a more difficult exercise of fancy, than, while gazing at a figure of melancholy age, to re-create its youth.” p. 501. ………. “…wrinkles and furrows, the hand-writing of time….” p. 501. ………. “Now the old toll gatherer looks seaward, and discerns the lighthouse kindling on a far island, and the stars, too, kindling in the sky.” p. 513. ………. “…content yourself with building castles in the air….” p. 522.

“…as needy a gentleman as ever wore a patch upon his elbow.” p. 523. ………. “Gray-headed, hollow-eyed, pale cheeked, and lean bodied, he was the perfect picture of a man who had fed on windy schemes and empty hopes….” p. 524. ………. “It was the first day of the January thaw. Snow lay deep upon the house-tops, but was rapidly dissolving into millions of water-drops.” p. 534.

“The woman wore a cleft stick on her tongue, in appropriate retribution for having wagged that unruly member against the elders of the church….” p. 543. ………. “Pleasant is a rainy winter’s day, within doors!” p. 549. ………. “One blast struggles for her umbrella, and turns it wrong side outward; another whisks the cape of her cloak across her eyes, while a third takes most unwarrantable liberties with the lower part of her attire.” p. 551. ………. “Through yonder casement I discern a family circle, the grandmother, the parents, and the children, all flickering, shadow-like in the glow of a wood fire.” p. 553.

“…find utterance in the sea’s unchanging voice, and warn the listener to withdraw his interest from mortal vicissitudes, and let the infinite idea of eternity pervade his soul.” p. 568. ………. “…alliteratively entitled: Pills, Poetical, Political, and Philosophical; Prescribed for the Purpose of Purging the Public of Piddling Philosophers, of Penny Poetasters, of Paltry Politicians, and Petty Partisans…by Peter Pepperbox.” p. 577. ………. “His sole task…the duty for which Providence had sent the old man into the world, as it were with a chisel in his hand…was to label the dead bodies, lest their names should be forgotten at the Resurrection.” p. 617. ………. “As is frequently the case among the whalers of Martha’s Vineyard, so much of this storm-beaten widower’s life had been tossed away on distant seas, that out of twenty years of matrimony he had spent scarce three, and those at scattered intervals, beneath his own roof.” p. 620.

I conclude this sampling of quotes from Hawthorne’s Tales and Sketches with this one from “The Shaker Bridal.” The Shakers were not permitted to marry in order to prevent children from being born and therefore produce the final eradication of sin—and people—from the world. “…when the mission of Mother Ann shall have wrought its full effect… when children shall no more be born and die, and the last survivor of mortal race, some old and weary man like me, shall see the sun go down, never more to rise on a world of sin and sorrow.” p. 560.

Comment: The riches of Hawthorne’s language and ideas are there for you to read. You’ll need to adjust your pace to “slow.” There’s plot, but it takes a while for Hawthorne to get around to it. You will enter the wonderful world of stories. And don’t forget the Wonder Books and Tanglewood Tales, the re-telling of the ancient myths. RayS.

Sources: Twice-Told Tales, including “The Gray Champion,” “The Gentle Boy,” “A Rill from the Town Pump,” “The Great Carbuncle,” “Sights from a Steeple,” and “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” and “The Celestial Railroad” (1842). Mosses from an old Manse (1846). The Snow Image and Other Tales (1851). A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys (1851). Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys (1853).

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