Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Man of Adamant

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

The Hermit, c. 1883, oil on board, by American artist George Inness (1825–1894). Image courtesy of The Athenaeum.
During the early fall of 1835 Nathaniel Hawthorne jotted down in two notebook entries several sentences outlining the idea for a story:
The story of a man, cold and hard-hearted, and acknowledging no brotherhood with mankind. . . . Then the body would petrify; and he having died in some characteristic act and expression, he would seem, through endless ages of death, to repel society as in life, and no one would be buried in that tomb forever.

It might be stated, as the closing circumstance of a tale, that the body of one of the characters had been petrified, and still existed in that state.
Hawthorne transformed this vague notion into “The Man of Adamant”—although readers will find it changed a bit from his original concept—and it appeared in the 1837 holiday gift annual The Token and Atlantic Souvenir, for which he had been writing tales for several years. That year’s collection actually contained eight selections by Hawthorne—and he received a mere $108 for the entire lot.

For five years, in The Token and elsewhere, Hawthorne’s stories had been published anonymously, and a number of them began to bring this young author to the attention of readers. New selections would simply identify him as the “Author of The Wives of the Dead” or the “Author of the Gentle Boy”—or not at all. In her biography of Hawthorne, Brenda Wineapple details how his identity was finally revealed. Hawthorne wrote to his friend Horatio Bridge, a fellow Bowdoin College alumnus who was both a confidante and one of his earliest champions, and admitted that he was thinking of publishing a book-length collection. Bridge enthusiastically replied, “What is the plan of operations? who the publishers, and when the time that you will be known by name as well as your writings are? I hope to God that you will put your name upon the title-page, and come before the world at once and on your own responsibility.”

About this time, however, the apparently frustrated Bridge simply decided to force Hawthorne into the limelight. Writing for the Boston Post, he reviewed the 1837 issue of The Token and revealed his friend’s identity. “It is a singular fact that, of the few American writers by profession, one of the very best is a gentleman whose name has never yet been made public, though his writings are extensively and favorably known. We refer to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Esq., of Salem. . . .” Another of Hawthorne’s friends likewise gave away the secret in pages of the American Monthly: “He does not even cover himself with the same anonymous shield at all times; but liberally gives the praise which, concentrated on one, would be great, to several unknowns.”

In the small room where he had been living since graduating from college, Hawthorne tersely indicated in his notebook his ambivalent reaction to the disclosures: “In this dismal and squalid chamber, FAME was won.”

Notes: There are several biblical references in the story. Kedar is the name for a nomadic confederation of Arab tribes mentioned in several books of the Old Testament. To “dwell in the tents of Kedar” was to be isolated from the worship of God (see Psalms 120:5). Elijah's cave at Horeb refers to his hideaway after Jezebel threatened revenge for killing the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 19:1–8). Abraham’s sepulchral cave at Machpelah, also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs, is the famed subterranean burial plot in Hebron (Genesis 23:17–19).

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In the old times of religious gloom and intolerance, lived Richard Digby, the gloomiest and most intolerant of a stern brotherhood. . . . 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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