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Monika Elbert Poe and Hawthorne as Women’sAmanuenses HesterPrynneis the greatnemesisofwoman.Sheis the KNOWINGLigeiarisen diabolic from the grave. ... And with Hester, after Ligeia, woman becomes a nemesisto man. ... ...Thewoman herself may be as nice as milk, to all appearance,like Ligeia. But she is sendingoutwaves of silent destruction of the faltering spirit in men, all the same. She doesn’tknow it. She can’t even help it. But she does it. The devil is in her. D. H. Lawrence, Studiesin ClarsicAm‘canLiteratun As is often the case with D. H. Lawrence’scontroversial and sometimes maddening study of nineteenthcentury American literature, these observationsare remarkablyastute,’ and theyhave paved the way for many gender studies of Hawthorne and of Poe. This essay is concerned with Lawrence’suncannily perceptivecomparison between Hawthorne’sHester and Poe’s Ligeia and also between Dimmesdale and Ligeia’s husband. In the lastthirtyyears,gendercriticsof Hawthorne and Poe alike have debated whether the authors empower or disempower their female characters -whether or not the voices of their female protagonists are silenced or validated. It seems logical, then, to compare, as Lawrence does, Ligeia and Hester, the female characters whose powers have been most hotly debated. In the case of Hawthorne, such critics as Michael Ragussis, Louise DeSalvo, and David Leverenzhave ultimatelyviewed Hesterashushed, a description Jamie Barlowe extends beyond Hawthorne’s female characters to the female school of critics.* In contrast, Nina Baym and Leland Person both feel that Hawthorne identifies with the creativitythat he assigns to He~ter.~ PoescholarslikeElizaRichardsandKarenWeekes similarly identify a mirroring effect between women’s spirit and Poe’s sense of imagination. Richards maintains that “Poehimself performs a ‘feminine’poetry which simultaneouslymirrors and upstages their own practices” and believes that, in his poems, Poe “drains women of their poetic potencywhile claimingthat the transferof powers is in the spirit of feminine mimicry.” WeekespointstoPoe’screativenarcissism andsees in the author a type of artistic cynosure. His poeticmeditationsaboutwomen are finallya means to accesshis own poetic powers: ”Ratherthan his idealasa partner, LigeiaisPoe’sideal of himself.” Using the example of Ligeia, Weekes shows the threat of the strong, sexualized dark lady in the Poe canon: “Ligeiahas her own voice; she writes poetry,and by havingher husband recite. ..even placesher words in hism ~ u t h . ” ~ Both LelandPerson and Cynthia Jordan suggest that, for Poe, there is a woman’s storydying to get out. According to Person in Aesthetic Headaches, “Ligeiaand MadelineUsher resisteffortsto suppress,reform, or kill them.”Recently,however, Person has been moreambivalentaboutLigeia’spower:“Ligeia... represents a clear field, or blank page, on which the narrator can stage his verbal construction of a woman.”ForJordan, though, woman seems to triumph because she finally cannot be hushed. Hawthorne and Poe are able to “tell both s t e ries”-to get to the story“ofrecoveryand restoration , the woman’sstory”-and thus achievea type of earlyfeminist revision? Followingup onJordan’sreading of the “second story”in ”TheCustom-House,”Iseeboth Poe and Hawthorne as driven by a desire to get woman’sstoryright, or at least to try to empower the hushed woman.Although these male authors were interestedin the domesticplotsof sentimen- 22 Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism tal women writers (marriage, male/female relationships , finding a home, furniture), they were not simply “appropriating”woman’s story to become successful in the marketplace. In Hawthorne ’s “Custom-House”introduction, the moonlight passage is fraught with reference to domestic items, and from this realm of the familiar, Hawthorne weaves his theory of the romance: “There is the little domestic scenery of the wellknown apartment. . . . A child’s shoe; the doll, seated in her little wicker carriage; the hobbyhorse ;-whatever, in a word, has been used or played with, during the day, is now invested with a quality of strangeness and remoteness.”6Similarly ,Poe’sfascinationwith dkcor and the arrangement of domestic settings in “The Philosophy of Furniture” and “TheFall of the House of Usher” and Hawthorne’s detailed descriptions of interiors of houses in “TheBirth-Mark ask to be compared . Although Person feels that “Poe’s tales aboutwomen parody the intended effectsof separate sphere ideology” to the extent that “theAngel in the House becomes the Dead Wife in the Basement,” there is an arguable attempton Poe’s and Hawthorne’s part to fathom...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1754-6095
Print ISSN
1947-4644
Pages
pp. 21-27
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-07
Open Access
No
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