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From Edwin Haviland Miller's Salem Is My Dwelling Place, University of Iowa Press, 1991, pp. 35-36.

From Edwin Haviland Miller's Salem Is My Dwelling Place, University of Iowa Press, 1991, pp. 35-36.

Since the appearance of Julian Hawthorne's biography in 1885 there has been speculation about Melville's comment to Julian during the course of an interview that he knew Hawthorne's "secret." Eager to defend his father, Julian alleged that the "secret" was Melville's, not Hawthorne's, which is a plausible allegation although it confuses the situ-ation further since there is no way to determine Melville's "secret." Because of the re-currence of incest in Hawthorne's tales and romances, between brothers and sisters, fathers and daughters, and sisters, a number of commentators have suspected that the "secret" is an incestuous relationship between Nathaniel and Elizabeth. In "Grimshawe," one of the unfinished romances of his last years, the bond between Ned and Elsie is intense, although they are not brother and sister but the wards of Dr. Grimshawe.

In the most recent attempt to unravel the "secret," Philip Young, drawing upon his predecessors and introducing new speculations, has argued that the incestuous bond of Nathaniel and Elizabeth is the veiled subject of The Scarlet Letter, Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne being brother and sister, the A substituting for I, or incest, and the situation in the romance replicating an incestuous episode in the Manning family in the late seventeenth century. Two sisters had carnal relations with their brother, Captain Nicholas Manning, and in the words of the court clerk had to sit in "the meeting house with a paper upon each of their heads, written in Capital Letters, 'This is for whorish carriage with my naturall Brother.' " Hawthorne, it is proposed, over a century later assumed the burden of guilt, this Manning stain.

The theme of incest appears with some frequency in his fiction--clearly in "Alice Doane's Appeal" and "Rappaccini's Daughter" and by intimation in The Marble Faun, "Grimshawe," "Septimius Felton," and "The Dolliver Romance." The subject poses difficulties: as several critics have noted, Elizabeth is the name of his mother and older sister. As we shall see, he also deals with parricide, fratricide, and matricide, usually by displacement, which veils the fantasies except from prying biographers.

To the end of his life Hawthorne kept not a "secret," as Melville alleged, but rather secrets--for he was in quest of a father, a mother, and perhaps even a brother to find security in a cold universe. Such longings he would never have revealed to Melville or to anyone else, at least not directly, only behind veils.

Source: Edwin Haviland Miller, Salem Is My Dwelling Place, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 1991.

Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/11915/

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