Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Ambitious Guest


Deal Me In 2020 – Week 32

One September night, a family had gathered round their hearth, and piled it high with the driftwood of mountain streams, the dry cones of the pine, and the splintered ruins of great trees that had come crashing down the precipice. Up the chimney roared the fire, and brightened the room with its broad blaze. The faces of the father and mother had a sober gladness; the children laughed; the eldest daughter was the image of Happiness at seventeen; and the aged grandmother, who sat knitting in the warmest place, was the image of Happiness grown old.

What’s not to love about this opening paragraph and what’s not to love about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cozy little story “The Ambitious Guest” with a fatalistic mountain backdrop?


Every Hawthorne story I’ve read this year seems to be my favorite Hawthorne story – until I read the next one. It’s the same with this one. I would say that this one will be difficult to top but I’ve heard really good things about “Roger Malvin’s Burial” and that one is still somewhere “on deck”.

The above mentioned cozy family gathering is set in a tavern/inn and is interrupted by a guest who is in no way pompous but in every way likable even as he discusses all of his ambitions with the family. He elaborates on the American Dream and, for better or worse, one realizes how uniquely American this type of Dream is.

Then there’s the mountain that this tavern/inn is built against – a uniquely American “mountain”.

There are lots of good Hawthorne stories to read and they all are as timely today as they were approximately 200 years ago but I highly recommend this one. It’s included in a Hawthorne collection The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories. I read it when I selected the Four of Clubs for Week 32 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 28

When the doctor’s four guests heard him talk of his proposed experiment, they anticipated nothing more wonderful than the murder of a mouse in an air pump, or the examination of a cobweb by the microscope, or some similar nonsense, with which he was constantly in the habit of pestering his intimates.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” is a fable that explains why people in their twilight years retire to Florida. Well, OK, not really in the modern sense of this concept but maybe in an 1837 sort of way.

Dr. Heidegger gets four of his friends (three male and one female) who are getting up there in age to drink small amounts of water from the Fountain of Youth (most likely located in Florida). These friends’ passions begin to reignite the more they drink and the three men begin fighting over the one woman.

The humorous aspect of this story is the contrast between Dr. Heidegger’s detached observation and the four emotional perspectives of his subjects. As the magic water wears off, the doctor decides he doesn’t want anything to do with this potion. His four subjects run off to Florida to find more.

This story is included in The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read it when I selected the Ace of Hearts for Week 28 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Lady Eleanore’s Mantle

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 26

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Lady Eleanore’s Mantle” has a simplicity of plot that makes it fairy tale-like not to mention the titular item that seems to have magical powers. But it also has a resonance to modern times as the hooded cape is blamed for a smallpox epidemic:

There is no other fear so horrible and unhumanizing as that which makes man dread to breathe heaven’s vital air lest it be poison, or to grasp the hand of a brother or  friend lest the gripe of the pestilence should clutch him. Such was the dismay that now followed in the track of the disease, or ran before it throughout the town.

As with many of Hawthorne’s more “fantastical” stories, they maintain a depth that keeps the reader thinking – even after the story is over. And the fact that it can still ring so true after almost two centuries makes it that much more powerful.

This story is included in The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories. I read it when I selected the King of Hearts for my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Great Carbuncle

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 22

At nightfall, once in the olden time, on the rugged side of one of the Crystal Hills, a party of adventurers were refreshing themselves, after a toilsome and fruitless quest for the Great Carbuncle.

I had to look up what a carbuncle was and all I got was “a large boil”. Since that didn’t seem to align with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Great Carbuncle”, I dug a little deeper to find that a carbuncle is also the name of any red gemstone usually a garnet. This second definition fits with Hawthorne’s story. With the use of the word “Great”, I get the idea that this red gemstone is large in size.

A band of people of different backgrounds have come together to search for the Great Carbuncle in a fashion that reminds me of Ocean’s Eleven. The odd aspect is that while they are all traveling and searching together, they each have their own idea of what they will do with the treasure once they find it. There is never any real explanation as to how the little group got together but as they stop for the night, the story shifts focus to the married couple of the bunch. They seem to be the most genuine and the least arrogant; however, they still want the stone for themselves.

Themes of selfishness show up as the story takes us to a Raiders of the Lost Ark ending. For whatever reason, this story, written well before the advent of movies, made me think of specific movies. I guess everything that is old does become new again.

This story is included in the collection The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories. I read it when I selected the Three of Clubs for week 22 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.




Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne: My Kinsman, Major Molineux

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 20

“I say friend! will you guide me to the house of my kinsman, Major Molineux?”

Sometimes the journey is better than the destination. Sometimes the set-up is better than the punchline. This might describe Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”. But I don’t know if it’s a criticism of the story or if it might be the point.

The protagonist, Robin, arrives in town to find his kinsman so he can start a career of some sort. His search brings him in contact with numerous quirky characters who know of Robin’s kinsman but won’t exactly tell him where he can find him. The reader gets a feeling that Major Molineux isn’t who Robin thinks he is. Maybe the ending isn’t so much a disappointment to the reader as it is to Robin.

This is Nathaniel Hawthorne so the story is of course well-written. Is there a moral to the story as Hawthorne stories so often have? It might be a cheery nod to the Protestant Work Ethic.

This story is included in The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories. I read it when I selected the Five of Clubs for Week 20 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Birthmark

Deal Me In 2020 – Week 10

…our creative Mother, while she amuses us with apparently working in the broadest sunshine, is yet severely careful to keep her own secrets, and, in spite of her pretended openness, shows us nothing but results. She permits us, indeed, to mar, but seldom to mend, and, like a jealous patentee, on no account to make.

As Nathaniel Hawthorne often does, his short story “The Birthmark” melds together the material world and the spiritual world. And also as he often does, he doesn’t bring them together in perfect harmony.

“The Birthmark” is a story in which the reader gets a feeling from the beginning of what is probably going to happen and at least this reader wasn’t surprised. But then, it’s Nathaniel Hawthorne – so the reader still wants to go with him even if they know where he’s going.

Aylmer, a brilliant scientist, is puzzled by the birthmark on his wife’s face – a face that is otherwise perfect. He concocts a potion that will take away the birthmark when his wife drinks it. Meanwhile, Aylmer’s strange assistant Aminadab looks disdainfully on like some kind of Igor.

The heavens and the earth, the flesh and the spirit become antagonists down to the bitter end when the reader can’t help but ask Aylmer “What were you thinking!” or in the words of Aminadab “If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark.”

This story is included in the collection The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read it when I selected the Jack of Hearts for Week 10 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

Do you have a favorite Nathaniel Hawthorne story?





Posted in Short Stories

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

Posted in Short Stories

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.

Posted in Short Stories

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.

Posted in Short Stories

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.