A study of Hawthorne's origins

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1934

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Hawthorne was extremely uncommunicative as to the sources on which he drew for the materials underlying his writings. It might be taken for granted that he had read widely; but if any doubt should exist on that point, it would be promptly dispelled by an examination of the list of books that he borrowed from the Athenaeum Library at Salem during his residence of some twenty years in that town. And he had lived large--though very quietly and unpretentiously: as a boy in Salem and Raymond, Maine, as a student at Bowdoin, as a collector of customs at Boston and later in Salem, as a member of the Brook Farm community, and as the American Consul at Liverpool. He was by nature introspective, and was much given to brooding and meditation, at least in his maturer years; and he had observed widely and also very closely. He grew up and developed at a time when New England was alive as never before, in a period which produced Emerson, Longfellow, Thoreau, Lowell, and Melville; he touched elbows at some time with each of these, and he came into close association for one brief but fruitful period with the author of Moby Dick. Hence while it may not be said of Hawthorne as Emerson remarked of Whitman, that he must have had a long foreground, at least his foreground was of a different nature from Whitman's, certainly less obviously full and varied, so far as appearances go; yet the inner life of Hawthorne was no less varied and certainly no less intense. It is perhaps because of Hawthorne's reticence as to his origins that we have as yet learned very little about his literary borrowings and about the influences that lay behind his development as a novelist and a writer of tales. Scholarly investigation of the origins of most of our greater American writers has been meager, and most of it inconclusive; but Hawthorne is at least entitled to larger consideration than he has received. In the present study I have endeavored to meet, in some measure, that need. In approaching my study of Hawthorne's origins, I shall first give a resume of what others have done toward clearing the ground, or, more precisely, toward blazing the way, for my inquiry. I shall then pass to a consideration of Hawthorne's sources of various sorts,--his dependence upon books and periodicals, his almost constant injection of his own experiences and opinions into his writings, his reliance upon the life of his times and of his section for the materials of his art, and his frequent repetition of the same or similar incidents, characters, and motives. Following my consideration of these matters, I shall devote a brief chapter to Hawthorne's methods of handling his source materials. And in a final chapter I shall set down the main conclusions which my inquiry into the subject would seem to warrant

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