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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Hawthorne and Trump

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Hawthorne and Trump

 

                Few people read Nathaniel Hawthorne's first novel, the short romance Fanshawe (1828) in 2016.  However  melodramatic  and thin the book is, it is a key to problems treated in Hawthorne's later  fiction and to Donald Trump's  whiteness.  Early American literature blackens the eyes and allows contemporary readers to see better.

                Henry James noted that Hawthorne was not pleased with this early work, assigned it to his boyish period, and eventually destroyed most copies of the first and only edition.  Hawthorne's technical skills matured and reached perfection in his later works, but the themes introduced in Fanshawe recurred throughout his career and still resonate.  Such critics as Carl Bode and Millicent Bell made modest claims about the romance.

                In a 1950 issue of New England Quarterly, Bode asserted the book "makes the earliest announcement of one of his greatest themes: that man must not cut himself off from man," and twelve years later Bell suggested the theme was connected with Hawthorne's problem of justifying the artist's way of life, because "art…is an isolating occupation, which destroys the capacity for normal happiness."  Scholars worked slowly in the old days and were  more forthcoming about the weaknesses of art , and truly great artists did not rush to transform garbage into pabulum.

                Read attentively, Fanshawe reveals much about Donald Trump. The protagonist Fanshawe is a prototype for such later  Hawthorne characters as Dimmesdale, Aylmer, Holgrave, and Kenyon;  Butler, the villain, seems to foreshadow Westervelt and the sinister Capuchin monk.  The hidden gems in the romance are two archetypal patterns:  1) a basic triadic relationship and 2) woman as a tempering force capable of reinstating the isolated male in the magnetic chain of humanity.  These patterns fit Trump to a "T."  The more he speaks from the three sides of his mouth, the more he reveals his being in need of a woman's touch. The patterns mark the Trump discourse.

                The triadic relationship in Fanshawe involves Fanshawe as the isolated scholar, Ellen Langton, and Edward Walcott.  Fanshawe has strong affections for Ellen, but his dedication to the pursuit of knowledge is stronger than his ability to love.  He cannot give of himself as freely as does his fellow student Edward.  He rejects Ellen's love:

No, Ellen, we must part now and forever.  Your life will be long and happy.  Mine will be short….Think that you scattered bright dreams around my pathway, --  an ideal happiness, that you would have sacrificed your own to realize.

To make Ellen a victim in a marriage the way he is a victim in his studies (Fanshawe mentions his studies have consumed the strength of his heart) would be a greater sin than rejection.  Had Fanshawe had the strength to accept Ellen, she would have been his guide to salvation:

Will it not be happiness to form the tie that shall connect you to the world? to be your guide…to the quiet paths from which your proud and lonely thoughts have estranged you?

Fanshawe is never united with normal humanity, nor is it probable that Trump shall be so linked.  Fanshawe dies unfit for this world.  Four years later, Edward, disavowing his passions and pursuits, marries Ellen.

                Hawthorne sprinkled similar themes and structures in The Blithedale Romance, The Scarlet Letter, The Marble Faun, The House of Seven Gables, and several of his short tales.  Two triadic clusters operate in The Blithedale Romance:  1) Zenobia, Coverdale and Hollingsworth and 2) Priscilla, Coverdale, and Hollingsworth (if the last sentence of the novel is reliable).   The poet Coverdale is incapable of personal  involvement with the problems of other characters until Zenobia's suicide brings a shock of recognition.  Only then can he confess his love for Priscilla.  Likewise, Hollingsworth is blind to his error until in death Zenobia shows him what he must reform.   Like Fanshawe and Walcott, he and Hollingsworth are rivals, but Hawthorne was no longer the boyish author, and he recognized the efficacy in a division of labor.  Woman must be split into light (Priscilla) and dark (Zenobia) in order to normalize the men.  How white of Hawthorne to arrive at such wisdom; how white of Trump to realize that one wife is not sufficient.

                Just as Hawthorne used general qualities of Fanshawe the scholar-artist-idealist in creating several  his male characters, Trump uses the qualities of the quintessential  politician-pragmatist to create himself.  A description of Fanshawe in his chamber resembles a description of a future Trump in his penthouse:

He called up in review the years, that, even at his early age, he had spent in solitary study, in conversation  with the dead, while he had scorned to mingle with the living world, or to be actuated by any of its motives.  He asked himself to what purpose was all this destructive labor, and where was the happiness of superior knowledge.  He had climbed but a few steps of a ladder that reached to infinity: he had thrown away his life in discovering, that, after a thousand such lives, he should still know comparatively nothing.

It is only by virtue of triple-talk and postmodern ironies that the analogy between Fanshawe and Trump remains intact. As far as we know from public evidence, Trump has soaked in the living world and fully enjoys the taste of money, and only a mesmeric eye permits us to see any kinship with Fanshawe.  But Hawthorne has long been a mesmeric eye in American literature, and through his eye we see the odd value of an adjusted  question from Millicent Bell:  Is not the obsessive quest…possibly dehumanizing, even sinful, since apparently it leads to an atrophy of the functions of affection and social responsibility?

 

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.

February 18, 2016

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