This essay was originally published in Symbiosis: A Journal of Anglo-American Literary Relations, Volume 12.2 (October 2008) 191–208
Topics and Keywords
Henry James, Hawthorne, The American Scene, national identity, New England, John Gibson Lockhart, Adam Blair
Only some four pages into his 1879 ‘biography’ of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James states: ‘Hawthorne was an unqualified and unflinching American’. But it is not as simple as that. For all his Americanism, Hawthorne’s style is not necessarily of America. So, a few pages later, ‘there is nothing imitative’ in Hawthorne’s literary portraits, James tells us, ‘but none the less, his work savours thoroughly of the local soil—it is redolent of the social system in which he had his being’ (Hawthorne: 4), which, James adds, ‘virtually offers the most vivid reflection of New England life that has found its way into literature’ (Hawthorne, 4). The questions of literary mimesis and national identity are thus established as intertwined, though as yet unresolved by James. Hawthorne is definitely American and his literature springs out of the country’s very soil, yet it is not imitative; it is not because, James would say, Hawthorne was no realist, but a romancer. Thus put, however, it is as if Hawthorne’s Romances managed to be realist despite themselves, or that James cannot but refer to the Romance in realist terms thus condemning his criticism to fall short of a full appreciation of Hawthorne’s preferred genre. Or is it that reality will not ultimately shed its romance? It is the question of this relationship that haunts Hawthorne and on whose answer hinges James’s troubled relationship with his country of birth.
About the author
Fabio L. Vericat, Universidad Complutense de Madrid