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Excerpts from Edwin Haviland Miller's Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Excerpts from Edwin Haviland Miller's Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hawthorne biographer Edwin Haviland Miller examines imagery in Melville's review of Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse as indicative of sexual tension in the personal relationship between the two authors.
"[Melville] arrives at his climactic statement as he finds the right words to characterize the effect upon him of Mosses from an Old Manse. 'To what infinite height of loving wonder and admiration I shall have thoroughly incorporated their whole stuff into my being, -- that I cannot tell.' And the next sentence makes Hawthorne the seedman, the penetrator: 'Hawthorne has dropped germinous seeds into my soul' and 'expands and deepens down, the more I contemplate him; and further and further, shoots his strong New England roots into the hot soil in my Southern soul.'
'Hawthorne and His Mosses' is scarcely literary criticism in the ordinary sense. It is a love letter and a confession. Artistically it records an epiphany of an artist whose search of thirty-one years culminated in an erotic-aesthetic union:" (314).

Miller subsequently reinforces his contentions through references to Melville's correspondence with Hawthorne, in particular his letter of 17 November 1851.

"[Hawthorne] had not shared Melville's exposure to the freewheeling licentiousness and uninhibited rites of both sexes in the South Seas or to the homosexual practices aboard ships on long, dreary, womanless voyages. Nor was he capable of the phallicism freely exhibited in wildly comic scenes in Moby-Dick. But he was not a naif either. There was little that was subtle about Melville's suggestiveness. In denying "licentious inclination," he confirmed its presence. When Melville proposed that Hawthorne, evidently in the role of Alcibiades, hug "this ugly Socrates," meaning himself, he evoked Greek love, while at the same time indicating that consummation had not taken place. Melville was probably aware that the relationship was about to end and that he was to reexperience rejection after the seeming fulfillment of his life's longings, but the finale had to be phrased with all the brilliance he proved himself master of in Moby-Dick.
This was the last of perhaps the most extraordinary love letters in American literature, comparable in art , feeling, and despair to the love poetry of the century, Whitman's "Calamus."
Before sailing to England in 1853, Hawthorne "burned great heaps of old letters and other papers," including hundreds of Sophia's maiden letters" written during their long courtship. "What a trustful guardian of secret matters fire is!" he wrote. "What should we do without Fire and Death?" The world was not to read Sophia's outpouring of love and idolatry, but, by accident or design, Hawthorne spared the letters of Melville. He never knew that presumably in anger and desolation Melville had destroyed his letters, only to re-create from painful but loving memories the unforgettable experience of his life" (356).

Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/12486/

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