Excerpt from Hawthorne: A Life by Brenda Wineapple (86-87; 100) (courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf)
In this passage from Wineapple's 2003 biography of Hawthorne, she speaks of Wakefield as alienated artist and also as a kindred spirit of Hawthorne.
“Crafty nincompoop,” Hawthorne calls the man who lives for two decades in limbo, thinking all the while that he’ll soon go home. Then, one day, he does. … (86).
Published in the New-England Magazine in May 1835, “Wakefield” is more than another creepy story about a man who leaves his wife like Young Goodman Brown, bound for a tryst in the woods. Wakefield is a drab, undistinguished, and unexceptional man—except of course of the twenty-year hiatus in his life, if that’s what one calls it. But to Hawthorne, Wakefield is also an artist—the artist as crafty nincompoop—severed from the world, having abandoned “his place and privileges with living men, without being admitted among the dead” (86).
For even as he castigates Wakefield, Hawthorne colludes with him, relishing an ordinary man’s extraordinary caprice.
Hawthorne’s best stories penetrate the secret horrors of ordinary life, those interstices in the general routine where suddenly something or someone shifts out of place, changing everything. Parson Hooper puts on his veil, Wakefield takes a little walk, Reuben Bourne tells himself a small lie (86). At the same time, Hawthorne writes and rewrites a fable of the artist, storyteller extraordinaire and crafty nincompoop alienated from his duller contemporaries by sensibility and vocation, an estranged filmy figure who gropes with abashed ardor through the twilight, insecure h imself but discerning and astute (86-7).
Wakefield and Hawthorne’s storyteller are the truncated travelers obliged to return home; too much weirdness is a bad thing… (87).
Exile and voyeur, not terribly sure of himself, between two worlds, Wakefield is Hawthorne’s ghost, his semblable, his brother, pausing at the threshold. And yet he was the author of Twice-told Tales, no longer anonymous, and poised for some kind of change (100).