Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Hawthorne, Nathaniel

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(1804-1864) US writer, a central literary figure of the 19th century; father of Julian Hawthorne. The darkness of his vision of the human psyche gives to almost everything he wrote, even works which were not Supernatural Fiction or fantasy, a sense that its protagonists are acting in obedience to the Gothic manipulations of the dead but shaping past, that they can never simply flourish in the here and now. It is in something like this sense that so much of his work seems to have been treated as Allegory: his characters are so in Bondage to the Stories they have been appointed to undergo that they seem to "stand" in an allegorical relationship to symbolic events, rather than to live them.

After an early novel, Fanshawe (1828), which he repudiated, NH began his publishing career with stories like "The Hollow of the Three Hills" for the Salem Gazette in 1830, his first. It is typical of his mature work in both style and subject matter: an adulteress falls dead after a Witch has revealed to her Visions of the life she has left behind. This and many similar tales – including "The Prophetic Pictures" and "Edward Randolph's Portrait", both of which express a sense that a Picture can imprison and/or prefigure Reality – were assembled in Twice-Told Tales (coll 1837; exp in 2 vols 1842), a collection whose title refers not to the nature of Story in Fantasy but to the sense that contemporary lives are bound to repeat patterns laid down for them (see also Twice-Told). Further collections include Mosses from an Old Manse (coll 1846; exp 1854), which contains NH's most famous tales of the supernatural – "Young Goodman Brown" (1835), whose protagonist journeys Into the Woods where a vision turns his life off at the root, "Rappaccini's Daughter" (1844), an ironic allegory in which the poisonousness of the demonic is hardly worse than a blighting rationalism, and "Feathertop: A Moralized Legend" (1852), about a scarecrow who persuades the world he is human as long as he does not look into a Mirror – and The Snow-Image and Other Twice-Told Tales (coll 1852), whose title story plays sorrowfully on the Animate/Inanimate girl of snow constructed by two children and killed by their parents' rational disbelief. The Snow Image and Uncollected Tales (coll 1974), which is volume 11 of the centenary edition of NH's works, contains several uncollected stories, including a tale of Merlin, "The Antique Ring" (1842). A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys (coll 1852) (see Wonder Tale) and Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys (coll 1853) retell the Greek Myths in a simple, chaste, literary style.

A sense of supernatural ordination pervades NH's most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter (1850), though the Visions its characters suffer are perhaps best understood in this-worldly terms. The House of the Seven Gables (1851) similarly deploys the apparatus of Gothic Fantasy without – quite – allowing the supernatural into the story. Early in his career, NH had written an Elixir-of-Life tale, Dr Heidegger's Experiment (1837 Salem Gazette; 1883 chap); towards the end of his life, NH composed at least three fragmentary drafts of stories again dealing with this subject: published posthumously, they were Septimius: A Romance (1872 UK; vt Septimius Felton, or The Elixir of Life 1872 US), the title story of The Dolliver Romance and Other Pieces (coll 1876), and "Septimius Norton" (1890), all three assembled as The Elixir of Life Manuscripts (omni 1977), which is volume 13 of the Works. The first of these fragments, the most complete, is another Gothic fantasy that does not quite venture over the edge – the elixir, when found, turns out to be missing an essential ingredient.

In the end, the NH Romance of predetermination casts a long shadow over the American Dream, telling us that we must both dream very hard and surrender absolutely. [JC]

other works: The Ghost of Doctor Harris (1900 chap), a Ghost Story; many posthumous re-sortings of NH's short work, including The Complete Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne (coll 1959), containing 72 tales, The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories (coll 1963) and Young Goodman Brown and Other Short Stories (coll 1992).

Nathaniel Hawthorne


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.