THE SINS OF THE FATHERS by Frederick C. Crews


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Frederick Crews, who spoofed literary critics in The Pooh Perplex, has written a serious critical study of Hawthorne. He has taken a contemporary tack in assessing a pre-twentieth century author -- he applies Freudian tenets to probe to the heart of Hawthorne's emotional themes with conviction, care and insight. His main thesis is that the ambiguity of Hawthorne's stories cannot be explained in moral or religious terms. Behind most of Hawthorne's themes, Crews says, are innuendoes of repressed desires, often involving Oedipal struggles or incest. What fascinates, and convinces Crews, is Hawthorne's ""evasiveness about ultimate truth and (a) meticulous concern with the ironies of motivation."" Crews does not stray in his detailed study of the stories and novels, and any quibbling with his subtle interpretations and even interpolations falls in the face of accumulated evidence. In Crews' words, Hawthorne, in writing of history, ancestry, God, or Satan, makes an ""extension of egotism over the whole expanse of nature."" The most controversial part of the book claims that Hawthorne's very obsessions forced the breakdown of his art. As the characters pale in the later works, and the surface becomes sweeter and more confused, the obsessive themes are cloaked with greater sophistry. Yet, according to Crews, they are revealed more and more as mirror images of Hawthorne's own anguish and guilt. Apparently, Hawthorne lost faith in art as a releaser of the demons. It is a provocative idea. The book is beautifully written and if there is a battle over The Sins of the Fathers, the odds are against any attackers.

Pub Date: April 28th, 1966
Publisher: Oxford