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Mrs. Micah Reads (and reviews) Hawthorne, pt. 1

So far, for the RIP II Challenge, I have read 13 chapters of the Mysteries of Udolpho and seven short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It’s quite exciting. I think it only fair to post periodic summaries and reviews. I’ll review Udolpho once I’ve finished it, but it seems more practical to review the short stories a few at a time. I’ll only comment on some, since it would take too much space to discuss them all at length. Plus, some are more RIP appropriate than others.

(note, I’m not binding myself to reread the ones I’ve already read. and I’m doing them in alphabetical order from the site linked above)

The Canterbury Pilgrims: A young couple leaving a Shaker town runs into a party of pilgrims intent on becoming members. The pilgrims try to show the young Shakers that life outside isn’t paradise either. I wonder if this was connected to Hawthorne’s transcendental phase. In the end, neither really wins, since the grass is always greener somewhere else. The kids go with love, and who could blame them? But the others just want peace.

The Celestial Railroad: I’m acquainted with Pilgrim’s Progress but knowing it better would probably help here. The premise is that now there’s a railroad which affords one easy travel to the Celestial City, for day trips. It bridges the Slough of Despond, but it also doesn’t lose your burden…no sir, they’re very careful that people end up with their stuff again. But is this chance as good as it looks? Well…no, but you’d have to read it. Some definite critique of easy religion and perhaps of the industrialized society where moral lines are blurred and everything’s easy.

David Swan: Short piece on chance and circumstance. A boy takes a nap waiting for the stage coach and in the space of one hour has the chance to receive a fortune, find love (and good employment), or get killed…if he’d only wake up. But as he sleeps, each passes him by without his ever knowing about them.

The Devil in the Manuscript: A young writer who’s been rejected, becomes convinced that his manuscript is an evil, and he’d be free if only it was burned. So he casts it into the fire…which releases a somewhat unexpected devil. Ok, somewhat expected, but we weren’t sure what was going to happen.

Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment: A doctor has three old friends of his try drinking the fountain of youth. Unfortunately, all their accumulated wisdom seems to vanish along with their wrinkles. In the end, they get back the wrinkles but have lost the wisdom forever (or maybe they only appeared to have it to begin with).

Drowne’s Wooden Image: A Boston woodcarver sets about making a unique figure-head. But when her time has come to sail, does she really come alive? Or is it a case of mistaken identity?

Egotism; or the Bosom Serpent: The town believes Elliston mad, since he wanders the streets proclaiming that the snake in his bosom is gnawing him. He even dares to accuse others of harboring various snakes–pride, jealousy, lust, avarice. Because he knows his snake of Egotism, can he be saved from it?

Whew, that was a lot. I’d say that the first three aren’t really in the RIP category. They were interesting, but two had a lot to do with how we choose to live, progress, community, that kind of thing. The third (“David Swan”) was creepier, darker, suggesting that there’s a lot more going on than we perceive. “Phantoms” of good and evil cast their shadows over us, but we may not even notice.

I identified most with “The Devil in the Manuscript.” I’m young and a writer. Sometimes I feel worthless, frustrated, unable to proceed. Sometimes I wish I weren’t a writer because then there wouldn’t be this pressure to write (Mr. Micah raises his eyebrows–“wait, you mean she’s been writing something?” Exactly my point, honey.). If my words could set the town on fire, well, that’s an exciting possibility. But I’m definitely not rich enough to handle lawsuits for negligence and the like. So not going with that.

The “Serpent” I also understood…how something can seem to infect you, even if you think it’s only in your brain. My serpent was depression. Sometimes I can still feel her in there, flooding my body with her poison. It’s an apt, dark metaphor.

The other two dark ones seemed familiar–archetypes of stories, the artist who creates something so beautiful that it lives (there should be a “?” after lives, in this case) and the mad scientist who turns out to be less mad than everyone else.

I’m not sure if these are very good reviews. But I’m at work and a bit tired.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl V. September 5, 2007 at 2:42 am

These sound great! As I’ve said elsewhere during this challenge, I need to read some Hawthorne sometime soon. David Swan sounds like one I will have to make sure and track down during this challenge.

Court September 30, 2007 at 12:36 pm

I hope you’ll be posting more about the Mysteries of Udolpho at some point in time. I first read a Radcliffe book a few months ago, and wasn’t thrilled with it, and want to see what other people think of her other works. (If it’s really good, I’ll give her another chance for sure.)

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