Questions of influence, masking, space, biography, and queerness continued to be of central concern in Hawthorne criticism. The year brought fresh inquiries as well into how Hawthorne’s children built on their father’s reputation as they attempted to build audiences for their own writing.
The most refreshing critical work of the season is a biography not about Nathaniel Hawthorne directly but about his perennially bankrupt and dissolute son, Julian. Gary Scharnhorst’s Julian Hawthorne: The Life of a Prodigal Son (Illinois) offers readers an entertaining and incisive study of the impishly likable boy of Hawthorne’s American Notebooks who grew into “one of the most prolific—or profligate—authors in the history of American letters and a barometer of change in the literary climate.” Scharnhorst’s biography not only enriches the landscape of the elder Hawthorne’s life; it extends its reach, via the son who could never quite escape the shadow of his father, through the rest of the 19th century and into the first years of the Great Depression. This book is thus a story of a middling writer who “tailored his tales to the demands of the market in the heyday of sensational fiction, the rise of newspaper syndicates and yellow journalism, and the emergence of ‘slick’ magazines.” But it is also the “cautionary” tale of “a writer who often exploited and [End Page 21] sometimes dishonored his distinguished surname”—or, as Scharnhorst wryly remarks, how “the apple fell from the tree and rolled downhill.”
Another of Hawthorne’s children—this time his youngest daughter, Rose—receives critical notation this year in Patricia A. Callahan’s “Finding Miss Dilettant: Rose Hawthorne Lathrop’s Recovered Novel” (NHR 40, i: 98–103). Though Rose’s novel was slight, it nevertheless “offers insight into Gilded Age art and culture” as well as the Hawthorne family’s lingering interest in the “values of New England Transcendentalism.”
David Greven adds to a growing body of criticism about Henry James’s 1879 biography of Hawthorne in “The Homoerotics of James’ Hawthorne: Race, Aesthetics, and American Masculinity” (ALR 46, ii: 137–57). Greven argues that James “subjects” his literary forebear “not only to an idiosyncratic and conflictual analysis but also to the homoerotic gaze.” Bringing psychoanalytic theory to bear on James’s assessment of Hawthorne’s life and work, Greven finds in the biography a postreconstruction intersection of narcissism, art, gender, sex, and, finally, race. James’s coded homoerotic admiration of Hawthorne leads him to portray “an American male writer who came of age in the Jacksonian era” but one who exchanges the expected masculine vigor of that age for the efforts of the “‘most beautiful organ,’ his fancy,” which bring “access to the unrationalizable, mysterious, shadowy realms of his imagination.”
In “‘I Seem to Myself Like a Spy or Traitor’: Transatlantic Dislocation in Hawthorne’s English Travel Writing” (NHR 40, ii: 40–59) James Hewitson unpacks Hawthorne’s travel notebooks to learn how the author understood the midcentury tensions between England and America, stasis and innovation, and “cultural coherence” and social strife. In the English Notebooks and Our Old Home Hawthorne paints an image of the mother country as “an ideal of cultural” sameness and stability, quite in contrast to his own nation, which stands on the doorstep of civil war. Through his portrayals of his ancestral land, replete with ancient architecture and traditions—and curiously devoid of the industrial growth that had unsettled life in Britain by the mid-19th century—Hawthorne “articulates his opposition to the political initiatives leading to the war” and even “to the idea of America itself.” While many antebellum travel writers similarly point toward English cathedrals and castles as evidence of America’s own progress and superiority, Hawthorne expresses much more ironic ambivalence. For him, that is, [End Page 22] “the qualities that [he] assigns to America to establish its superiority over Britain—its intelligence and innovative energy—are the very ones that he, at least while in America, treats with a great deal of ambivalence” and that he explores further in novels like The Blithedale Romance.
Sophia Hawthorne’s travel writing also gains notice this year in Julie E. Hall...