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212Philosophy and Literature Secrets and Sympathy: Forms ofDisclosure in Hawthorne's Novels, by Gordon Hutner; ix & 245 pp. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988, $26.00. Nathaniel Hawthorne serves as the test case in Sensational Designs (1985),Jane Tompkins's forceful challenge to the canon of American literature. Her convincing thesis is that Hawthorne's early reputation was based on "friendship, family feeling, commercial gain, professional advancement" (p. 33). His various audiences' very concept of art is, as she calls it, "a contextual matter," undermining the very idea of an eternal, static set ofqualities that constitute a literary classic. If Hawthorne's career, in contrast to Susan Warner's, was launched by auspicious circumstances and friendships, Tompkins less satisfactorily generalizes her case to include subsequent generations' admiration of Hawthorne. Conceding there is no conspiracy, she admits that "interest and passion" cannot and should not be eliminated from literary evaluation (p. 4). Even if Warner's decline was a matter of social, political, commercial, and religious shifts ofvalue, why has Hawthorne's reputation remained high in spite of such shifts? Why did Gordon Hutner write this book, instead of one on Warner, where he would have had much less scholarship to wade through? Secrets and Sympathy is a thoughtful, well-written, thoroughly researched and cogendy argued analysis of the tide's two key concepts as they operate in the four major romances. The book is rich in additional insights into nineteenthcentury culture and into Henry James's extension of Hawthorne's concerns. This ambitious study's first chapter contextualizes the two key concepts in terms of nineteenth-century culture. The subsequent four chapters show "how the relation between secrets and sympathy elucidates such fundamental categories of literary study as the work as an expression of a writer's oeuvre, of genre and its changes, of a socially observable model for interpretation, and of the rhetorical relation between writer and reader" (p. 15). Hutner deftly relates TL· Scarlet Letter's "preoccupation with the concealed" to mid-century American values and conflicts: Hester's rebellious victim as a subjugated woman but also her being both celebrated and criticized as a Romantic , sovereign individual; Dimmesdale's ambivalent moral authority in antebellum America; Chillingsworth's "new cultural figure of aggrandizement"; and Pearl's "American innocence and unruliness—perhaps expressing the feared illegitimacy or inauthenticity ofa culture" (pp. 28—29). Hutner combines all this with a further insightful analysis of the "rhetoric of secrecy" by which Hawthorne both engages and frustrates his reader's apprehensive attention. Hutner analyzes TL· House oftL· Seven Gables as an exploration of the limits of genre and as Hawthorne's finally unsatisfactory "prophecy of the marriage between American virtues and enterprise." The "general political interest in Reviews213 the status of and challenges facing the individual" of TL· Blithedaie Romance again reveals the way "private anxieties register public tensions" (pp. 106, 102). And in TL· Marble Faun, "Hawthorne turns to die question of how sympathy may finally be achieved, how a manifold rhetoric of secrecy shapes a reader's response" (p. 148). This convincing book does even more and does it well, but I return to the larger questions with which I began. Interestingly, while considering the decline of popularity of what was once Hawthorne's most read book, TL· Marble Faun, Hutner speculates that "the response Hawthorne wants is but historically conditioned , even as he conceives of it as timeless and transcultural" (p. 150). Just as Tompkins fails to explain away Hawthorne's enduring reputation, instead assuming "that criticism creates American literature in its own image" (p. 199), Hutner looks squarely at the issue from the other side and apparendy does not see it. Every writer should consider three questions: why, how, and so what1? If Tompkins misses the how, her so what more than makes up for it. Hutner's why and how are just brilliant. Two out of three is well above average. Recommend this good book to your library. Buy it. For a variety of reasons, many of them illuminated by Secrets and Sympathy, Hawthorne remains central to our literature and to our culture, because he inspires this sort of "interest and passion." If the author also gets tenure...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 212-213
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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