The Moral Picturesque: Studies in Hawthorne's Fiction

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Purdue University Press, 1988 - 324 pages
The book is a collection of fourteen essays by Abel on Hawthorne's fiction. The essays were published over a span of about thirty-five years in various scholarly journals. The author has revised some of these essays considerably and has added seven chapters to give the book continuity and unity. Abel studies two characteristics, besides the classic elegance of its style, that distinguish Hawthorne's fiction. One characteristic is Hawthorne's habitual use of a psychological approach to its subjects. He assumed an absolute of archetypal human experiences enacting a providentially directed drama of which he had an uncertain knowledge through sympathy with characters assuming primordial roles. The other characteristic was Hawthorne's use of the mode that he called "the moral picturesque." This was a mode of figuration of the archetypal experiences that his psychological preoccupations discovered. His sensibility penetrated more deeply than his often banal thought, and the picturesque mode enabled him to cognize perceptions that were not reducible to explicit statement. In all his work he was preoccupied with two concerns: how the ideal appears in the real world, and the distinction and relation of the sexes. He saw in both these concerns paradoxes of opposition and affinity. He dealt with these paradoxes, not as subjects of philosophical speculation, but as matters for artistic treatment. In fact, he thought that the problems of relation posed by these paradoxes were insoluble, and his sole concerns was to present them vividly and dramatically.

Selected pages


Vast Deal of Human Sympathy
The Scarlet Letter A Drama of Guilt and Sorrow
The Strong DivisionLines of Nature
Hester In the Dark Labyrinth of Mind
Pearl The Scarlet Letter Endowed with Life
Chillingworth The Devil in Boston
Dimmesdale Fugitive from Wrath
The Other Romances

The Stony Excrescence of Prose
Visions That Seem Real
The Loom of Fiction
Giving Lustre to Gray Shadows Prosperos Potent Art
Metonymic Symbols Black Glove and Pink Ribbon
NINETEEN The House of the Seven Gables A Long Drama of Wrong and Retribution
TWENTY The Blithedale Romance A Counterfeit Arcadia
The Marble Faun A Masque of Love and Death

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Page 17 - Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another, and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever. Like Wakefield, he may become, as it were, the Outcast of the Universe.
Page 22 - The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute Fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience.

About the author (1988)

Darrel Abel was born in 1911 in Lost Nation, Iowa. As a young man, he took all the course offered through the University of Iowa's writing program, which would later be known as the Iowa Writers workshop. He earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees at Iowa, then went on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. During his long teaching career, Abel was a Fulbright professor at Freilburg University for a year and taught 30 years at Purdue University. He edited American Literature: Critical Theory in the American Renaissance. He is the author of about fifty journal articles - mostly on Hawthorne, Poe, Melville, and Frost - as well as numerous reviews.

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