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In Hawthorne's Shadow

In Hawthorne's Shadow: American Romance from Melville to Mailer

Samuel Chase Coale
Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130jq17
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    In Hawthorne's Shadow
    Book Description:

    "The world is so sad and solemn," wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne, "that things meant in jest are liable, by an overwhelming influence, to become dreadful earnest; gaily dressed fantasies turning to ghostly and black-clad images of themselves." From the radical dualism of Hawthorne's vision, Samuel Coale argues, springs a continuing tradition in the American novel. In Hawthorne's Shadow is the first critical study to describe precisely the formal shape of Hawthorne's psychological romance and to explore his themes and images in relation to such contemporary writers as John Cheever, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, John Gardner, Joyce Carol Oates, William Styron, and John Updike. When viewed from this perspective, certain writers -- particularly Cheever, Mailer, Oates, and Gardner -- appear in a new and very different light, leading to a considerable reevaluation of their achievement and their place in American fiction.

    Mr. Coale's long interviews and conversations with John Cheever, John Gardner, William Styron, and others have provided insights and perspectives that make this book particularly valuable to students of contemporary American literature. Coale links contemporary writers to an on-going American romantic tradition, represented by such earlier authors as Melville, Harold Frederic, Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, and Carson McCullers. He explores the distinctly Manichean matter of much American romance, linking it to America's Puritan past and to the almost schizophrenic dynamics of American culture in general. Finally, he reexamines the post-modernist writers in light of Hawthorne's "shadow" and shows that, however similar they may be in some ways, they differ remarkably from the previous American romantic tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6248-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. ONE Hawthorne’s Shadow
    (pp. 1-21)

    “THERE is a fund of evil in every human heart, which may remain latent, perhaps through the whole of life; but circumstances may arouse it to activity.”¹ The vision of that heart of darkness, which Nathaniel Hawthorne described in 1836, would never change in his subsequent fiction. It lies at the base of all his speculations and explorations from seventeenth-century Boston to nineteenth-century Rome, from ancient house to pastoral masquerade, from darker forests to poisoned gardens. And that evil heart was born within a grim, imprisoning world: “The world is so sad and solemn, that things meant in jest are...

  5. TWO Melville to Mailer: Manichean Manacles
    (pp. 22-45)

    WHETHER or not Nathaniel Hawthorne cast the shadow of an Apollonian icon upon the adoring young author Herman Melville, as Edwin Miller suggests, the facts do seem to indicate that Melville, struggling with his great book on whaling, “in effect rewrote the entire book after his meeting with Hawthorne. The manuscript, supposedly finished in August 1850, was not completed until September 1851.”¹ Melville himself acknowledged as much: “I feel that the Godhead is broken up like the bread at the Supper, and that we are the pieces . . . . Once you hugged the ugly Socrates because you saw...

  6. THREE Harold Frederic: Naturalism as Romantic Snarl
    (pp. 46-62)

    THE MORE or less standard approach to the literary relationship between Hawthorne and the realist and naturalist writers of fiction in the 1890s has been described best by James W. Tuttleton, who suggests that the relationship must necessarily have been limited.¹ After all, Hawthorne’s allegorical sensibilities, his interest in the deeper psychology of representative types of characters, prevented him from exploring the realistic details and social conventions which so fascinated the realists and naturalists. “He had a confessed ‘weakness’ for the romantic allegory,” Tuttleton explains, and in preferring “fantasy to actuality,” provided no great example for later writers.²

    In decided...

  7. FOUR Faulkner, McCullers, O’Connor, Styron: The Shadow on the South
    (pp. 63-101)

    C.P. SNOW may have best summed up the thrust of literary modernism, however condescendingly, when he described it as the writer’s attempt “to represent brute experience through the moments of sensation.”¹ Certainly Stravinsky’s music, Picasso’s early work, Joyce’s stream of consciousness concentrated on man not as a civilized being, a carefully cultured intellect espousing sex as sentiment, but as a primitive creature, raw with emotions, experiencing sex as primal force. Freud shattered the civilized soul, layered it into superego, ego, and ide “Repression” became the common word of the Twenties.

    In effect the romantic idea of the self generated the...

  8. FIVE John Cheever: Suburban Romancer
    (pp. 102-122)

    HAWTHORNE and Cheever share the literary tradition of the American romance, as fashioned by Hawthorne. They share the basic elements of the romance form: the stylized characters, the atmospherics, the elements of prophecy and transformation, allegorical patterns, perilous journeys, “a penchant for the marvelous,” the use of legends, myths, and fables as stylized patterns to “get at” the mysterious roots of human motive and desire. Cheever shares with Hawthorne the particular form of the American psychological romance as well, in which the self, not society or social forces, stands at the center of the fictional realm, marked as it is...

  9. SIX John Updike: The Beauty of Duality
    (pp. 123-146)

    CRITICS have casually linked John Updike’s fiction to Hawthorne’s over the years. His recreation of details with the sharp eye of a Vermeer parallels Hawthorne’s delight in the Dutch realist painters. Calvinism hovers over his characters like storm clouds gathered in the soul, whether in Rabbit’s sense of sin or in Piet Hanema’s ideas of divine judgment. Two of his books,CouplesandA Month of Sundays, suggest Hawthorne’sThe Blithedale RomanceandThe Scarlet Letter,the latter in effect a response to Dimmesdale’s adulterous dilemma, however suspect in John Gardner’s terms as “a piece of neo-orthodox Presbyterian heresy (Christ...

  10. SEVEN John Gardner: Slaying the Dragon
    (pp. 147-160)

    “THE NOVELIST,” Frederick Karl suggests in his massive and encyclopedic tome about American fiction since 1940, “should have to struggle against contradictions, as Hawthorne and Melville did.”¹ John Gardner, as David Cowart makes clear, recreated again and again “his familiar parable about art’s responsibility to deal with those dragons of terrible reality.”² The artist must at all times “set about ‘flooring the ancient abyss with art.’ ”³

    Hawthorne’s art reproduced the very abyss from which Gardner had set out to escape. Hawthorne’s radical dualism reproduced the isolation and disconnection of his characters and of his own contradictory speculations. The polarized...

  11. EIGHT Joyce Carol Oates: Contending Spirits
    (pp. 161-179)

    JOYCE CAROL OATES’s Manichean vision of contemporary America threatens to overwhelm any literary form she uses to try to encompass it. Emotions override reason; monologue buries meaning; individual characters dissolve beneath the full force of their feelings, insights, and omnivorous yearnings. Even her apparent method of creation suggests the power these characters and emotional forces have upon her: “When I’m with people I often fall into a kind of waking sleep, a day-dreaming about the people, the strangers, who are to be the “characters” in the story or novel I will be writing.... At times my head seems crowded; there...

  12. NINE Joan Didion: Witnessing the Abyss
    (pp. 180-202)

    AT THE CENTER of Joan Didion’s art, a black hole of dread yawns, the kind she describes inDemocracy(1984): “Time was no longer just quickening but collapsing, falling in on itself, the way a disintegrating star contracts into a black hole.” Everything vanishes into it, pulled down toward an even murkier center by the relentless gravitational forces of spiritual paralysis, a paranoia chilled to the point of numbness, a dazed but absolute sense of isolation that will not scare. Blood corrupts: “The heart of darkness lay not in some error of social organization but in man’s own blood.” l...

  13. TEN Hawthorne and the Sixties: Careening on the Utmost Verge
    (pp. 203-217)

    WHAT WOULD Hawthorne have made of the “literary disruptions”¹ in the more experimental and daring fictions of the Sixties and Seventies? How would he have viewed such writers as John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, John Hawkes, Jerzy Kosinski, Kurt Vonnegut, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, to lump these names simplistically, for the sake of argument, as the awkwardly phrased “post-modernists”?

    In his book on the writers of the Sixties, Raymond Olderman makes a strong case for linking them to the traditions of the American romance and seeing them as an extension of that tradition. They too mix fact and fiction in their...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 218-229)
  15. PRIMARY SOURCES
    (pp. 230-232)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY
    (pp. 233-236)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 237-245)