25 June 2004

Hawthorne at 200

Once again I owe Mark Sarvas a debt of gratitude for reminding me of an important date (or, as he says, "more goddamned anniversaries!!!"): the bicentennial of Nathaniel Hawthorne's birth on July 4.

Personally, I'm fond of Hawthorne's death, not just because I was forced to read The Scarlet Letter as a freshman in high school, but because he paused to shuffle off this mortal coil in my own hometown, Plymouth, NH, with the only president New Hampshire has ever been allowed to send to Washington, Franklin Pierce, by his side (Hawthorne had written a biography of Pierce). Few people in Plymouth know that Hawthorne died there, and the inn where he died has long since rotted from memory.

If you hate Hawthorne because of what high school teachers did to you, try to open your mind for this bicentennial. Some of his novels can be a chore, but he wrote many magnificent (and magical) short stories, including "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment", "Rappaccini's Daughter", "The Celestial Railroad", the bizarre and magnificent "Wakefield", and "Earth's Holocaust", which begins with these sentences:
Once upon a time--but whether in the time past or time to come, is a matter of little or no moment--this wide world had become so overburthened with an accumulation of worn-out trumpery, that the inhabitants determined to rid themselves of it by a general bonfire. The site fixed upon, at the representation of the Insurance Companies, and as being as central a spot as any other on the globe, was one of the broadest prairies of the West, where no human habitation would be endangered by the flames, and where a vast assemblage of spectators might commodiously admire the show.