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To this day Nathaniel Hawthorne remains one of the most studied authors in the English language. His literary output included tales, novels, and essays, and his influence was felt by writers the world over. As stated in Jack Lynch's introduction to this volume, Hawthorne's works "can be found in virtually every library in the English-speaking world. No responsible survey course on American literature is complete without The Scarlet Letter; no reputable collection of American short stories can omit 'The Birth-mark' or 'Rappaccini's Daughter.' He stands at the center of nineteenth-century American literature." Indeed Hawthorne is considered to be among the forefathers of American literature.
Edited by literary scholar Jack Lynch of Rutgers University, Newark, this volume in the Critical Insights series brings together some of the high points of the last half-decade of Hawthorne criticism. The essays contained within present a variety of critical viewpoints and an array of critical approaches. Some consider the cultural and historical contexts of Hawthorne's works, while others examine the state of Hawthorne studies through changing critical fashions. Some of the essays look to biographical speculation, some consider Hawthorne's psychology, and yet others look closely to those issues that concerned Hawthorne most. Hawthorne's major work, The Scarlet Letter receives critical attention with essays by Hugo McPherson, John G. Bayer, and Evans Lansing Smith, while some of Hawthorne's stories are examined in essays by Kathryn B. McKee and Bill Christophersen. His essays receive careful consideration by Thomas R. Moore, while well-known scholars such as Leo B. Levy, Nina Baym, Claudia D. Johnson, and Melvin W. Askew probe broad subjects such as 19th century perfectionism, the fall of man, and notions of the sublime. While necessarily a sampling of the critical approaches to Hawthorne's work, the 18 essays contained in this volume provide an excellent starting point for those readers interested in studying this 19th century American literary master.
Each essay is 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:
|A chronology of the author's life
|A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication|
|A general bibliography|
|A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor|
|Notes on the individual chapter authors|
|A subject index|
From "About This Volume"
This contribution to the Critical Insights series doesn’t presume to reprint everything important in Hawthorne criticism, nor even all the best Hawthorne criticism. The sheer volume of scholarship on Nathaniel Hawthorne would make that impossible. The MLA International Bibliography lists 2,884 learned articles on Hawthorne, and the WorldCat library database records 3,993 books devoted to him. Any one-volume collection of criticism necessarily provides nothing more than a sample.
This volume, therefore, brings together some of the representative high points of Hawthorne criticism, ranging chronologically from the 1940s to the present. The essays take a variety of critical and theoretical approaches: some ask biographical questions, while others examine Hawthorne’s psychology; still others look at his historical and literary contexts. There are essays on mythology, on politics, and on theology. Together, they trace Hawthorne’s reception through changing critical fashions, and illuminate some of the central concerns in Hawthorne criticism: the place of sin and Providence in his fiction, the genres in which he wrote, and the shape of his career as a whole. None of the essays presumes to be the final word on the subject. Instead, each is valuable for offering a starting point for thinking about Hawthorne’s work, and for suggesting avenues for further exploration.
The collection opens with two introductory essays and a short biography before moving on to a section on Hawthorne’s context and reception, containing a series of wide-ranging overviews of Hawthorne’s works and career. A longer section, “Critical Readings,” follows, with samples of critical close readings from a number of schools of thought. The volume is rounded out by a chronology of the important events in Hawthorne’s life and a bibliography, with suggestions for further reading.