Friday, November 22, 2013

John Inglefield’s Thanksgiving

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864)
From Nathaniel Hawthorne: Tales and Sketches

“Thanksgiving Day—The Dinner,” illustration by American artist Winslow Homer (1836–1910) for the November 1858 issue of Harper's Weekly.
During his last year at Bowdoin College, in November 1824, twenty-year-old Nathaniel Hawthorne took a break from his studies to write to his aunt:
The weather has lately been very cold, and there is now snow enough to make some sleighing. I keep excellent fires, and do not stir from them, unless when it is absolutely necessary. I wish that I could be at home to Thanksgiving, as I really think that your puddings and pies and turkeys are superior to anybody’s else. But the term does not close till about the first of January.
Two decades later, in 1842, a few months after he married Sophia Peabody, he wrote in his journal:
This is Thanksgiving Day—a good old festival; and my wife and I have kept it with our hearts, and besides have made good cheer upon our turkey, and pudding, and pies, and custards, although none sat at our board but our two selves. There was a new and livelier sense, I think, that we have at last found a home, and that a new family has been gathered since the last Thanksgiving Day.
Thanksgiving was a big deal in New England in Hawthorne’s day. In her 2001 book, The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret B. Moore notes that only the Fourth of July approached the grandeur of the Thanksgiving festival, which in Hawthorne’s hometown was a weeklong celebration.

In spite of Hawthorne’s love of the holiday, his story “John Inglefield’s Thanksgiving” is surprisingly dark. A century ago, when Asa Don Dickinson compiled an anthology of “good cheer” Thanksgiving stories for children, he made an exception to his theme and included Hawthorne’s tale, noting that it “reminds us that the Puritans, although they originated our Thanksgiving festival, were after all a sombre people, seldom free from a realizing sense of the imminence of sin.”

“It is a strange story by any standard; for a Thanksgiving story it is stranger still,” acknowledges Morgan Meis in the online magazine The Smart Set. “But Hawthorne was committed to that strangeness in everything he wrote. He wanted to produce an American literature that was deeply moral without being moralistic. It would show human beings as the inscrutable creatures that they are, struggling to make decisions in situations they can never fully comprehend.”

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On the evening of Thanksgiving day, John Inglefield, the blacksmith, sat in his elbow-chair, among those who had been keeping festival at his board. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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