HAWTHORNE'S SECRET: An Un-Told Tale by Philip Young


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Well, Lord Byron did commit incest with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh; Chateaubriand's passion for his sister Lucile had an incestuous tinge; and Sartre (an only child) found brother-sister love supremely appealing. But Hawthorne If Young were a district attorney, instead of a literary critic, his case for incestuous doings between Hawthorne and his sister Elizabeth (""Ebe"") could be dismissed out of hand for lack of hard evidence. But as a psychoanalytic fantasy and a bold romantic commentary on Hawthorne's life and art, Young's work has much to recommend it. What about those twelve strange years of seclusion, after graduating from Bowdoin, in his old room in Salem? What about the impenetrable secrecy with which Hawthorne shielded his innermost self from everyone, including his wife Sophia? What about the relentless hostility Ebe (who never married) showed toward Sophia? And then the mysterious sinful ancestor, Nicholas Manning, who was convicted in absentia of ""incestuous carriage"" with his sisters Anstis and Margaret at Salem in 1680. These women were, it seems, condemned to wear capital Is on their breasts--and so the original Scarlet Letter was I rather than A (the court records, which Hawthorne doubtless knew, also mentions a ""Red Couler wherewith the [Manning] bed was much stained""), and Arthur Dimmesdale is really Nathaniel Hawthorne. Further parallels, fanciful or otherwise, between Hawthorne's putative crime and his guilt-ridden fiction are numerous. In ""Alice Doane's Appeal""--perhaps his earliest tale--he presents an incestuous triangle, as he does in the unfinished Septimius Felton. The various ""dark ladies"" in his work, such as Beatrice Rappaccini, evoke Ebe Hawthorne. And so on. Young sometimes slips off the deep end (Hawthorne's boyhood foot injury was a ""Delphic sign"" of his Oedipal future), but in general he sticks to the path of conceivable, if not believable, speculation. Should provide some flavorful grist for academic mills.

Pub Date: Aug. 29th, 1984
ISBN: 0879235152
Publisher: Godine