Friday, February 15, 2013

Notes on Hawthorne, II

Hawthorne's Short StoriesHawthorne's Short Stories 
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I  Specter and Science:
The tales in this collection include some of the best written by Hawthorne. Among them it is hard to rate one over another, however Rappaccini's Daughter is near the top. A tale of the natural versus the supernatural with overtones of professional jealousy, first love, and the desire for perfection. Perfection as desiderata, but unwillingness to pay the price. There are two scientists in Baglioni and Rappaccini himself. The latter seems to have created a new Eden with his garden that is lovingly overseen by his daughter, Beatrice, who is even more lovely than the flowers that surround her. Enter the young student, Giovanni, who is in Padua to study but is distracted by the view from his window: first, by the beautiful purple blossoms of a shrub in the center of the garden that illuminated it with a light that rivaled the sun; and second, by the entrance of Beatrice who made such an impression on the young student that it was as if "here were another flower . . . more beautiful than the richest of them,". The story develops into a question of whether the poison in the flowers (yes, they are poisonous plants) has overtaken Beatrice as well making her dangerous to other plants, animals, and even Giovanni. The question of whether she is a supernatural being or mere mortal is answered by the end of the story, but Giovanni's life is forever changed - how we may only speculate.  This story only hints at some of the myriad emotions and strange occurrences in these stories of men and women in settings as disparate as Salem Massachusetts and Padua Italy.

II The Collection:
Furthermore this collection of short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne is worth reading for several reasons: 1) the collection includes many stories that are not found outside of a complete edition of Hawthorne's stories like the edition from the Library of America; 2) there is an excellent introduction by Newton Arvin who places the stories in the context of Hawthorne's life and art. Arvin notes, "If Hawthorne had lived a generation later, in Europe, he would have counted as a symbolist, though as it was he stopped short, at some point not easy to specify, of being a symboliste in the strictest sense"; (in this he may be compared with Poe who inspired the symbolists in France); 3) the book is one of Vintage Books' small and beautifully styled paperbacks. If you own other collections of Hawthorne's tales, as I do, you may want to consider this one for your library.

Hawthorne's Short Stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Vintage Books, 1946.

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