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[Location:Literature/ Topic: The Artist and Alienation /Sub-Topic: “Drowne’s Wooden Image”/Introductory Page

Excerpts from "Hawthorne's Drowne: Felix Culpa Exculpated" by Michael Wutz in Studies in American Fiction 18 (1990)

"Instead, the story of Drowne the sculptor centers on the "felix culpa" the positive implications of the archetypal fall of man from innocence to experience: Drowne's temporary initiaition into the force of Evil, the surge of passion for his Portuguese model, cannot find fulfillment through sexual consummation in his Puritan environment. Therefore, in an act of artistic transformation, he displaces his physical desires through the creation of an inspired objet d'art only to extirpate symbolically his potential for further creative genius" (99).

"However, to reduce the interpretive potential of "Drowne's Wooden Image" to a statement about the romantic conception of art, as many critics have done, ignores the ofetn puzzling and unfathomable complexity in Hawthorne's short fiction. At the same time, such reductive interpretations also exclude implications of Hawthorne's Puritan ancestry that was to haunt him all his life and to permeate all his work. . . . Only a full consideration of Hawthorne's situation of his artist within a Puritan context (in conjunction with his symbolic and psychological machinery) will allow the reader to come closer to the center of "Drowne's Wooden Image" and pry into what Hawthorne would have called the "innermost cavern" of the artist" (101).

"Apparently imbued with the breath of artistic inspiration, Drowne undergoes a metamorphosis from a mechanical and mediocre woodcarver to an inspired and unique artist and thus already anticipates the final outcome for himself and his artifact. In assuming, if only for a brief period, the god-like function of original creation, Drowne pre-figures not only the transformation of his raw material into a quite literally animated work of mimesis, he endows the lifeless piece of oak with the essence of a living human being. Of equal importance, Drowne' short lived role as the quasi-divine artificer of a simulacrum of Life also foreshadows his own eventual fall back into human mediocrity that leaves a unique and unsurpassable work of art in its wake" (103).

"it is the passions, those unfathomable wells springing from an innermost cavern that, that constitute the dynamos of inspired art. Imperative for the creation of the artifact, these passions are a prerequisite for the artist to transcend the psycho-emotional confines of his everyday experience. The extinction of these passions, as in the case of Drowne, appears to be virtually synonymous with the extinction of the artist's creative potential. Art produced through the agency of reason or spirit alone, Hawthorne seems to say, is not art at all but only a piece of uninspired mechanism. Put differently, the artist must undergo a process of initiation into the dark side of human experience; he must be willing to at least taste from the fruit of temptation. Only then will he gain the knowledge of the multiplicity of experience necessary for a comprehensive vision, a vision which is, in turn, necessary for the creation of art" (107)

(courtesty of Studies in American Fiction and Northeastern University




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