It has been a long time since I’ve read Romantic era literature and I’ve remembered why it was difficult for me to “get into” this narrative style back in high school. The familiar, conventional style of novels contrasted with the introspective, loose narratives of Romantic literature. I could never find myself in the right mindset to appropriately analyze and appreciate such contemplative stories and I partially attribute it to my juvenile mentality towards such classical literature back in the day. While I’ve never personally read the Scarlet Letter (I’ve no idea how I escaped that quintessential high school experience), I’ve heard enough analogous commentary of Hawthorne’s style in that work that I can discern his traits in our current reading. He dedicates an inordinate amount of page space detailing the interior structure of the Seven Gables house, its various rooms, and the multitude of artifacts that reside within those rooms.

“In the way of furniture, there were two tables; one, constructed with perplexing intricacy, and exhibiting as many feed as a centipede; the other, most delicately wrought, with four….” pg 26

However, alongside such tedious descriptions we see Hawthorne introduce and narrate upon on Hepzibah in a distinct manner. His obvious knowledge on Hepzibah’s personal history contradicts his questions that convey a position similar to the audiences i.e. he knows as much as the audience knows. He also breaks the immersion (4th wall?) by noting directly that this is a “story”:

“The maiden lady’s devotions are concluded. Will she now issue over the threshold of our story? Not yet, by many moments.” pg 24

“Can it have been an early lover of Miss Hepzibah? No; she never had a lover- poor thing, how could she?- nor ever knew, by her own experience, what love technically means.” pg 25

“All this time, however, we are loitering faint-heartedly on the threshold of our story.” pg 27

While Hepzibah tends to her shop, we see this writhing conflict within herself as she attempts to make peace with the fact that, despite being born a “lady”, she is forced to become a shopkeeper woman due to the family’s poor financial health. This conflict is constantly drawn out whenever a customer walks into her shop or passerbies discuss her openly outside of it. I felt oddly uncomfortable that Hawthorne so frequently brought up the frailty and flaws on Hepzibah; I assume it is another Romantic trait that his writing adhered to. Again with most of our readings, I attempted to seek out any mentions of cooking and recipes, which was contained within the 7th chapter. Hepzibah’s elaborate, old-fashioned English cookbook, her inability to cook them, and her habit of skipping dinner serves as another reminder of her more dignified past. It can be inferred that she might have had servants who provided for her family in her younger years. Phoebe’s recipe for an easy “Indian cake” illustrates how certain Native cuisines have integrated into English life except Hepzibah’s, again, possibly because of her family’s more aristocratic lifestyle which might have disregarded such cuisine as below their social standing.

1 Comment

  1. I think that in this case, Hawthorne’s over-enthusiastic description of the house is to the readers benefit. One thing we talk about in this class is the limited amount of resources researchers have to really understand what life was like in the 1800’s and before. We can only glean that information through books, drawings, newspapers, and of course, cookbooks! Because Hawthorne was so descriptive, people today, and on into the future, will have his account to understand the intricate details of what a house like this was like during the 1850’s. Not just the people in it, but the furniture, textiles, etc. Although mundane at times, it is to the researcher’s benefit that writers give this amount of detail. Imagine if all writings from the past were this descriptive! There may be more interest in delving deeper into our history if people had a better sense of what it was like.

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