Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy 206th, Mr. Hawthorne!

From the reverse of this postcard: The Old Manse was built in 1769. It was the home of Rev. William Emerson and Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote "Nature" there. Hawthorne brought his young bride here in 1842 and made this charming residence famous with his "Mosses from Old Manse."

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts on July 4th, 1804. His name at birth was actually "Hathorne" - he added the w later. He rented his most famous residence, "The Old Manse," from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He and his wife, Sofia, raised their family there. They could see the the North Bridge, an important battle site in the first fight of the Revolution, from their back window. In fact, the house's builder and original owner, Rev. William Emerson, watched the fight with his family from the house.

We don't think of gothicism as an American tradition, but a review of American literary history quickly reveals a long line of Gothic writers from Charles Brockden Brown, to Poe, to Hawthorne, to James, to Faulkner, to McCarthy. Hawthorne's Gothic presentations of Puritans and early America have come to define our popular understanding of our founding more than perhaps any other writers. Sort of unfortunate, as the Puritans' better traits - such as egalitarianism and emphasis on literacy and education - have been overshadowed by Hawthorne's pictures of austerity. Still, considering his impact on our national consciousness, it seems appropriate that Hawthorne was born on the 4th of July.

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