Sunday, November 2, 2014

Hawthorne and Women

Here's my Sunday morning sketch of Melville's great literary hero, Nathaniel Hawthorne. There's nothing like lying in bed in your sailboat with crackers and a cup of coffee, getting pencil shavings everywhere.

Naughty Nathaniel Hawthorne, by eva
I have Hawthorne on the brain again, as the young women I work with are reading The Scarlet Letter for freshman comp. For the moment, they're struggling with the text, which I suspect is because they're being asked to start reading the book with the chapter "The Prison Door" instead of the funny and completely subversive "Introductory" in which Hawthorne 1) trashes all his eminent colleagues at the Customs House, 2) makes snide comments about the nascent federal government, and 3) backstabs his Puritan ancestors. So punk rock, that Hawthorne.

Oh, wait. That's probably why they don't let college students start with the introductory. It would be too much fun.

So I'm giving them an alternate reading supplementary to The Scarlet Letter: Catholic monk-turned-psychotherapist Thomas Moore's wonderful The Soul of Sex, which uses Hawthorne's Hester to explain how our competing American obsessions with sexual imagery and prudery are linked: both deriving from our failure to establish truly intimate, sensual relationships.

As you might imagine, intimate relationships were never a problem for Hawthorne, who had an intensely romantic, passionate relationship with his wife.  (And if everyone could do that, there'd be no divorce court.)  Hawthorne's brave Hester Prynne is prominently featured in Moore's book. And boy, does he nail Roger Chillingworth. Though at this point, I sometimes don't know who's more exasperating - Roger Chillingworth or Arthur Dimmesdale. Chillingworth is truly villainous, but Arthur is such a hypocrite. They're both so deceptive! But hey, no deception, no novelistic heroines.