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The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories (Signet Classics) Mass Market Paperback – 1 Aug 2006
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"He is an aesthetic solitary. His beautiful, light imagination is the wing that on the autumn evening just brushes the dusky window."--Henry James
He is an aesthetic solitary. His beautiful, light imagination is the wing that on the autumn evening just brushes the dusky window. Henry James"
About the Author
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts, the son and grandson of proud New England seafarers. He lived in genteel poverty with his widowed mother and two young sisters in a house filled with Puritan ideals and family pride in a prosperous past. His boyhood was, in most respects, pleasant and normal. In 1825 he was graduated from Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, and he returned to Salem determined to become a writer of short stories. For the next twelve years he was plagued with unhappiness and self-doubts as he struggled to master his craft. He finally secured some small measure of success with the publication of his "Twice-Told Tales" (1837). His marriage to Sophia Peabody in 1842 was a happy one. "The Scarlet Letter "(1850), which brought him immediate recognition, was followed by "The House of the Seven Gables" (1851). After serving four years as the American Consul in Liverpool, England, he traveled in Italy; he returned home to Massachusetts in 1860. Depressed, weary of writing, and failing in health, he died on May 19, 1864, at Plymouth, New Hampshire.
Ross C. Murfin, professor of English at and former provost of Southern Methodist University, has also taught at the University of Virginia, Yale University, and the University of Miami, where he was Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of such books as Swinburne, Hardy, Lawrence and the Burden of Belief and The Poetry of D. H. Lawrence: Texts and Contexts. He is coauthor, with Supryia Ray, of The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms (second edition) and series editor of Bedford/St. Martin's popular Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Hawthorne, with his Puritan ancestry, was obsessed with the idea of sin and what human beings do to conceal them from the community at large. I guess, in a way, he was concerned with hypocrisy. Hawthorne believed in the Biblical saying that noone could cast the first stone against anyone else because we all have our secret sins. You can tell he has disgusted by the Puritan way of life because it allowed no confession and no reconciliation. Everything not up to their moral par, all their desire and passion, was pushed down into their subconscious where they rotted. Like William Blake says, "Desire not acted upon, breeds a pestilance". The very act of suppressing desire makes it stronger.
In the story "The Birthmark" a woman named Georgiana is the most beautiful woman in the world, except for a birthmark on her cheek in the shape of a red hand. Her husband fixates on this harmless mark, believing it to be the symbol of all that is evil in the world. So he tries to destroy it with all his scientific knowledge and destroys her along with it.
In another story called "Egotism" a man is afflicted with a snake growing out of his bosom. It gives him the ability to see everyone's secret sins. "The Minister's Black Veil", one of his most famous, concerns a community's obsession and ultimate horror of their village priest wearing a black veil. Why is he wearing it they ask? What horrible sin could he have committed to feel ashamed to show his face? All it is a thin veil of lace but all their evil comes out in the face of it. Ironically, the people that have awareness of the evil in themselves manifest physical symbols of them which themselves and others can see. Thereby excluding themselves from hypocrisy because their souls are on public display. "Young Goodman Brown" is also included here and is a nightmarish meeting with the Devil.
Some of the more haunting stories that divert away from the Puritan psyche are "Wakefield" in which a husband one day walks out of his house and never goes back home. He lives close by his wife and passes by her in the street for decades but never approaches her. There is no rhyme or reason for doing this. In "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" the fountain of youth is presented to some elderly guests with surprising results. "The Ambitious Guest" is a cautionary tale about seizing the day. "The Maypole of Merry-Mount" is a surreal tale of circus entertainers coming to found a colony in the new world and their inevitable confrontation with the Puritans.
The only story in this book that I didn't like was "The Celestial Railroad", strangely enough. It's an allegorical odyssey based on John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and if you've never read that work, like me, you will not get anything out of it.
Hawthorne is a master of the short story. His strength is the ability to acknowledge that the evil in ourselves is undeniably existant but that only through admitting that existence can it be combatted. Lots of the characters in this collection destroy their lives with this admission. But at least they are true to themselves. If you enjoy this book, seek out The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables, or vice versa.
The title story is one of the great pieces in response to the second great awakening in this country. The narrator telling us about his trip with Mr. Smooth-It-Away, and Apollyn and the other malevolent devils on the fast way to salvation make the book one of the true masterpieces of its time or any time. That the targets of ridicule, the real faithful are eventually saved, while all those linking their salvation to technology are damned is an important theme that is explored.
The Minister's Black Veil is truly one of the works of genius of the 19th Century. The story about Father Mapple wearing his veil over his face is indeed one of the great self-introspective stories. And the story is so true when dealing with human nature.
Rappaccini's Daughter is also a tale that weaves in the most sublime irony. What if the story you are reading is really about something else entirely? What if the love story you read is really the tale of jealousy and professional rivalry?
Young Goodman Brown leaves his Faith at home to go wandering in the woods at night. I wonder what will happen? Let us note that the Devil will of course be present. And what happens to an idealistic young man when he sees all the sins and demonic deeds of his neighbors?
Finally, I will talk about The Maypole of Merrymount. Three words come to mind in this tale: BIG JOHN ENDICOTT. The reaches of tolerance versus intolerance are brought to bear in this story. Nearly all your thinking on puritans are also brought together in this story. It is possible that among all the puritan writers who composed in the 17th Century, Hawthorne in his works manages to create the real cultural picture of puritan society in his stories written in the 19th.