The old social democratic literary critic and editor of "Dissent", Irving Howe, once noted that Mark Twain, and his post-Civil War works represented a dramatic break from the Euro-centric ante bellum literary establishment. And on this question I agree with him. As I do on his choice of Nathaniel Hawthorne as an exemplar of that tradition. Certainly his most famous work, "The Scarlet Letter", reflects that European influence, as do the collected short stories under review here.
As the reader, perhaps, knows Hawthorne made his living writing short stories for the women reader-oriented literary magazines of the day long before he wrote "The Scarlet Letter" and some of these have turned out to be classics of the early American Republic. Moreover, and this is one of his attractions for me, I know virtually every place where the action of the short stories takes place from the Merrymount May Day pole to the granite mountains of New Hampshire and beyond. More importantly, I know the weight, the dead weight of that grinding Puritan foundation that drove much of the early American experience here in New England. Hawthorne, in short, knows where the WASP-ish bodies are buried and is here to tell one and all the tales. Sometimes with pathos, sometimes with gothic effects, but always with a sense of some underlying moral purpose. You see Hawthorne too is smitten and bitten by that same Puritan ethos and that is the secret to the power of his writing.
As is usually the case with compilations, literary or otherwise, not all the work here is top-shelf. The best, and most representative to my mind, are the high Puritan "The Minister's Black Veil, the chilling "The White Old Maid', the swamp Yankee classic "Peter Goldthwaite's Treasure", the prophetic "The Birthmark", the Gothic classic "Rappaccini's Daughter", and another high Puritan classic "The Maypole of Merrymount.