Sunday, January 07, 2007

What Would Hawthorne Say About Marshall and Devi?

It's heartening to note that after his first two children were born in 1844 and 1846, Hawthorne didn't publish much until The Scarlet Letter in 1850. And that after his third child was born in 1851 he was only able to publish one novel and the Pierce campaign biography until the late 1850s (if you don't count what he did in 1851, which I prefer not to for the purposes of this digressive intro paragraph). Because after today's adventures in moving and settling back in in Fukuoka, it really hit home to me how much we depended on my wife's parents the past two weeks. Except for brief walks to the grocery store and one jackpot visit to the ocal discount shoe store, we didn't need to shop, and when the ladies did, Baba drove them around. Except for the occasional meal, my wife didn't need to cook, as Gigi is the acknowledged master chef of both families. Coming back home to a freezing and food-less apartment and realizing that the incipient migraine my wife was suffering from on the flight would go full-bore if we pushed it today, we sent mom and imoto to bed and dad and onechan to forage for supplies. The walking was fun, actually, and it was warmer outside than inside the apartment when we left, but by the end of our three-hour tour (half of which was playtime for onechan) it was no longer so warm outside, onechan was super-cranky (until she fell asleep), and dad was itching to work. But imoto was missing him and tsuma needed to arrange our three post-Hawaii trips (2 for conferences and 1 for a visit to the sister-in-law in Okinawa and endless sparring with her three Ultraman-Power Ranger-Boukenja-loving sons, ages 9 months to 5 years) and help me wade through the forms I need to fill out for the following academic year, which is why I'm not even starting this till 8:15 pm.

OK, so this has to be fast, as it's basically warm-up writing for the last push on the conference paper tonight and tomorrow before 3 of my last 4 classes of the semester meet on Tuesday and Wednesday. But basically because I have Hawthorne on the brain, I was finding moments in Marshall and Devi that seemed positively Hawthornesque to me. And it got me wondering what Hawthorne would have made of their fiction.

Both Marshall and Devi create memorable characters who are made representative of different groups and situations by the plots of the works they appear in. In The Chosen Place, The Timeless People and Imaginary Maps, at least, both use a semi-omniscient semi-objective third person narrator who's not quite a fully fleshed-out persona, but whose voice is interesting. Both mix historical, political, and psychological insights and write with a sense of the past and its continuing presence that Hawthorne would have found interesting, even if he would have disliked their politics. (I was trying to think of antebellum equivalents--Lydia Maria Child meets Harriet Beecher Stowe meets Margaret Fuller for Devi? William Apess meets Herman Melville meets Martin Delany for Marshall?)

For instance, consider the representation and function of Carnival in CPTP--how might it relate to stories like "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" or sketches like "The Procession of Life"? Or take the haunting of Harriet (mostly by memories from her past) and particularly the last scene we see of her before her presumed suicide--how might it relate to Judge Pyncheon in The House of the Seven Gables? How might Marshall's technique of jumping from one highly charged tableaux-like scene to the next relate to Hawthorne's similar mode of compression in The Scarlet Letter? Or take Devi's creation of representative female tribal figures like Mary Oraon and Douloti in Imaginary Maps--how might these women compare to Hester, Phoebe, Zenobia, and Miriam?

These are just random examples and not even the best, as my mind is already elsewhere. I'm certainly not trying to build a case for influence on Hawthorne's part or conscious re-vision on Marshall's or Devi's part. I'm just wondering what possibilities open up when you put Hawthorne alongside writers whose politics would absolutely oppose his yet whose narrative strategies and literary techniques can be related to his....

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