Nathaniel Hawthorne Between Tradition and Innovation

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Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was the first American writer of novels dealing with psychological and social issues. Moreover, he is, together with Edgar Allan Poe, an innovator of the American short story. The key-elements in Hawthorne’s work are the reflection and, at the same time, the criticism of the Old Puritanism’s exaggerations, the obsessive preoccupations related to cases of conscience. In Hawthorne’s short stories there can also be detected a fascinating touch of the fantastic and the supernatural similar to Poe’s, yet different from the morbid horrifying aspects traced in his contemporary work.

Hawthorne’s career coincided with Romanticism’s decline years. In Europe, his contemporaries Dickens and Thackeray cast upon literature the new light of critical Realism. The social movements were shaking pre-established values. Darwin and Huxley’s revolutionism was crushing the religious myths. The civil war was extending throughout the whole America. Hawthorne’s vision was darkening more and more until he could no longer decipher the gloomy caverns of the human soul. His detachment from reality made the critics talk about him under the most paradoxical emblems. “He was defined as both a Puritan and a rebel against Puritanism, both a Romantic writer and an anti-Romantic one, Transcendentalist and critic of Transcendentalism, social-humanist writer and introverted aesthete, aristocrat and democrat, realist and idealist” (Rowe, 1990, 53).

And Hawthorne was indeed a paradoxical figure. He considered himself a Puritan, but he never went to church and he despised the theological writings. He considered himself a solitary person, but he was extremely convivial with his colleagues while an office worker on the Custom House in Boston or in Salem.

But, despite his struggling efforts of getting rid of his alter ego through exorcism in literature, Hawthorne could not escape the obsession of the cold...
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