Hawthorne’s Habitations: A Literary Life

Robert Milder, Author
Robert Milder. Oxford Univ., $39.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-19-991725-9
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Milder’s intriguing study of the intersection between Nathanial Hawthorne’s life and work is a biography that’s equal parts close reading and psychological portrait. Drawing heavily on the Scarlet Letter author’s notebooks, as well as his published writings and third-person primary sources, the book relentlessly presents both the author’s mind and work as hotbeds of unresolved dichotomies. Caught between the tendencies of a naturalist observer and a romantic who must impose moral meaning on what he sees, Hawthorne remained stuck, unable to either abandon the energies of the world around him or to fully believe in a higher power that would allow him to transcend them. Milder takes us through his subject’s life, focusing on and ascribing symbolic meaning to the different places (Salem and Concord, Mass.; England; Italy) in which Hawthorne lived. He uses discrepancies between the notebooks and published writings to show Hawthorne’s need to self-censor his pleasure in the baser enjoyments of reality. While Milder’s own need to present every aspect of his subject’s life as a duality tends to add an unnecessary schematicism to his otherwise enlightening study, and his presumptive academic audience presupposes familiarity with Hawthorne, the book is a welcome addition to the body of writing on one of America’s great novelists. (Jan.)
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