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Mosses from an Old Manse (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – 3 Apr 2003

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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library Inc; New edition edition (3 April 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812966058
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812966053
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.5 x 20.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,760,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was born in Salem, Massachusetts, and made his ambition to be a writer while still a teenager. He graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine, where the poet Longfellow was also a student, and spent several years travelling in New England and writing short stories before his best-known novel The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850. His writing was not at first financially rewarding and he worked as measurer and surveyor in the Boston and Salem Custom Houses. In 1853 he was sent to Liverpool as American consul and then lived in Italy before returning to the US in 1860, where he died in his sleep four years later. Mary Oliver is the author of eleven books of poetry, including American Primitive, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; New and Selected Poems, which won the National Book Award; and House of Light, which won the Christopher Award and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Vittorio Caffè on 25 April 2010
Format: Paperback
I don't think there's much to be said about Hawthorne; though I have a hunch that many think he's the author of The Scarlet Letter and that's the end of it. Well, he was an outstanding short story writer, admired by Poe who was the supreme short story writer. And these stories may be as mesmerizing as Poe's. Well, maybe these are things everybody knows. I'd like then to point out a story in this collection which really surprised me, that is, P.'s Correspondence. To Hawthorne it was a sort of literary joke; but by writing that he started something bigger than that, as some think (and I'm one of them) that this is the first alternate history tale. You just try it, and see if I'm wrong.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 7 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Allegories of doom, gloom, and progress 26 Jun. 2005
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on
Format: Paperback
First published in 1846, Hawthorne's second collection includes 26 stories, most of them written after the publication of the second (1842) edition of "Twice-Told Tales," as well as "Young Goodman Brown" and "Roger Malvin's Burial," two great tales from the 1830s that were inexplicably left out of the earlier book.

The only "new" piece (that is, the only one not previously published in a periodical) is the opening sketch, which took Hawthorne nearly a year to write; it is a leisurely tour of the "old Manse," his newly acquired historical estate in Concord and Emerson's childhood home. Interesting mostly from a biographical perspective, the essay tries hard--but largely fails--to share with the reader Hawthorne's enthusiasm for his new home. The rest of the volume, fortunately, is filled with grand, eerie, humorous, and memorable allegories. Every reader and critic has his or her own favorites, but a few stand out for their uniqueness.

"A Select Party" recounts a dinner hosted by a "Man of Fancy" in "one of his castles in the air"; the guests are such improbable personages as "an incorruptible Patriot; a Scholar without pedantry; a Priest without world ambition, and a Beautiful Woman without pride or coquetry." The thoughts and desires of the partygoers are as ethereal as the clouds they inhabit. In a similar vein, "The Intelligence Office" is a comic pre-Kafkaesque allegory of a parade of customers who seek the whereabouts (and the worth) of their long-lost desires; only a man seeking Truth unveils the Intelligencer as "merely delusive," a bureaucrat who makes wishes come true by simply acknowledging, not fulfilling, them. "The Celestial Rail-road," the full implications of which I appreciated only after a second reading, is a retelling of "Pilgrim's Progress," in which devilishly clever entrepreneurs have repackaged Christian's journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and to the Celestial City as a Disneyland-style theme park and tourist attraction.

Some of the stories can be read as prototypes in the genres of horror and science fiction. In the futuristic "Earth's Holocaust," a great bonfire is lit to "consume every human and divine appendage of our mortal state": medicine, liquor, literature, weapons, money, art, jewelry, scriptures--so that there "is far less both of good and evil." "The Artist of the Beautiful" pits Owen, a watchmaker who struggles to create a true-to-life mechanical butterfly, against a powerful village blacksmith; both contenders vie for the attentions of a beautiful woman in a classic struggle of intelligence and beauty versus technology and brute strength.

Two of Hawthorne's most well-known tales--"The Birth-mark" and "Rappaccini's Daughter"--are unsettling in their macabre Poe-like finales. Both feature scientists whose quest for what can be discovered override moral considerations of whether something should be done: the alchemist in the first story concocts a method to remove a birthmark from his wife's cheek; the second tale pits two rivals who conduct their academic warfare with potions and antidotes, using one's daughter and the other's apprentice as unwitting intermediaries. Their similar endings, while predictable, are disturbingly bleak visions of modernity.

When this collection was reissued in 1854, Hawthorne wrote that he no longer understood the point he was making "in some of these blasted allegories, but I remember that I always had a meaning--or, at least, thought I had." In spite of his protests, obvious themes do emerge: Hawthorne's mistrust of progress, his disdain for moral absolutism and his Puritan heritage, and his fascination with the elusive nature of evil. What will strike readers willing to wade through Hawthorne's intricate, highly wrought prose is how modern and relevant many of these stories still seem.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Extreme high quality product 1 Sept. 2009
By Bianca F. Jesus - Published on
Format: Paperback
This would be a good book to spend your money on. This product has high quality paper cover and pages. And most importantly, Hawthorne is a very gifted author, and "Mosses from an old manse" is an accurate selection of his best works.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Once More, With Soul 15 July 2007
By Slokes - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nathaniel Hawthorne had a leaning towards humility, phony or not. After calling his previous collection of short stories "Twice-Told Tales" (1837), he went the lichen route with his next installment, calling his 1846 collection "Mosses From An Old Manse". Get out that scraper? Not quite.

Unlike "Twice-Told Tales", a collection of somewhat hit-and-miss stories that owes some of its culture notoriety to its quaint title and much of the rest of it to one story ("The Minister's Black Veil"), "Mosses" catches Hawthorne's engaging genius at full flower. Right from the first of the Manse stories, the wonderful Poe-like "The Birthmark", about a scientist who risks losing his lovely bride in pursuit of perfection, Hawthorne shows himself in utter command: "In his grasp the veriest clod of earth assumed a soul."

Actually, Hawthorne begins the demonstration earlier than in his first proper story, with his introductory sketch about the house where he composed his stories, "The Old Manse" in Concord, Massachusetts. It's the only piece here that didn't see prior publication, and has Hawthorne ruminating, lightly but memorably, about the perishability of human thought. It also establishes the strong ambiance of time and place, crusty New England in its post-Puritan period, that undergirds much of what follows.

"Genius, indeed, melts many ages into one, and thus effects something permanent, yet still with a similarity of office to that of the more ephemeral writer," he explains.

More false humility? Maybe. But Hawthorne gives the impression, here and elsewhere in "Manse", of being utterly sincere. It's his blessing and curse. Even when he writes a story where the allegory, the moral point of the matter, is developed clearly enough, he feels a need to underscore his points with narrative rumination. At least he doesn't capitalize key words as he did in "Twice-Told Tales".

Yet unlike the stories in "Tales", which are often quite beautiful but easier to reduce, there is greater ambiguity and depth in "Manse". You have to take Hawthorne's messaging here with a grain of salt. Sure, there's a point in "The Birthmark", about being content with nature's imperfections, but there's also sympathy for the erring, striving doctor that complicates the picture, and connects it up with Hawthorne's own vocation.

One of the last stories here, "The Artist Of The Beautiful", is a marvelous bookend in that regard, regarding the attainment of perfection, and as open-ended a story as Hawthorne ever wrote. It's a crushing tale, and yet quite positive, a miracle of creation by itself.

In between, Hawthorne's variety is on full display, as it was in "Twice-Told Tales", only the work is uniformly better. Not only do you have a stronger body of celebrated stories, like "Young Goodman Brown" and "Roger Malvin's Burial", but the less-heralded stories are nearly all brilliant. No dated bits of patriotic ephemera like "Gray Champion" or strained symbolism like "The Maypole Of Merry Mount" to be found here. You get instead inspired bursts of stirring melancholy ("The Christmas Banquet", "Feathertop") alleviated by clever gusts of humor ("Mrs. Bullfrog", "The Celestial Railroad"), and everywhere a modulated appreciation for the complexity of the human condition. "Earth's Holocaust" may be an ur-text for American conservativism, but then there's the transcendental strain that enlivens "Fire Worship".

A couple of stories here feel overwritten, but you will get that with such a large body of work, not to mention Hawthorne's anxiety to please. Overall, the tales and sketches of "Old Manse" is a stirring display of how much a great writer can capture of life, ironic given how many of the stories contemplate (and in a roundabout way, celebrate) the limitations of human imagination. A thing of joy, "Manse" holds its own alongside any of Hawthorne's great novels.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Gems in the Moss 18 April 2011
By Eric Wilson - Published on
Format: Paperback
A longtime Nathaniel Hawthorne fan, I was thrilled to find a hundred-year-old copy of "Mosses from an Old Manse." I appreciate his longer works, such as "The Scarlet Letter" and "The Blithedale Romance," but I have a particular affinity for his short stories. And this volume contains some true gems in the moss.

As always, Hawthorne wrote for a moral and a purpose. Coming from a time of Puritans and religious hypocrisy (and I'm not saying we are much different), he had a way of pinpointing some of these things through his short stories. In "The Birthmark," he deals with vanity. "Young Goodman Brown" is haunting and hearkens to the Salem Witch Trials, which is understandable, considering Hawthorne came from Salem. "The Celestial Railroad" gives a new spin on "Pilgrim's Progress," while "Egotism; or, The Bosom Serpent" deals with some dark spiritual things. There is a lot of moralizing here, but Hawthorne's way with words and his insights into human nature make them somehow more palatable, if not downright addicting. And we find a more playful side in stories such as "Mrs. Bullfrog" and "Drowne's Wooden Image."

Yes, Hawthorne demands an investment of attention and time, but he rewards those who make that investment by serving up some entertaining and thought-provoking short stories. We get a glimpse into his mind, into his era, and into the struggle between holy and profane through all generations. No wonder I love this guy's writing.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
salem recidivus 22 Jan. 2014
By andronicus - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
superb edition...this is a small masterpiece of writing that includes many of the master's greatest stories,,,whets one appetite for more.
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