Hawthorne* is one of my all-time favorite American authors. Cultivated in the midst of unbelievable growth in our nation’s literature (this era known as the Romantic period), inspired by the Christian heritage of his Puritan ancestors, Nathaniel Hawthorne rose to fame as the author of The Scarlet Letter and as the greatest spokesman against transcendentalism (the definition of which movement, as found in the New Oxford American Dictionary, you can view at the end of this post**). Since I will start discussing The Scarlet Letter at the end of next week, I thought I’d give you an introduction to his writing by attaching three of my favorite short stories below, my ultimate favorite being “The Celestial Railroad.” I hope you enjoy reading them just as much as I did!
- “The Celestial Railroad” | Yes, this whole post is dedicated to my favorite stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, but “Celestial Railroad,” is, in my opinion, the crown jewel. Here the great American Romantic author throws forth some of his cleverest, most incisive criticism at the Transcendentalist philosophies of his day, in a form strikingly similar to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I believe this is one of my favorite short stories in any language ever written.
- “The Great Stone Face” | A young boy journeys out to find the fulfiller of a prophecy, ignoring those of earthly success along the way, but never realizes that he is the chosen one, as he always stayed humble and endlessly looked to God for his sustenance.
- “The Birthmark” | One of the most heartbreaking mad scientist stories (Frankenstein is still the most melancholy), Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” introduces us to a man who cannot love his wife because of a mark on her cheek, even though everyone else praises her as otherwise flawless. He begs his wife to let him perform an experiment on her, to try to create impeccable beauty. After the wife realizes that she will not satisfy her husband unless she submits, she does so, and the results fall in step with the scientist’s dreams and misplaced desires.
Though the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne is often, if not always, heavily ornate and a bit long-winded, I am confident that his appreciation for our Founders’ faith combined with his love of all things beautiful and true will never fail to instill “some sweet moral blossom” into your soul—and if you’d like to find the context of that reference, turn to the first chapter of The Scarlet Letter!
May 19, 2018
*All information pertaining to the life and work of Nathaniel Hawthorne was paraphrased from this book.
**Transcendentalism: An idealistic philosophical and social movement that developed in New England around 1836 in reaction to rationalism. Influenced by romanticism, Platonism, and Kantian philosophy, it taught that divinity pervades all nature and humanity, and its members heldprogressive views on feminism and communal living. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were central figures.