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ELLEN E. WESTBROOK Exposing the Verisimilar: Hawthorne's "Wakefield" and "Feathertop" Shall I confess the truth? At its present point of vivification, the scarecrow reminds me of some of the lukewarm and abortive characters, composed of heterogeneous materials, used for the thousandth time, and never worth using, with which romance-writers (and myself, no doubt, among the rest) have so over-peopled the world offiction. ("Feathertop") akefield" (1835) and "Feathertop" (1852) are improbable tales that nevertheless engage our belief in their own peculiar veracity. The narrators of these tales draw authority from conventions of moralized prose and romance that allow as probable what we do not expect within our everyday experience nor, by extension, in novelistic modes of fiction. We tentatively accept the narrator's claim in the earlier tale that a meaningful character will emerge from his announced imaginative activity because explicit fictionalizing is a familiar convention of romance and because explicit narrative judgment is a familiar convention of moralized prose. Likewise, we tentatively accept the narrator's claim in the last of Hawthorne's short fictions that inhaling a magical pipe brings a scarecrow to life, and that this show of life speaks to our own, because we grant to certain kinds of fiction latitude for such unnatural events. But these narrators also call into question the authority of their claims for the truths of moralized prose and romance as well as the authority of our own perceptions and Arizona Quarterly Volume 45 Number 4, Winter 1989 Copyright © 1989 by Arizona Board of Regents issn 004-1610 Ellen E. Westbrook judgments about those narratives. One narrator heavily censures Wakefield for threatening to escape from the plot that the narrator attempts to impose, while both remind us that their protagonists are not real. What are we to make of our engagement with these two characters who at times seem rejected by the narrators who engage us with them? On what basis does that engagement become credible to us as readers? Richard Brodhead usefully addresses the implications of this play between genres in his analysis of Hawthorne's technique in the longer prose works. In his later work, Hawthorne deliberately combines the mimetic techniques of the novel and the non-mimetic techniques of romance. Both Hawthorne and Melville, Brodhead suggests, "do not simply include different literary modes in their works; they play them off against each other, and ... in such a way that each mode reveals the imaginative basis of the other's fictions and tests their capacities as vehicles of truth" (22-23). Brodhead describes, here, a competitive play between the authority of two genres. The contest in turn becomes the basis for a verisimilar narrative that exceeds the conventions of either genre. This broader basis for narrative intelligibility is what Jonathan Culler calls the "conventionally natural," and it "involves an implicit or explicit claim that one is not following literary convention or producing texts which find their intelligibility at the level of generic vraisemblance," whereby a text may call attention to the illusionary authority of the laws of one genre to assert its authority at a higher level (148). By juxtaposing novelistic and romance styles, Hawthorne exposes each as structured by conventions that we use to order what we perceive. The verisimilitude of the conventionally natural entails, then, a narrative self-exposure by means of which texts "call attention to themselves as fictions. . . . not to discredit themselves but to heighten our consciousness of the imaginative process through which their images of reality come into being" (Brodhead 23). "Wakefield" and "Feathertop" enact such a narrative self-exposure well before Hawthorne's longer prose works, and their form of verisimilitude thereby rests upon the reader's interpretative engagement with dispelling the illusionary authority of conventions associated with different modes. In all of Hawthorne's tales, verisimilar fictional worlds are generated from an essential engagement between mimetic and nonmimetic references; what we loosely call "realism" is integral to his form of romance (Westbrook 1989). Hawthorne's thematic treatment Exposing the Verisimäar of the relationship between imaginative and everyday-world perception is related, of course, to the structure of his fictional realities. But how he develops those specific themes is also...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 1-23
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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