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Veils and Masks: The Blithedale Romance and The Sacred Fount by Elizabeth Keyser In a grim, weird story, a figure of a gay, laughing, handsome youth, or young lady, all at once, In a natural, unconcerned way, takes off Its face 11 ke a mask, and shows the grinning bare skeleton face beneath. Hawthorne, The American Notebooks Some upheld that the veil covered the roost beautiful countenance In the world; others ... that the face was the most hideous and horrible. ... It was the face of a corpse; It was the head of a skeleton. Hawthorne, The BIIthedale Romance Isn't It much rather the Mask of Life? It's the man's own face that's Death. James, The Sacred Fount Critics for years have been Intrigued by the James-Hawthorne relationship. And now, with the publication of Thaddeo Babliha's bibliographic essays and Robert Long's book on the early James's Indebtedness to Hawthorne, this relationship is receiving more systematic treatment. According to BabIIha, critics agree that Hawthorne's Miles Coverdale, the narrator of The BI Ithedale Romance, gave rise to a whole line of what F. 0. Matthlessen has called James's "super-subtle observers," a line that culminates In such late James characters as John Marcher, Lambert Strether, and the unnamed narrator of 2 The Sacred Fount. Like Coverdale, In James's description of Hawthorne's character as "the contemplative, observant, analytic nature ... having little at stake In life ... yet Indulging, In imagination, In a good many adventures," these characters sacrifice active participation in life for their theories or Impressions of it and often, In so doing, sacrifice or tamper with the lives of others as well. What remains to be explored, however, is why the theme of the unlived life or the character who prefers spectatorsh I ϕ to participation held such an appeal for James and Hawthorne. A closer examination of BI Ithedale and The Sacred Fount suggests tfiey were no more concerned with the unlived life than with the nature of life itself. 1. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The American Notebooks (Columbus: Ohio State UnIv. Press, 1972), p. 510, entry dated August 14, 1852, several months after Hawthorne completed The BIIthedale Romance, In which this donnée seems to have been used; Hawthorne, The BI Ithedale Romance (Columbus: Ohio State UnIv. Press, 1964), pp. 109-110, hereafter cited parenthetically In my text as JRj Henry James, The Sacred Fount (New York: Grove Press, 1953), p. 56, hereafter cited parenthetically In my text as SF. 2. Thaddeo K. Babl lha, The James-Hawthorne Relation, Bibliographical Essays (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980); Robert Emmet Long, The Great Succession; Henry James and the Legacy of Hawthorne (Pittsburgh: UnIv. of Pittsburgh Press, 1979); F. 0. Matthlessen, American Renaissance (1941; rpt. New York; Oxford UnIv. Press, 1968), pp. 297-98. For a summary of Matthlessen on this aspect of the James-Hawthorne relationship, see BabIIha, p. 56. 3. Henry James, Hawthorne (New York: Macmlllan, 1966), p. 116. For comparisons of Coverdale with John Marcher, Lambert Strether, and the narrator of The Sacred Fount, see BabIIha, pp. 186-90, 190-95, and 201-205. 101 As Maurice Beebe remarks, both novels open with the retirement of the narrators to pastoral settings: Coverdale to the Utopian community of BIIthedale, James's narrator to the country estate of Newmarch. Though BIIthedale Is self-consciously rustic and Newmarch consciously sophisticated, both societies are cut off from the general human community, and both pride themselves on this separateness. Both societies supposedly differ from society at large In their relative freedom from hypocrisy: according to Coverdale, the BI lthedal Ians are "of all creeds and opinions, and generally tolerant of all, on every imaginable subject" (BR, 63); James's narrator contends that society at Newmarch Is "concerned only with what was bright and open" (SF, 157). But as John C. Rowe says of Newmarch, "this pastoral world Is no more free and open than that of the exiled court in the Forest of Arden."^ In fact, the most striking resemblance between the two societies Is the disparity, In both cases, between appearances or pretensions and the reality they obscure. Both societies, In their combined Isolation and seeming...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 101-111
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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