Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Ethan Brand”

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Ethan Brand” is what I thought my Edith Wharton story choices would be.  It’s rather scary.  Last year, I read his story “Feathertop” and thought it was very similar to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  “Ethan Brand” reminds me of Washington Irving.  It’s a combination of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.

Ethan Brand returns to the village of Graylock after a twenty year absence in which he conducts a spiritually sinister quest.  His quest is legend among the townspeople and his return peaks everyone’s interest.  The majority of the story is set at a lime-kiln in the middle of a dark night.  A few of the locals inquire as to the result of Ethan’s search – did he find his answers?

After reading the story, the subtitle, “A Chapter From an Abortive Romance”, gives me chills but I couldn’t help but laugh a little.  It reminded me of Jack Nicholson as The Joker in the Batman movie from the late 80’s when he asks “Did you ever dance with the devil in the pale moon light”?

As the morning takes over the darkness, the reader and the villagers of Graylock discover a grizzly ending.

Hawthorne almost teaches a lesson here; however, he settles for telling a good story.

10 thoughts on “Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Ethan Brand”

  1. It’s time for me to revisit Hawthorne, I think. I’m sure I’ve read this before but the details you mention don’t sound familiar. (Surely I’m not confusing it with Wharton’s Ethan Frome?! – hey, there’s a link for you from last week’s story to this week’s – they both wrote works with “Ethan” 🙂 )

    1. Jay,
      I have to say that this story could rank up there with Edgar Allan Poe’s as far as the scary factor. I’ve never read Ethan Frome, but that’s probably the Wharton novel I would read if I was going to read one. And I still might – just don’t hold your breath or anything! The Hawthorne stories I’ve read have been very good so far.

      I think Ethan is a very “New England” name. Steinbeck’s “The Winter of Our Discontent” had an Ethan in it, too – and it had a New England setting.

  2. This sounds really interesting! It’s been ages (25 years?) since I’ve read any Hawthorne. I enjoyed his short stories I’ve read much more than the one novel of his that I’ve read. (The Scarlet Letter…not a fan.) I should really give more of his short fiction a chance to see if I can expunge that less-than-happy memory. I don’t think I have the fortitude to try The House of Seven Gables just yet…best to try more short stuff.

    1. Candiss,
      I also have enjoyed Hawthorne’s short stories more than his novels. In high school I chose to read The House of the Seven Gables instead of The Scarlet Letter and don’t remember anything about it. I eventually read The Scarlet Letter, too – but it’s not on my favorites list. I’ve only read three of his short stories, but all were very good.

  3. Clearly I need to revisit Hawthorne as well. I liked The Scarlet Letter acceptably well, but was severely disappointed by The House of the Seven Gables. I’ll have to give his short stories a try!

    1. The other Hawthorne story I read was “Wakefield”. While it wasn’t as scary in the sense that “Ethan Brand” was – the title character seemed to be a tad off.

  4. I am sadly deficient when it comes to 19th century American authors. I seem to have totally missed him during my education and only read The Scarlet Letter on a whim one summer ages ago. This story sounds extremely promising. 🙂

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