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JENNIFER J. BAKER Hawthorne’s Picturesque at Home and Abroad N athaniel hawthorne spent many years searching for picturesque scenes in New England, England, Scotland, France, and Italy. His travel writings indicate that he followed conventional picturesque tourist routes and sought out popular destinations featuring ruins, cottages, tree-framed vistas, rugged terrain, and mixtures of heights, hues, and light­ ing. As an early participant in the nascent tourist industry in the northeast­ ern United States in the 1830s, he acquired the techniques of picturesque viewing as well as the standardized idiom for translating scenes into note­ book entries, sketches, and essays.1 When he used these conventions in his domestic and foreign travels, he made tourism itselfan explicit theme ofhis travel writing. His own sightseeing was modeled after English picturesque tourism, which had been based on late eighteenth-century aesthetic stand­ ards governing landscape painting and estate gardening. Hawthorne saw the English picturesque as an aristocratic mode ofcomposition that was im­ mensely appealing but in many ways at odds with an American ethos of so­ cial mobility: in his view, it privileged landscapes and standards of beauty produced by a hereditary landowning class and promoted the notion of a permanently poor class. His complicated relation to this aesthetic reflects his own ambivalence about English social stratification, and picturesque mo­ ments in his writing are often occasions to grapple with the powers and limi­ tations of an American rhetoric of social mobility and economic promise. As both a domestic and foreign tourist, Hawthorne had to contend with the ideological underpinnings of this aesthetic even as he found it compel­ ling. He often responded to this challenge by detaching the pictorial con­ ventions of the picturesque from his representations of white, native-born For their feedback and suggestions, I thankJoseph Rezek, Edward Cahill, Lloyd Pratt, the anonymous reviewer for the journal, and those in attendance at Boston University’s “Romanticism in the Atlantic World” conference. 1. Hawthorne undertook a tour ofNew England and upstate New York in 1832 and took smaller trips to various places in New England in the 1830s and 40s. He toured London and the English countryside from 1853 to 1857 and from 1859 to i860, and he traveled in France and Italy in 1858 and 1859. SiR, 55 (Fall 2016) 417 418 JENNIFER J. BAKER American men. In his writings based on travels in the northeastern United States, his picturesque figures tend to be European immigrants presumably fixed in their lowly positions. In his writings based on European travels, he also posits himself as a detached outsider, free to enjoy an aesthetic derived from a class system not his own. By aligning certain features of the pictur­ esque with Old World social hierarchy, Elawthorne effectively reinforces, by way of contrast, a positive vision of American social fluidity. Hawthorne offers one example ofthe various ways American writers and painters of his time embraced and revised an older English picturesque to articulate values they believed were distinctly American. But consistent with his understanding of the picturesque as a mode of composition that reveals its own operations, Hawthorne’s picturesque ratifies American ide­ als as it questions the process of their making. This questioning is particu­ larly dramatic in “Chiefly About War Matters” (1862), a late essay about a trip to Washington, D.C. and several Virginian battlefields during the Civil War. In this essay, the various modes of detachment that had enabled touristic pleasure in the face of derelict figures and scenes are no longer possible when he travels in the war-torn terrain of his own country. Not surprisingly, the picturesque conventions Hawthorne had previously linked to figures of Europeans and European immigrants (especially the Irish) emerge here in his description of fugitive slaves, reinforcing his alignment of this aesthetic with social stratification. But the picturesque also strikes him as surprisingly suited to the Confederate soldiers he encounters at a prison in Harper’s Ferry. Unlike the fugitive slaves and European immi­ grants, these soldiers are both U.S.-born and white, and yet they seem to Hawthorne incapable of improvement. When he compares these soldiers to European peasants content with their lowly positions, this picturesque­ ness belies the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 417-444
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-06
Open Access
No
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