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Excerpt from "Feathertop"

Excerpts from "Feathertop"

Hawthorne offers in these three passages from "Feathertop" a humorously self-deprecating and yet somewhat revealing judgment on art and, perhaps, his art in particular. In the first passage, he suggests that artistic success is merely a "spectral illusion," one that might well vanish if scrutinized too closely. In the second, he as good as confesses that the characters he has contrived for his romances are no more substantial than Mother Rigby's scarecrow. In the third, then, a passage that occurs at the moment in the story when Mother Rigby is exhorting Feathertop to come to life, that is, the point in the tale which is least credible, Hawthorne wryly tells the reader that he would find the story believable, if only he believed in it, a conclusion which is quite funny and which arises naturally from the direction he's taken in the first two passages.

Passage I

If we must needs pry closely into the matter, it may be doubted whether there was any real change, after all, in the sordid, worn-out, worthless, and ill-joined substance of the scarecrow; but merely a spectral illusion, and a cunning effect of light and shade, so colored and contrived as to delude the eyes of most men. The miracles of witchcraft seem always to have had a very shallow subtlety; and, at least, if the above explanation do not hit the truth of the process, I can suggest no better.

Passage II

This was a strange exhortation, undoubtedly, to be addressed to a mere thing of sticks, straw, and old clothes, with nothing better than a shrivelled pumpkin for a head; as we know to have been the scarecrow's case. Nevertheless, as we must carefully hold in remembrance, Mother Rigby was a witch of singular power and dexterity; and, keeping this fact duly before our minds, we shall see nothing beyond credibility in the remarkable incidents of our story. Indeed, the great difficulty will be at once got over, if we can only bring ourselves to believe that, as soon as the old dame bade him puff, there came a whiff of smoke from the scarecrow's mouth. It was the very feeblest of whiffs, to be sure; but it was followed by another and another, each more decided than the preceding one.

Passage III

There it stood--poor devil of a contrivance that it was!--with only the thinnest vesture of human similitude about it, through which was evident the stiff, ricketty, incongruous, faded, tattered, good-for-nothing patchwork of its substance, ready to sink in a heap upon the floor, as conscious of its own unworthiness to be erect. Shall I confess the truth? At its present point of vivification, the scarecrow reminds me of some of the lukewarm and abortive characters, composed of heterogeneous materials, used for the thousandth time, and never worth using, with which romance-writers (and myself, no doubt, among the rest) have so over-peopled the world of fiction.



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