Transatlantic ruin in the writing of Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • Kevin Wilson

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

This thesis will examine images and ideas of decay and ruin in the writing of Nathaniel Hawthorne within a transatlantic context. In doing so, it will address the ways in which the time Hawthorne spent in Europe in the 1850s altered how decay and ruin figure within his writing. In nineteenth century American culture and politics, the idea of ruin is significant for the way in which it relates to particular myths of American nationhood. In my first three chapters, looking at "The Custom-House," The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851), I will demonstrate how Hawthorne's American romances challenge myths of American exceptionalism in which a decaying Old World stands in contrast to an innocent and ruin-free New World. I will argue that ruin is an essential quality of Hawthorne's specific brand of romance and that decay and ruin within these texts, far from situating America in opposition to Europe, in fact suggests a complex system of transatlantic influence and awareness. The fourth and fifth chapter of this thesis will examine Hawthorne's European writing - first The English Notebooks (1870), followed by a final chapter on both The French and Italian Notebooks (1883) and The Marble Faun (1860). I will argue that Hawthorne's personal encounters with and responses to the ancient material decay of Europe altered the way in which he viewed and wrote about ruin. I will then build upon my analysis of his responses to European ruins described in his notebooks as I examine his final romance The Marble Faun. I will argue in this chapter that while the relationship between ruin and romance remains fundamental to The Marble Faun, Hawthorne's encounters with European decay, along with the impending American Civil War, profoundly altered his attitude towards American ruin.
Date of Award1 Oct 2009
LanguageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorDavid Goldie (Supervisor) & (Supervisor)

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