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Friday, December 14, 2012

Guy Goodman St.White Reviews Nathaniel Hawthorne--Genre Hack

Hawthorne in one of his LESS bushy mustache phases.
Image courtesy of Library of Congress.
Good evening.  I'm Guy Goodman St. White, your excessively British accented host, and tonight I'll be stepping out of my usual timeline to say a few words about Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Apologies for the disruption in the continuity.  I was only just reminded that I am to be switching guest blogging positions with Lt. Lambaste this month in order to give her more time to come up with something non-crime-against-humanity-ish to do with her cloning machine.  I had fully intended to slip out this weekend, leave a post-it on my desk and return in January from my vacation in Melbourne acting faux innocent.  Then Chris busts into my office and demands to know where the hell my guest blog article is.  Mores the pity.

Regardless, there's always something nasty to say about Hawthorne, not including the bushiness of the mustache he grew in later life--which ranged from "epically bushy" to "HOLY SHIT."  Those quotations are not my personal opinion, but the reactions of his contemporaries.  I would never lower myself to such tomfoolery.  Hawthorne mustache jokes are low hanging fruit.

Let us be frank.  When we think of genre crap, it is difficult NOT to think of Nathaniel Hawthorne, furiously scribbling some speculative fiction onto paper with a quill in hand.  His dark romanticism that flirted with some of the earliest examples of surrealism is a non-stop barrage of speculative imagery.  Writing just at the time when the Romantic period was tipping into the Gothic, his works are filled with deeply psychological themes and horrors within the human heart that never quite revealed externally.

This in itself would not be problematic, but Hawthorne insisted time and again on portraying these themes through speculative elements.  Hinting at dark, supernatural forces.  Casting obsessive scientists as protagonists.  Even strangely mutable marks.  We might be able to chalk these things up to the twisted minds of the characters involved, as so many of these events occur when it isn't fully clear if the character is dreaming or awake, but Hawthorne's willingness to tap that ambiguity time and again, and exploit those moments of doubt without later revealing their absurdity as unrealistic means he was not exploring the human condition so much as gleefully exploiting the commercialism cash cow of putting the supernatural into fiction.  He is, as the yanks would say "a hella sellout."  Not once did a protagonist discover that they were really living in a seedy halfway house, detoxing from opiates, and disowned due to their prurient sexuality.  Seven Gables without a Scooby Doo explanation at the end is really just a ghost story.  As such, his writing has no chance of being genuinely literary.

Besides, there can be little doubt as to the genre status of something like "P's Correspondence" as an alternate history.  This guy is a genre hack who just likes to leave things open ended so Harold Bloom will still like him. Hawthorne may get close to real literature--in as much as his prose is dry and he is a dead white guy--but his insistence on not clarifying his supernatural elements as his characters' insanity or crystalizing seemingly supernatural elements into something realistic, and preferably more gritty, means that he falls time and again into the trap of just being one more genre writer.


  1. U put the hawt in Hawthorne....

    1. There is entirely too much win here for a single comment.

  2. I never thought about it that way before.