Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Maypole of Merry Mount

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 25

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Had a wanderer, bewildered in the melancholy forest, heard their mirth, and stolen a half-affrighted glance, he might have fancied them the crew of Comus, some already transformed to brutes, some midway between man and beast, and the others rioting in the flow of tipsy jollity that foreran the change. But a band of Puritans, who watched the scene, invisible themselves, compared the masques to those devils and ruined souls with whom their superstition peopled the black wilderness.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Maypole of Merry Mount” combines ancient story-telling with New World sensibilities which might describe much of Hawthorne’s work. This story has a sort of “Adam and Eve” feel with a twist.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Lord and Lady of May celebrate their wedding around the Maypole in Merry Mount where many such celebrations occur with costumes, fanfare, and laughter. Contrast this with the Puritans spying on them. The Puritan governor chastises them for their merry-making and encourages them out of the their “Eden”. It’s interesting to try to determine whether the Puritans stand in for Satan or for God in the “Adam and Eve” story.  I go with the former as the governor seems to use persuasion with the young couple instead of the force he uses with the rest of the colony. A persuasion similarly used by the serpent in Eden. The couple leaves Merry Mount along with the joy they knew there

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Minister’s Black Veil

Deal Me In 2019 – Week 20

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Dying sinners cried aloud for Mr. Hooper, and would not yield their breath till he appeared; though ever, as he stooped to whisper consolation, they shuddered at the veiled face so near their own. Such were the terrors of the black veil, even when Death had bared his visage! Strangers came long distances to attend service at his church, with the mere idle purpose of gazing at his figure, because it was forbidden them to behold his face. But many were made to quake ere they departed! Once, during Governor Belcher’s administration, Mr. Hooper was appointed to preach the election sermon. Covered with his black veil, he stood before the chief magistrate, the council, and the representatives, and wrought so deep an impression, that the legislative measures of that year were characterized by all the gloom and piety of our earliest ancestral sway.

The elements of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Minister’s Veil” are not unfamiliar to anyone who has read much of Hawthorne’s work. It has a mysterious, sometimes even sinister, tone with a slightly didactic approach. I’m not sure, though, whether this teachy aspect is Hawthorne himself or simply the title character’s attempts to teach a lesson to his congregation and those outside his church – even if this “lesson” goes on for the rest of the minister’s life.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Reverend Mr. Hooper appears one day at his Meeting-House wearing a black veil around his head blocking from view his face except for his mouth and chin. Just this description alone can give the reader a few chills. The reaction of Mr. Hooper’s parishioners are mixed in that some can’t look away even though they want to and others begin to think he is trying to teach an important lesson.

Nobody really knows what the minister is trying to do and Hawthorne, himself, never really gives any specifics as to what the black veil might represent. This lack of information actually helps the story steer away from being too preachy on Hawthorne’s part. It’s still fictionally preachy on the part of the preacher.

If I had to guess what the black veil means, I would say that it gives the impression of the evil that can exist in humanity both collectively and individually.  Evil that can be seen outright and evil that can be hidden. In some ways, the minister is trying to point out that humankind is “fallen” or “sinful” even if many of his congregation don’t want to see that theological concept lived out in such a vivid manner.

“The Minister’s Black Veil” is included in the Hawthorne collection The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories.  I read it when I selected the Queen of Diamonds for Week 20 of my Deal Me In 2019 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be seen here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Gray Champion (Deal Me In 2018 – Week 36)

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But should domestic tyranny oppress us, or the invader’s step pollute our soil, still may the Gray Champion come, for he is the type of New England’s hereditary spirit; and his shadowy march, on the eve of danger, must ever be the pledge that New England’s sons will vindicate their ancestry.

Reading stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne always intrigues me because it takes me back to when The New World was indeed a new world – in some cases, as in “The Gray Champion”, it wasn’t even a country, yet. I love both the political and philosophical ideas flying around during these days but also the physical landscape. Both are described in this story but its the politics and philosophy that plays the central role.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The title character is a ghost-like being of an old soldier that keeps the ruling parties of the day at bay from this world’s new citizens. The story is set sometime in the 1660’s while it was published in the 1830’s. This space of time gives Hawthorne the ability to reflect on the puzzling fact that those coming to the new world for religious freedom very often brought their own version of religious intolerance.

This story is on the short side for Hawthorne and is included in the collection The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories. I read it when I selected the Ace of Clubs for Week 36 of my Deal Me In short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Anniversary #6!

Today is the sixth anniversary of Mirror With Clouds and to celebrate, here are my top ten favorite short stories of 2017!

10.)  Mary, The Cleaning Lady – Scott McClanahan

I enjoyed reading the anthology Degrees of Elevation: Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia but this story is the only one that made it into my top ten.

There were good things like ice cream cones, and trying to keep houses clean, and your mother bringing you to Mary’s house wrapped in a blanket, so you could watch cartoons and dream your cartoon dreams.

 

9.)  Snowing in Greenwich Village – John Updike

I’ve enjoyed several of John Updike’s stories over the years, but the subtlety and nuance in this one made it a favorite.

Richard’s suspicion on the street that he was trespassing beyond the public gardens of courtesy turned to certain guilt.

 

8.) The Snow Image – Nathaniel Hawthorne

I’ve realized that I have never put a Hawthorne story in my top ten so I am including this story the same way some win awards for a body of work – of course, Hawthorne doesn’t really need my approval.

…for all through life she had kept her heart full of childlike simplicity and faith, which was as pure and clear as crystal, and, looking at all matters through this transparent medium, she sometimes saw truths so profound that other people laughed at them as nonsense and absurdity.

 

7.) Poor Visitor – Jamaica Kincaid

A little homesickness or maybe something else makes me want to read more stories by Kincaid.

In a daydream I used to have, all these places were points of happiness to me; all these places were lifeboats to my small drowning soul, for I would imagine myself entering and leaving them, and just that – entering and leaving over and over again – would see me through a bad feeling I did not have a name for.

 

6.) The Cafeteria – Isaac Bashevis Singer

Leisurely lunches by people who have experienced some of the worst evils of the 20th century make this a very satisfying story.

I decided not to rest until I knew for certain what had happened to Esther and also to that half writer, half politician I remembered from East Broadway. But I grew busier from day to day. The cafeteria closed. The neighborhood changed. Years have passed and I have never seen Esther again. Yes, corpses do walk on Broadway. But why did Esther choose that particular corpse? She could have got a better bargain even in this world.

 

5.) Rembrandt’s Hat – Bernard Malamud

Not your usual short story relationship makes this story intriguing and one that I continue to think about.

That evening, leaving the building, they tipped hats to each other over small smiles.

 

4.) Yours – Joe Ashby Porter

I loved the wacky bitterness of the jilted narrator in this story and it provided one of my favorite quotations.

I’m off newspapers for the moment and to fill the breakfast time this morning I plotted a graph of my life on a napkin.

 

3.)  Chemistry – Ron Rash

Ron Rash’s short story anthology Something Rich and Strange was one of my favorite reading experiences in 2017 and this was the favorite story. It’s also the only story on my top ten list that was not from my Deal Me In project.

“Your mother believes the holy rollers got me too young, that they raised me to see the world only the way they see it. But she’s wrong about that. There was a time I could understand everything from a single atom to the whole universe with a blackboard and piece of chalk, and it was as beautiful as any hymn the way it all came together.”

 

2.) Absolution – F. Scott Fitzgerald

A great story with a great first line.

There once was a priest with cold, watery eyes, who, in the still of the night, wept cold tears.

 

1.)  The Balloon – Donald Barthelme

This is a departure in the type of story I usually choose as a favorite but it was just too unusual, but perfect, in structure, plot and style that I had to put it at the top.

…there were no situations, simply the balloon hanging there – muted grays and browns for the most part, contrasting with walnut and soft yellows.

 

 

 

 

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Snow Image (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 14)

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…for all through life she had kept her heart full of childlike simplicity and faith, which was as pure and clear as crystal, and, looking at all matters through this transparent medium, she sometimes saw thruths so profound that other people laughed at them as nonsense and absurdity.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

It’s become a tradition of mine each year to include a story that has a Christmas-type title in my Deal Me In list just for the fun of seeing when it shows up. I’ve yet to have one of them actually get selected during the holiday season. For 2017, I put Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Snow Image: A Childish Miracle” as the one non-New Yorker/New York City story in my red suits. It also happens to be the only 19th Century story in my Deal Me In 2017 list. I read this story when I selected the Eight of Diamonds for Week 14 of Deal Me In 2017. It’s included in my copy of The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. My Deal Me In List can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Knowing that Hawthorne has a penchant for the macabre, I was curious about this story. I would have to say that the macabre isn’t necessarily a part of “The Snow Image” but it does include the supernatural – in a less frightening manner. Although from a child’s perspective, it could still include a scary situation but I would call it more of a sad situation than a scary one.

It’s easy to see Hawthorne’s purpose in showing how adults can squash the imagination of children – even adults with the best of intentions. Two children play in the snow and make a snow image of a little girl to be their sister/playmate. The cold wind gives life to the snow image and the three of them have a grand time playing.

That’s when the parents come in. Not knowing where the third child came from, they get a little concerned. The father, whom Hawthorne continuously refers to as “common-sensible”, is concerned about the third child staying out in the frigid air. While reading the story, one can see where this might end.

An interesting aspect of the story is the reaction of the children’s mother. Hawthorne puts her somewhere in between the children’s wonderful imagination and the common-sense of her husband as the quotation above indicates.

Towards the end, Hawthorne gets a little preachy by explaining the moral of the story. Ordinarily, this would bother me in a story; however, Hawthorne makes it work. Perhaps its because his moralizing is directed at adults instead of children.

While Christmas is not mentioned, “The Snow Image” could make a great addition to any winter/holiday story collection.

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Rappaccini’s Daughter (Deal Me In 2016 – Week 45)

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It was not love, although her rich beauty was a madness to him; nor horror, even while he fancied her spirit to be imbued with the same baneful essence that seemed to pervade her physical frame; but a wild offspring of both love and horror that had each parent in it, and burned like one and shivered like the other. Giovanni knew not what to dread; still less did he know warfare in his breast, alternately vanquishing one another and starting up afresh to review the contest. Blessed are all simple emotions, be they dark or bright! It is the lurid intermixture of the two that produces the illuminating blaze of the infernal regions.

This pretty much sums up Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter”. If anyone can mix love and horror, it’s Hawthorne. I suppose Edgar Allan Poe could do it, too. And maybe even Stephen King but I haven’t read much of his work.

What makes the love and horror mix in this story so great is Hawthorne’s eloquent writing. It’s what I’ve come to expect from him and I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed. Definitely not with this story. In fact I would take the writing over the plot.

It’s not a bad plot. Dr. Rappaccini reminds me of Dr. Frankenstein if he were a botanist presiding over his own Garden of Eden. His desire to go beyond science into the supernatural provides the horror to his daughter Beatrice and Giovanni’s love.

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I read this story when I selected the Seven of Spades for Week 45 of my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. It’s included in my copy of The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Wives of the Dead

Deal Me In – Week 36

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Given Nathaniel Hawthorne’s penchant for the eerie and macabre, I wasn’t surprised to find he had a short story called “The Wives of the Dead”.  While an excellent story with great writing (that part didn’t surprise me either), I wouldn’t say that it registers with the scary factor so much as the melancholy factor.

Mary and Margaret, two sisters-in-law, both mourning their husbands who are brothers, sit in their parlor by the fireplace. Instead of action in the story, Hawthorne puts much heart and emotion into it.

The cold light of the lamp threw the shadows of the furniture up against the wall, stamping them immovably there, except when they were shaken by a sudden flicker of the flame. Two vacant armchairs were in their old positions on opposite sides of the hearth, where the brothers had been wont to sit in young and laughing dignity, as heads of families; two humbler seats were near them, the true thrones of that little empire, where Mary and [Margaret] had excercised in love a power that love had won.

Both sisters eventually learn pieces of information that they are afraid to disclose to the other. I found this story to resemble O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”.  By no means as happy as that Christmas classic, the sisters each make a sacrifice of sort not knowing the full picture that the reader is able to see.

I read this story when I drew the King of Spades for Week 36 of my Deal Me In 2015 short story project. My Deal Me In 2015 list can be seen here.  Deal Me In 2015 is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.