Hawthorne in Salem Search Hawthorne in Salem

Facebook Page

"Hawthorne and 'the sphere of ordinary womanhood'"[BR-CE 3:190)

Hawthorne and "the sphere of ordinary womanhood"(BR-CE 3:190)

by Melinda M. Ponder
Assoc. Prof of English
Pine Manor College

Dr. Melinda Ponder, Department of English, Pine Manor College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Dr. Melinda Ponder, Department of English, Pine Manor College, Chestnut Hill, MA

Thank you for inviting me here to speak today about my two favorite scholarly subjects, Nathaniel Hawthorne's literary career and women. I am especially happy to be here in Salem where Hawthorne first was surrounded by girls and women in his childhood homes a few block from where we are today--first in the Union Street Hathorne home of his widowed mother and two sisters and then in the large and lively Herbert Street Manning household with additional women--Hawthorne's aunts and grandmother.

Later Salem was where he came to know a wide variety of interesting, intelligent and creative women including his eventual wife, Sophia Peabody. And it was in Salem, as he observed his daughter Una playing in the garden below the room where he sat with his dying mother, that he conceived The Scarlet Letter, the novel centered around a woman (herself a mother) and her quest for how to establish "the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness" (SL, 240). Salem was also the place where his wife's reaction to the novel, a "grievous" headache, told Hawthorne that he written a winner sure to appeal to the all-important literary market of women readers. In all these Salem sites there is rich material for our topic today and our website images: as Hester would say, "'Look thou to it!'" (SL 101).

I hope that the more you know about women in Hawthorne's fiction and times, the more you will think it one of the most compelling and effective pathways into Hawthorne's work for today's students and readers, a wonderful use for our website. As Nina Baym so aptly put it in her essay, "Thwarted Nature: Nathaniel Hawthorne as Feminist": "…the question of woman is the determining motive in Hawthorne's works…"(62). Today we will consider some of the reasons why this is so by looking at the constant role that women played throughout Hawthorne's life in his career as well as at his literary portrayals of women they evolved over his life and career. Using a chronological paradigm to map his fictional female characters, we can see how they reflect two developments: the changing roles and lives of the women he saw around him and his own evolving understanding of women and their changing lives.

I would urge you, therefore, in your work with the website to anchor your ideas in the chronology of Hawthorne's life and publication dates of his fiction. Your images could include the following:

1) material objects, paintings and illustrations (even advertisements) which represent women's lives in Salem (their houses, clothes, hats, and activities) from 1804-1842 and then from 1842 to 1864;

2) images and writings, both archival diaries, letters and published work of key women in Hawthorne's life in these two periods (1804-1842 and 1842-1864)--those of his mother, sisters, aunts, other women of Salem, including the Peabody women, especially his wife Sophia, and of Margaret Fuller;

and 3) the literary and later illustrated images of women in Hawthorne's fiction from these two time periods.

That is, students need to be aware that a story like "Young Goodman Brown" was written early in Hawthorne's career while The Blithedale Romance is a late work. In Hawthorne's case, they each reflect Hawthorne's thinking about women at two different times--something that we need to convey on the website to students entering by means of whatever clicks of the mouse.

As I will discuss today, Hawthorne's fiction offers rich images of women--their changing lives, frustrations and dreams--that still resonate for today's readers. And no wonder揺e probably got much of his early story material from women, he knew about and respected the complexity of women's lives, he had been writing for women readers all his life (very successfully), shaping his work for their eyes, and he had been surrounded by unusually gifted literate women whose creative talents had helped him shape his own work. It would have been surprising if Hawthorne hadn't understood and portrayed the wide variety of women around him who inspired and challenged him to make their concerns a visible reality to his readers.


Because of various circumstances in his childhood, Hawthorne grew up amidst the "infinite variety" of talented and supportive females of his childhood family (Moore 233). They set the pattern for the women who followed them; with their quick minds, love of reading and writing and responsive minds and hearts, they were Hawthorne's first collaborators, ideal readers, editors, marketing agents, and emotional and financial supporters.

Women were also probably Hawthorne's first source of good literary material. With the oral tradition of local tales and legends alive and well in Salem's "chimney corners", Hawthorne probably heard the kind of "old woman's stories…[with] ten times the life in them" (quoted in Moore, 26, from "Etheridge": CE 12:150) from his grandmothers, aunts, cousins and hired women.

Because his father had died when Hawthorne was four years old, he grew up living with a wide variety of womanhood: His aunt Mary Manning, a practical if unlettered woman, started him on his career as a writer by suggesting that all his aunts and uncles pool their resources to help pay for his college education at Bowdoin College. With her as his backer and defender he became the first college graduate in the family. Hawthorne never forgot the constant backing of these women--when his first major work Twice-Told Tales got a favorable review from his Bowdoin classmate Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, he thought immediately of their unwavering support over his slow-to-bloom career. In June of l837, he acknowledged the essential psychological support he had received all along from the women in his family, his mother, two sisters and aunt Mary Manning, who would think Longfellow ". . . the most sagacious critic on earth. . . ." for his praise of Hawthorne's Twice-told Tales (CE XV: 255).

Although he was separated from his mother during most of his adolescent and college years, Hawthorne had an intense tender and loving relationship with her all his life. With a "poetical temperament," Elizabeth Hathorne was "highly cultivated by reading," "intelligent…and lively…." (Moore quoting Elizabeth Palmer Peabody 68-70)--the perfect mother to foster and share his son's creative imagination and love of language.

Perhaps fortunately for Hawthorne's development as writer, his mother's extended Manning family, with whom she lived, had homes in both Salem and Raymond, Maine. They were the owners of the stagecoach line between Salem and Raymond and anxious to develop the considerable land acreage given as land grants to their ancestors as payment for their military service in the French and Indian War. Just he had listened to stories told by women in Salem, in Raymond he could also hear the stories told by women, particularly his Aunt Susan Manning, Richard’s wife.

Forced by the geographical distance between Salem and Raymond, Maine, where his mother lived for much of his boyhood, Hawthorne learned early to communicate with paper and pen, usually weekly with his mother and, often, with his imaginative and literate sisters. In these two places, he was surrounded by a large family (seven mostly unmarried aunts and uncles) interested in reading and writing. The personalities of his intelligent mother and her sisters Maria and Priscilla come across in their lively and entertaining letters, again--excellent web-site archival material.

Hawthorne began his lifelong pattern of writing for women as his first and most important readers when he was thirteen years old. While being prepared for college by a tutor in here in Salem, Hawthorne wrote to his mother in Maine, asking her for her response to his real ambition:

What do you think of my becoming an Author, and relying for support upon my pen. Indeed I think the illegibility of my handwriting is very authorlike. How proud you would feel to see my works praised by the reviewers, as equal to proudest productions of the scribbling sons of John Bull [England]. (March 13, l821--CE XV: 139)

He became even prouder of his narrative skills, later writing to his sister Louisa, that though his letter was only for her, ". . . it is truly a pity that the public should lose it" (CE XV: 214). Soon he went beyond epistolary creations to a journalistic work. With Louisa in Salem, he turned out a handwritten miniature newspaper, The Spectator, a facsimile imitation of the Salem Gazette full of timely family news and original poetry and essays which he sent to his mother and other relatives in Maine. (See handout.)

Hawthorne also included his sisters in his early literary interests and activities. He shared his reading excitement over the novels of Scott, Radcliffe, and Smollett with Louisa (CE XV: 114), and noted that he had read ". . . all most all the Books which have been published for the last hundred Years" (CE XV: 134).

His sisters became Hawthorne's colleagues and collaborators in his early efforts to develop his voice and become a writer. He requests that his uncle Robert bring Ebe home to Salem with him because he wants her to talk to (CE XV: 112). On his sixteenth birthday in l820, Louisa wrote to her mother that "Nathaniel delivered a most excellent Oration this morning to no other hearers but me" (CE XV: 125-MSS, Bowdoin).

As he got older, his older sister Ebe became his peer and colleague as a writer. She was also his competitor, no doubt spurring him on to his early publishing attempts. He wrote to Louisa, "Tell Ebe she's not the only one of the family whose works have appeared in the papers" (CE XV: 115), apparently written after Ebe had sent poems to a ". . . Boston Newspaper" (Julian Hawthorne, NHHHW I, 102 quoted in CE XV: 116). He and Ebe evidently traded their writing samples, and when he was angry at Ebe for not sending him some of her poetry, he promised to withold his from her (CE XV: 131-132).

He wrote Ebe about making "progress" on a novel (NHHW I, 124), and after his graduation, in the summer of l825, he showed some of his "Seven Tales of my Native Land" to Ebe who ". . . read them and liked them" (NHHW I: 124). Turning to his sister for mutually satisfying intellectual companionship and stimulation, he discussed with her his plans to write Fanshawe. She recalled that after reading novels, Hawthorne made an artistic study of them (NHHW I: 125), a study which Ebe must have seen as well.

In his first paid job as an editor, from January to August of 1836, he again turned to a sister as collaborator, this time to Ebe. For his American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge he requested that she copy for him by extracting ". . . whatever she [thought] suitable" from her reading (CE XV: 228-9). He urged her to adopt his methods: "I make nothing of writing a history or biography before dinner. Do you the same. . . . Concoct--concoct--concoct" (CE XV: 230). He exhorted her to abstract ". . . you can't think how easy it is" (CE XV: 235) and to concoct by putting ". . . other people's thoughts into your own words, and amalgamate the whole into a mass" (CE XV: 243). To Louisa he gave the job of critic, asking her to read ". . . this infernal Magazine and send me your criticisms" (CE XV: 240), wanting her feedback to his opinion that it appeared ". . . very dull and respectable. . . . " (CE XV: 240).

In his next job, writing Peter Parley's Universal History on the Basis of Geography, for the Use of Families, again Ebe was his collaborator, probably doing the bulk of the work since he gave her his pay for the job. That he thought of her as his co-author is clear from his letter to her on May 12, l836: "Our pay, as Historians of the Universe, will be 100 dollars the whole of which you may have. It is poor compensation; yet better than the Token; because the kind of writing is so much less difficult" (CE XV: 247). He thus considered her his business partner as well.

He excitedly wrote to her of his fame in London after the Nov. 7, l835 British Athenaeum periodical ". . . noticed all my articles in the last Token, with long extracts" (CE XV: 230-1). With her formidable intellect and acerbic wit, Ebe provided Hawthorne with an ideal female reader whose real life consisted of ideas, good literature, and deep thinking, however cloaked in domesticity she might appear.

Since Hawthorne's days before his marriage were spent in writing, walking and chatting with Elizabeth, she played a central role in his development as a writer, with her own interest in the imagination, psychology and aesthetics expanding his. She was an intelligent and sophisticated reader, educated by wide and challenging reading, as attested to by the books she chose for herself and Hawthorne from the Salem Atheaneaum (Kesselring). She said later that she would have liked to have been a librarian. Hawthorne later described Ebe as his superior in ". . . general talent and. . . fine cultivation. . . . She has both a physical and intellectual love of books, a born book worm" (CE XVIII: 456). (See Margaret Moore's book and her article on Ebe.)

Four years later, Hawthorne again envisioned his writing as a joint venture with Elizabeth. On Aug. 3, l841, he wrote to Louisa from Brook Farm that he had contracted to write and edit ". . . a series of juvenile books. . . to be adapted to our market....I wish Elizabeth [Ebe] would write a book for the series. She surely knows as much about children as I do, and ought to succeed as well. I do hope she will think of a subject--whether historical, scientific, moral, religious, or fanciful--and set to work. It will a good amusement to her, and profitable to us all." He even adds in a postscript, "Cannot your mother write a book?" (CE XV: 555). !!!!

However, although he consulted Ebe for her opinion of his writing (See CE XVI: 403, n. 5) after his marriage to Sophia, perhaps not surprisingly, she thought he never wrote as well after his marriage when she was no longer his first reader and critic.

While Hawthorne lived in Salem after his graduation from Bowdoin College in l825 and before his marriage in l842, he expanded his circle of lively, capable and intelligent women beyond his family circle. Susan Ingersoll, his friend and possible social activist hiding runaway slaves, Susan Burley with her literary salons in Salem, her excellent education and knowledge of German, and Mary Crowninshield Silsbee, with her poetry, "great intelligence and love of reading" (Moore 241)--all gave Hawthorne more appealing women to know and to write for

Of course the Peabody women in Salem--Mrs. Elizabeth Peabody and her daughters, Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia-- were just as interested in Hawthorne's literary career as the women in his own family, and they were also active in the intellectual community of Boston, introducing the more aristocratically reserved Hawthorne into important publishing networks and the artistic and philosophical communities in which Hawthorne needed to become known if he were to succeed as a writer.

Mrs. Peabody set the tone for her daughters, reading Herodotus for recreation (MEM, 7). As Hawthorne's daughter Rose later wrote, "Literature, art, and intercourse were the three gracious deities of the Peabody home. . . ." (MEM, 3). An educator, Mrs. Peabody had published a catechism and children's version in prose of the first book of Spenser's Faerie Queene. (CE XV: 24-25).

Her daughter Elizabeth first became interested in Hawthorne--probably both the man and his work. She tireless promoted his career, wrote reviews of his books, published his first group of children's stories, and helped get him his appointment at the Boston Custom House (See Moore 234-5 and my book).

The second Peabody daughter, Mary, was also an intellectual woman interested in education and abolition who early encouraged Hawthorne to base a novel about slavery in Cuba on her experiences there and who requested that he keep a journal of his experiences in western Massachusetts in the summer of l838 (CE XV: 25-26).

However, of course it was the third Peabody daughter, Sophia, whom Hawthorne courted, and her creative talents as an artist, a writer and a linguist in French, Italian, Greek, Hebrew and Latin, were no doubt part of her great appeal for him. As he had done in his boyhood, he once more shaped his writing for his female reader, using the epistolary talents he had honed for the many years of his letters back and forth to his mother to woo Sophia during his long courtship, persuading her of his devotion and creating the "married" personae they would come to live out (See Herbert). After their marriage, he stopped keeping private notebooks strictly for his own use and shaped his entries as responses and missives to Sophia.

Repeating the collaborative pattern he had established with his sisters, Hawthorne continued to see the talented woman who loved him as a potential literary colleague and collaborator. He first learned of Sophia's talents as a writer when he read her "Cuba Journal" (MEM, 20), which had been circulated among Boston literati and was impressed enough with her writing to transcribe several passages into his notebook (CE XV: 30).1 As Thomas Woodson notes, Hawthorne "intended, or at least promised, to use her letters as sources for his fiction, "telling Sophia 'that he could make a great many stories from my works' . . ." (CE XV: 28 quoting from MS. Berg--Sophia to EPP, May 14, l838).

He appreciated her power of description, both in language and visual art, one which he thought would be useful to him, just as Ebe's writing had been. He wrote to Sophia on May 29, 1840, that he wished she could be with him on board the ships he inspected in Boston Harbor

. . . because there are many things of which thou mightst make such pretty descriptions; and in future years, when thy husband is again busy at the loom of fiction, he would weave in these little pictures. My fancy is rendered so torpid by my ungenial way of life, that I cannot sketch off the scenes and portraits that interest me. . . . “CE XV: 466).

A month later, he again praised her writing talent, asking her how she could say that he had ever written anything beautiful, ". . . being thyself so potent to reproduce whatever is loveliest?" (CE XV: 475). Unfortunately, since Hawthorne burned Sophia's letters to him in l853 before their move to England, it is difficult to accurately judge her talent. Throughout his life, Hawthorne would continue to praise her visual and verbal skills, writing to Ticknor that she excelled him as a writer of travels and to her sister, EPP, of Sophia's superiority in "fullness and accuracy of description," (MEM, 336) and to Fields of her "narrative and descriptive epistles" (CE XV: 31 n. 54).

After reading her beautiful prose letters for another year, Hawthorne came to see her role in his work a little differently, envisioning her in Ebe's former role of assistant, albeit in a more romantic setting:

When we dwell together, I intend that my Dove shall do all the reading that may be necessary, in the concoction of my various histories; and she shall repeat the substance of her researches to me, when our heads are on the pillow. Thus will knowledge fall upon me like heavenly dew” (CE XV: 566).

Having been consigned to the role of a research assistant, Sophia instead took on the role of critic, and must have been a little harsh in her comments about tales Hawthorne gave her to read before revising them for a publisher, as Hawthorne's apologies suggest:

Sweetest, thou dost please me much by criticizing thy husband's stories, and finding fault with them. I do not very well recollect Monsieur do Miroir; but as to Mrs. Bullfrog [the story of a newly-wed husband who is horrified to discover his wife's true appearance after their wedding], I give her up to they severest reprehension. The story was written as a mere experiment in that style; it did not come from any depth within me--neither my heart nor mind had anything to do with it. (CE XV: 572)

And Hawthorne did change his tales as Sophia had suggested (CE XV: 574, n. 1).

After his marriage, he continued to seek Sophia's help with his writing and editing, and asking for her opinions on titles for Mosses from an Old Manse (CE XVI:146), and The Scarlet Letter (CE XVI: 306). He read her his manuscripts before he sent them off to be published. He wrote his publisher, James T. Fields, that he even needed to hear Sophia's response to The House of the Seven Gables before he could judge his own work ( "Then I must read it to my wife;--and after going over it in that way, I shall know better what to think of it" (CE XVI: 382). Later Sophia helped him revise The Marble Faun (CE IV: lxx), and as Herbert notes, Hawthorne explained that only Sophia is best able to comprehend The Marble Faun "precisely as I meant it," because she "speaks so near me that I cannot tell her voice from my own" (CE XVIII: 256).

Sophia's steadfast support, like that of his mother and sisters previously, encouraged and enabled Hawthorne to confidently pursue his writing career. He wrote to Evert A. Duyckinck, on hearing of Melville's praise of his books, of Sophia's important role: ". . . I have all along had one staunch admirer; and with her to back me, I really believe I should do very well without any other" (CE XVI: 362).

Hawthorne apparently felt quite positively about women, writing his old college friend Horatio Bridge about the birth of his first child, his daughter Una: "I think I prefer a daughter to a son; there is something so especially piquant in having helped to create a future woman" (CE 16: 25). And to E. A. Duyckinck he wrote, ". . .there is a delightful awe in being the father of a future woman; it is more of a miracle than the other [fathering a boy]" (CE 16:87.


As Hawthorne wrote for all these women as his first and most valued readers, he portrayed their lives first sympathetically, if two-dimensionally, approximately until the time of his 1842 marriage. One thinks of his early tales and sketches such as "Young Goodman Brown," "The Minister's Black Veil" or "The Hollow of Three Hills." The female characters represent important values in the stories, but they are seen from the outside; their inner lives are not of concern to the narrator. Faith is figured by Pink Ribbons and not much else.

However, once Hawthorne had married Sophia Peabody and became even closer to her sister Elizabeth and to their friend, Margaret Fuller, he came to know firsthand the women of Salem and Boston who were becoming the active and articulate agents of change in women's lives for the generations to come. His portrayal of women became increasingly complex as he knew women better and became aware of the questions this generation of women were asking about their roles as women. The combination of his perspectives as a husband of a creative artist, the son who had lost his mother, and father of a daughter, culminated in his most powerful female characters, Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter and Zenobia in The Blithedale Romance.

Hawthorne himself perceived this change taking place in women's lives so that a woman of an older generation could hardly grasp the new identity, outlook, and freedom of a younger woman. He shows this contrast between Hepzibah and Phoebe throughout The House of the Seven Gables, particularly in the chapter, "May and November." Hepzibah muses, "with a grim smile, and a half-natural sigh, and a sentiment of mixed wonder, pity, and growing affection,--

"'What a nice little body she is! If she could only be a lady, too!--but that's impossible! Phoebe is no Pyncheon. She takes everything from her mother.'

"As to Phoebe's not being a lady, or whether she were a lady or no, it was a point, perhaps, difficult to decide…. Instead of discussing her claim to rank among ladies, it would be preferable to regard Phoebe as the example of feminine grace and availability combined, in a state of society, if there were any such, where ladies did not exist. There is should be woman's office to move in the midst of practical affairs, and to gild them all…with an atmosphere of loveliness and joy.

"[This comparison between Phoebe and Hepzibah] "was a fair parallel between new Plebianism and old Gentility.." (103-4).

As we can see from the number of the narrator's qualifying phrases and apparent conundrums, he is groping towards a solution to the vexing question himself of categories for defining women that seem to have vanished with the arrival of confident Phoebe's self-definition of new womanhood oblivious to "lady-hood."

Although this example speaks to the issues of class, the problem for society is clear: women's lives are changing and the old ways of understanding them have become obsolete. I agree with Margaret Moore that "Hawthorne was certainly aware of and sympathetic to the restrictions on women" (250). At the same time, as Baym notes, "Cautiously, Hawthorne advances the notion that if society is to be changed for the better, such change will be initiated by women. . . ." (Women's Fiction 73).

Nowhere is the tension between society's restrictions on women and women's own unlimited potential for growth clearer than in the figure of Hawthorne's close friend Margaret Fuller. In his provocative and compelling must-read book Hawthorne's Fuller Mystery, Thomas R. Mitchell persuasively portrays the central role Margaret Fuller played in Hawthorne's thinking about women and in his literary portrayal of women confronting American men and society.

A brilliant and intensely charismatic woman, Margaret Fuller, whom Hawthorne and Sophia had met in l839, at the the time of 1842 Hawthorne's marriage, was both an intriguing creative woman and a professional peer and colleague for Hawthorne. She was hitting her stride in her career as "one of the leading intellectuals and certainly the most provocative woman in America" (Mitchell 55). She had edited the Transcendentalist journal the Dial during its first two years, and written essay reviews of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales and Grandfather's Chair for it. She then tried creative non-fiction writing with Summer on the Lakes, 1843. Next she published her essay on feminism, "The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men. Woman versus Women" and then in 1844 expanded.it into Woman in the Nineteenth Century, the text so central to Hester's evolving philosophy in The Scarlet Letter. As Mitchell notes, during Fuller's five-year friendship with Hawthorne, both were struggling to become well-known professional writers able to attract readers in the booming American literary marketplace (55-56).

As Mitchell rightly observes, Fuller probably replaced Hawthorne's sister Elizabeth (forever at odds with Sophia) after his marriage as his "ideal reader," a role which, as we have seen, was of extreme importance to Hawthorne. While Sophia was also his listener and reader, she was too close to him to offer the kind of more objective and critical help that Margaret Fuller could and did give him. According to Mitchell, Fuller admired him, sympathized with his art, insisted he could do better, identified "exactly in which direction Hawthorne must move artistically,"@and the "direction that his work takes once they become friends will be the direction she encouraged and, in fact, enabled him to take" (60).

As his friendship with Fuller deepened, according to Mitchell, Hawthorne's "troubled fascination" grew with her --"the woman who insists on defining herself and who challenges his power to contain her in the scripts that he writes her life to be. In his intimate friendship with Fuller, Hawthorne will encounter a woman who not only resists such male "magnetism" as Hawthorne will exert on Sophia but who exerts a power over Hawthorne's imagination that he will struggle with much of his life" (47).

He was able to grasp Fuller's full dilemma as a woman, writing in "The Old Manse," that she was a woman "'on whose feminine nature had been imposed the heavy gift of intellectual power, such a strong man might have staggered under, and with it the necessity to act upon the world" (CE 10: 29 quoted in Mitchell, 85-86). Furthermore, their conversations about his marriage with Sophia helped Fuller "to conceptualize alternative forms of marriage that allowed for greater equality and individual development for women" (82)--just the ideas that she presented in Woman in the Nineteenth Century and that Hawthorne examined with increasing complexity and impossibility in his short fiction such as "The Birthmark" and "Rappaccini's Daughter."

Part of the powerful intensity of The Scarlet Letter comes from Hawthorne's almost uncanny portrayal of the strength and waste of Hester's deep love for a man and for her child, a portrayal that no doubt draws on his relationships with two women-his mother and Margaret Fuller. Gripped by powerful emotions at the time of his mother's death, he dramatized a life in some ways like hers. Her first child, Ebe, had been conceived when she was unmarried, several months before her marriage to Hawthorne's father. Like Hester, she had observed society, Salem, from the outside; impoverished by widowhood, she was unable to participate in the social life around her, withdrawing to Maine where she had more control over her daily life in a house built for her and her children. It was there that Hawthorne had played as a boy by a brook, Dingley Brook, and sadly observed to his sister in a letter that his mother had begun to wear a "cap" just as Hester hides her beauty until the Brook scene. As Nina Baym suggests, "What one senses here--though how opaquely!--is Hawthorne's tentative engagement with the subject of men and their mothers, his suggestion that the relation between men and their mothers was the deepest and most central core of their lives. The great liberation of The Scarlet Letter comes not only from its celebration of a woman, but of a woman who is centrally a mother" (75).

And, perhaps with Margaret Fuller's example and language Hawthorne could present a figure whose story shows the need for a "new truth" about the "whole relation between man and woman." Women had written their own Declaration of Independence at the Seneca Falls in 1848, and as Mitchell points out, "by 1849 Hawthorne could join Fuller in condemning cultural constructions of gender that provide women, according to Fuller, 'a place so narrow, that, in breaking bonds, they become outlaws'" (155).

By The Blithedale Romance, Hawthorne's view of contemporary lives of women is indeed bleak--no prophet has come, and there seems little hope for developing a surer ground of "mutual happiness" for relations between men and women. The streets, hotels, rooming houses, and town houses of Boston present an urban nightmare and its rural counterpart--sterile houses, tenements, poverty, the underside of shabby gentility, and artificial society--where women cannot find happiness with or without men in the ultimate "bond-slavery" of women to men. Hawthorne shows us too well the tragedy "that a woman of Zenobia's diversified capacity should have fancied herself irretrievably defeated on the broad battle-field of life, and with no refuge, save to fall on her own sword…." (CE 3: 241).

It is Hawthorne who portrays so well this tragedy of women in all their potential, limited by their men, their society and perhaps by themselves. But it is Hawthorne as well who has understood in his life with women and conveyed in his fiction an alternative. In Hester, as Baym reminds us, Hawthorne created a female character whose "goodness and essential nature are not defined by her relation to a man….Hester is a self in her own right…." (74). With his depictions of such a woman as well as his grasp of the challenges to her at the center of most of his fiction, Hawthorne still has much to say to all his readers both female and male-- on this subject.

1 See Herbert 37-58 for his analysis of Sophia's talents and aspirations before her marriage.

Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/10189/

About US Privacy Policy Copyright Credits Site Map Site Help