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A MASQUE OF LOVE AND DEATH DARREL ABEL THREE quarters of a.century ago The Marble Faun rivalled The Scarlet Letter in popularity, but it is now the least read of Hawthorne's romances. It used to be admired as an elegant guidebook to Italy, but readers now agree with Henry James that the impression it gives of Italy is "factitious." Parvenu Americans of the Gilded Age relished its comments on Italian art, but these are now deplored as mere decorative embellishments which clog the narrative. Nineteenth-century readers prized The Marble Faun chiefly for its cloudy allegorical suggestiveness; they delighted to read it as an edifying puzzle, a Christmas pie full of moral sugarplums. It was, as E. P. Whipple said, "a labyrinth of guesses," in which biased interpreters followed such different clues that they were led to discoveries of meaning sometimes flatly contradictory to each other. Thus, Father A. F. Hewitt, writing in the Catholic World in 1885, found in the romance a record of Hawthorne's being "brought face to face with Catholicism, having his mind freed to a considerable extent from Protestant prejudices"; whereas Jessie K. Curtis, writing in the Andover Review a few years later, asserted that the book represents "Protestantism facing Popery." (These apparently conflicting views are perhaps not irreconcilable, as we shall see, although such opinions are so explicit that they express merely part-truths about the romance.) Because the book was thus overvalued for its genteelism and didacticism , it is now seldom read; such extrinsic attractions are no longer thought to be the proper ground of interest in fiction, and nineteenthcentury moral precepts and art appreciations have slight appeal for twentieth-century readers. Academic critics continue, however, to give The Marble Faun some attention, but not to expound its moral teaching and art commentary . Modern criticism is mainly of two sorts: either it is what Hawthorne called "that inflexible and exceedingly dangerous species of criticism" which insists upon "bringing his fancy-pictures almost into positive contact with the realities of the moment," "exposing them to too close a comparison with the actual events of real lives"; or it is an explication of The Marble Faun as symbolic narrative, moral but not moralistic in the narrow sense of the older criticism·, presenting a moral vision of life, but not pretending to any specific moral utility or practical tendency in influencing conduct. Criticism of the first sort is a relentless pursuit of particularity, which, as Hawthorne complained, "looks too closely at the wrong side 9 Vol. XXIII, no. 1, Oct., 1953 10 UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY of the tapestry"-that is, endeavours to find a literal meaning for the book by seeking a factual reference for its characters and events. This attempt to force Hawthorne's romances to an extreme of particularity is as misguided as the attempt of nineteenth-century moralists to force them to an extreme of abstract generalization. Criticism which interprets The Marble Faun as symbolic narrative follows Hawthorne's intention. He said that The Marble Faun was designed to bear "a certain relation to human nature and human life," but this design is far different from the intention of a novelist (Hawthorne refused to accept the label) who attempts circumstantial transcription of chapters of actual life. Hawthorne felt that essential significances are implicit in the facts which are the ground of their existence: "A high truth, indeed, fairly, finely, and skilfully wrought out, brightening at every step, and crowning the final development of a work of fiction, may add an artistic glory, but is never any truer, and seldom any more evident, at the last page than at the first." This study will explore the symbolism of characters in The Marble Faun, and will examine the implications of the situation in which the characters are involved. I Hawthorne was an habitual idealist, who apparently saw the world as the projection of an idea in the mind of God; in "The Hall of Fantasy," for example, he envisaged the possibility that Heaven would consist of immediate union with the divine idea-that is, of emancipation from physical modes of perception which require the material world as an object of contemplation. Although...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 9-25
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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