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In A Brown Study, 7

June 12, 2016

No one starts out to write a fragment. The fragment is incomplete, a part of something else which has been forgotten or lost. Our lives are fragments – merely pieces of something that is incomplete until we die. Then we are finished, but are we? What have we left behind?

You may have noticed that I love to read. Reading gets me out of my life, and that could be a bad habit. But others’ lives are so interesting, other times so appealing that I engage in the habit, bad or good. I recently finished a biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne. (1804- 1864) Salem Is My Dwelling Place by Edwin Haviland Miller (University of Iowa Press, 1991). After six weeks of reading, I feel I do not know Hawthorne at all. The details are there, but he remains an enigma. Perhaps I should not have skipped the voluminous notes or the selected bibliography.

Or perhaps I should have concentrated on rereading The Scarlet Letter or The House of Seven Gables. Do we get to know what a person thinks by what he writes, or does he change his opinions when he sees what he has written?

Where do Hawthorne’s stories come from? Not from his father, a sea merchant like his father and grandfather. (Remember John Hathorne, Nathaniel’s great grandfather, a judge in the Salem Witch Trials who never admitted his error of judgment.) His father died when he was four years old, leaving a widow with three children dependent on her relatives for support. His mother doted on her son, and two sisters did the same. As a young boy his health was precarious, and he was spoiled and petted. His uncles sent him to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine to be educated.

Shy, gentle, and handsome in a feminine way, he remained aloof and mysterious. His hair was dark, his eyes were gray, or as his wife wrote later, were they blue “deepest clearest lakes with mysterious light raying from their inner fountains.” He had a fine massive head — or was his “brow thick and his mouth sarcastic” as a person who found him difficult reported. Loved by some and disliked by others, he was both.

But his friends? They included some of the most famous writers of the time, keeping in touch, writing letters and visiting,  and encouraging each other. How much do our friends and acquaintances influence us? How do we select them, or do they just appear when we need them?

-to be contd.


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