Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Perhaps Unexpected Allusions to Hawthorne

Posting on The Scarlet Letter and Beloved has gotten me thinking about the uses to which other African-American writers than Morrison have put Hawthorne. Tonight, while the family get-together is winding down downstairs and I'm up here making sure the girls don't roll off the beds we've put them in (yes, we've been evicted from our cozy downstairs sleeping-all-together-on-two-futons-on-the-floor arrangement but have upgraded to Baba's bedroom, which is too small for the SALoTFotF set-up), I'll offer a short list and hope my imaginary readers will help mex expand it.

In as close to reverse chronological order as I can get without renumbering everything when I make a mistake:

0. I've already posted a bit on Maryse Conde's I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem.

1. The subtext of the Chillingworth-Dimmesdale relationship (D as fugitive slave; C as slave catcher) seems to have been developed by Charles Johnson in Middle Passage. Morrison's Schoolteacher and Johnson's Slavecatcher both seem like Chillingworth figures to me.

2-3. Both Patricia Williams (in The Rooster's Egg) and Suzan-Lori Parks (in at least one of The Red Letter Plays) have run with the idea that the Puritan magistrates' marking Hester with the scarlet letter can be linked to racialized and gendered markings of black women today.

4. In this, they seem to be following up on and developing Ralph Ellison's uses of Hawthorne in Invisible Man to explore themes of stigmatization (cf. Marjorie Pryse's implicit linking of Hawthorne and Ellison in this way in The Marka nd the Knowledge) and racialization.

5. W.E.B. Du Bois made use of many of Hawthorne's short stories in The Souls of Black Folk, in part to situate himself as a fellow New England native and writer.

6-7. Pauline Hopkins's use of the gothic around the turn into the twentieth century makes me wonder if, like Charles Chesnutt, she was reading and responding to Hawthorne's short stories and novels.

8. It's quite possible Hawthorne was responding to Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life in "The Custom-House" and The Scarlet Letter, which doesn't exactly fit the list's parameters, but seems worth mentioning.

9. As is the possibility that one of the many sources of "Egotism, or the Bosom-Serpent" comes from African-American folklore that he could have come across in Salem or in Maine.

10. A certain rock star friend of mine provided me years ago with a syllabus from a friend of his that laid out a Hawthorne-Baldwin major authors course that looked very exciting--if I can dig it up in my files once I return to the States, I'll hit the highlights.

11-12. Ah, how could I forget Richard Wright and his contributions to the black gothic? Thank you, Professor Bryant! Your essay makes me wonder if Linda Brent/Harriet Jacobs was influenced by Hawthorne's representation of trapped and fallen women in his novels of the 1850s and tales of the 1840s.

13. Professor Gruesser has a neat reading of "The Birth-Mark" and whiteness and suggests it's possible that George Schuyler's Black No More may be a response to the story.

14. Professor Sollors as always makes fascinating connections between multiple traditions of American literature. His essay raises the possibility that a Hawthorne-Tolson connection wouldn't be a stretch. Better ask a certain dangeral professor about this one of these days.

This is not a bad list for someone who consorted with Copperheads and Confederates, who was known in his time and after for his anti-abolitionism and patronizing attitudes towards African Americans, and who was decidedly ambivalent and unenthusiastic about the Civil War and the prospects of African Americans after slavery, isn't it?

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