While the year brings fewer book-length publications on Nathaniel Hawthorne, numerous articles and book chapters make significant contributions to the already voluminous scholarship devoted to his work. Criticism focusing on The Scarlet Letter and The Marble Faun dominates, and queer readings of various texts appear alongside deliberations featuring transatlanticism and aesthetics. Additionally, a special issue of the Nathaniel Hawthorne Review (38, ii) adds color and texture to a portrait of the Gothic Hawthorne. (The essays in this issue are discussed individually below.)
Channeling Freud and Lacan through the lens of queer theory, David Greven argues in The Fragility of Manhood: Hawthorne, Freud, and the Politics of Gender (Ohio State) that many of the author’s male characters are “provocative” and symbolic “extensions” of the Narcissus legend. These characters simultaneously embody “conflict with their own image” and “physically beautiful” but “morally dubious” personalities. Hawthorne expresses empathy for these complex, “beautiful young men,” characters at once attractive and repulsive because, among other things, they personify “fearfulness” at “falling under” the power of the gaze and “thematiz[e]” the act of “traumatic seeing and being seen.” Greven points out that Lacan’s revision of Freud “associates narcissism with the agressivity, rivalry, strife, and even suicidal despair” that stem [End Page 21] from a “primary encounter with one’s own image.” For Hawthorne, that encounter is further problematized by Jacksonian constructions of normative masculinity. In this “Janus-faced” study, which merges close reading of 19th-century texts (including a briefer discussion of Herman Melville) with psychoanalytic theory, Hawthorne triumphs as “a Freudian-Lacanian theorist of the visual” who “sees gender as unintelligible without the visual, and both gender and the visual as fundamentally imbricated.” Impressive in its reach, The Fragility of Manhood travels from Hawthorne’s short stories, including “The Gentle Boy,” “Roger Malvin’s Burial,” “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” to such key novels as The Blithedale Romance and Septimius Felton, concluding that, throughout Hawthorne’s oeuvre, readers witness “a constant struggle between conflicted modes” of expression and response, from “empathy and scorn” to “desire and revulsion” to “respectful distance and invasive intrusion.”
Judith P. Saunders’s “Nepotism in Hawthorne’s ‘My Kinsman, Major Molineux’: A Darwinian Approach to a Classic Text,” pp. 296–309 in Carsten Gansel and Dirk Vanderbeke, eds., Telling Stories: Literature and Evolution / Geschichte erzählen: Literature und evolution (De Gruyter), draws upon evolutionary theory to unpack Hawthorne’s classic tale, examining “the social context in which such favoritism manifests itself” to argue that the story sheds light on the “preferential treatment of relatives.” Saunders uses biological principles, specifically the ideas of kin selection and inclusive fitness, to understand why the Major invests in the young Robin. Hawthorne foregrounds the biological drive to extend the family line, but he also animates “the social impact of nepotism” and demonstrates the potential disadvantage of kin selection when the mob turns on the Major—and potentially Robin himself. Finally “a nepotistic strategist” by story’s end, Robin completes a socially savvy “cost-benefit analysis” and denies his kinship with Major Molineux as he witnesses the older man’s tarring and feathering—a “seemingly selfish” act that preserves the young boy and thus the family line, fulfilling the Major’s own Darwinian efforts and his goal of familial survival. “Uncoupling nepotistic loyalty from moral principle,” Saunders concludes, “Hawthorne’s story demonstrates emphatically that kin-directed altruism is situation-dependent,” with survival of the species, in this case [End Page 22] the family line, preserved through Robin’s “apparently disloyal conduct.” The young man, Saunders asserts, is ultimately the best kinsman on whom to bestow favor.
In “‘Mr. Higginbotham’s Catastrophe’: Race and Class Conflict in New England” (NHR 38, ii: 1–18) Leland S. Person explicates Hawthorne’s “slim and spare” yet “tantalizingly suggestive story,” which traces how a piece of community gossip “goes viral” as it passes from villager to villager. Placing the tale against contemporary conflicts about race and class—specifically “abolition and Irish-American politics”—in antebellum America, Person builds an interpretive structure around the scaffolding of Hawthorne’s thin plot, echoing the fashion in which the bit of...