Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hawthorne, Briefly

Read a story by Hawthorne called “Sir William Pepperell”. A hankering came on me for some Hawthorne. He writes from an interesting context, both restrained and con strained. Yet he seethes withal.

I read from the Library of America edition, wherein the story sits under the heading Stories and Sketches. Is sketch a 19th century contrivance? Baudelaire and others went that way, as well, but sketch seems like a wholly American version. Just making a stab here.

The title character really carries no more importance than anyone else named in the story. He's just one of the great men of the colonies who seek to fight the French and Indians. This is not strictly the French and Indian War but part of the entire rupturing New World cause of expansion.

Hawthorne sketches, yes, the actors in these events. He does so in a snide and critical manner, an almost unbespoken hilarity. Hawthorne finds the moral plain luridly attractive. He writes from above yet feels himself drawn into the murk. Of course one sees that in “The Scarlet Letter”. “Pepperell” is much less a story than “The Scarlet Letter”. The main dynamic is critical.

Hawthorne writes just this side of Gothic. Dark forces fascinate him, yet he's aware of his own Puritan streak (which I might call another dark force). He often writes within a historical epoch that seems primordial. Under Hawthorne's pen, the 17th century was a time of gods and heroes stumbling. The years that follow bear a punitive smell. Frankly, he's right.

The ridiculous hierarchies of Europe were brought willy nilly to North America, where they contrived to take seed. With squirrels running thru treetops from the Atlantic Seaboard to the Mississippi, the context for these seeds differed greatly from that of Europe. European culture came clattering and plundering into these woods and streams. The New World is simply the Old World with shaky foundation.

The characters, the people, in “Pepperell” are pompous assertions of old ways. Moral injunction is given to all manner of restriction, a la Tea Party. Morality is something to be placed upon others.