"Different from Himself: Hawthorne and the Masks of Masculinity" by T. Walter Herbert
Different from Himself: Hawthorne and the Masks of Masculinity
T. Walter Herbert American Literature Association Convention
A former generation of Hawthorne criticism, intent upon locating the "sweet
moral blossom" that The Scarlet Letter promises at its outset, seized
eagerly upon the following sentence at its close: "Among the many morals that
press upon us from the poor minister's experience, we put only this into a sentence:
--- "Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst,
yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred." Notice that this seemingly
straightforward maxim reverses itself midcourse, when the logic driving its
opening segment is replaced by an opposite logic. In the act of proposing the
forthright self-disclosure that Dimmesdale never makes, the sentence recommends
an equivocal self-disclosure that he makes again and again. Several traits ---
Dimmesdale's pallor, his emotionally overwrought preaching, the convulsive grasping
at his bosom --- make it easy for Chillingworth to infer the worst.
So we are ushered into what our own generation of criticism defines as a paradigmatic
Hawthornian moment, where self-revelation and self-concealment unite: the moral
maxim unsays what it says. Comparable examples abound. When Coverdale reveals
his love for Priscilla at the conclusion of The Blithedale Romance, he
simultaneously reveals that there exists a body of truth about Coverdale that
the reader will never learn, all those missing elements of the narrative that
would make that final disclosure make sense. As Hawthorne yields to the "autobiographical
impulse" that seizes him at the outset of the Custom House introduction, he
underscores the concealment that accompanies self-declaration, pointedly drawing
attention to the "inmost me behind the veil."
Commenting on this persistent trait, David Leverenz notes that Hawthorne turns
his readers into detectives --- that students of his work from Herman Melville
to Philip Young have convinced themselves there was some "secret" in Hawthorne's
life, a bit of personal information that would clear up the mysteries, if only
we could figure out what it is. Was Hawthorne mortified by the incest trial
of Anstiss Manning, as Young proposes? Was he gay? Was he sexually abused in
boyhood by his Uncle Robert? Did he suffer lifelong from unresolved grief at
the boyhood loss of his father? Unearthing further biographical information
may cast light on these possibilities, or suggest others.
This paper will argue
that the ambivalences proliferating around self-revelation in Hawthorne arise
in part from what was commonplace in his experience, as distinct from any individual
peculiarity, namely his compliance with an emerging culture of manhood whose
inner contradictions haunted him. Hawthorne chronically felt different from
himself as he sought to perform the masquerade of middle-class masculinity.
The gender ideology taking form in the early 19th century held that manliness
is autonomous agency, that the character and career of a real man is fashioned
by the man himself. "Self-made men" act with sovereign self-reliance, as Emerson
proclaimed, unlike those whose bloodline advantage cripple them in the competition,
and the self-enslaved at the bottom of the social scale. The gender and class
privilege concealed by the ideology of self-making is now well recognized, and
such systemic contradictions entailed chronic torments for men, even for those
who were privileged to live out the ideal.
The publication of Twice Told Tales first established Hawthorne in the
selfhood he had devoted himself to creating, that of a major American writer.
His well placed male friendships, as Jane Tompkins demonstrated, helped to place
him on this cultural stage. Yet the machinery of privilege did not operate smoothly
in Hawthorne's behalf; its workings provide a parable of the alienation of self
from self that the ideal of self-making imposed. The characters in this masculine
masquerade are the successful publisher, Samuel Goodwyn Goodrich, and Hawthorne's
wealthy college friend, Horatio Bridge.
Goodrich had published several of Hawthorne's tales anonymously in The
Token, gaining reputation as well as profit without any public recognition
going to Hawthorne. But when Hawthorne approached him with the idea of bringing
out a collection, Goodrich was uncooperative. Then Bridge offered Goodrich a
guarantee against losses, but insisted that the offer be kept secret, for fear
Hawthorne would refuse to accept such a favor from a friend. For Goodrich to
back the project, by contrast, would be acceptable: he was a professional associate,
ostensibly animated by his professional judgment of Hawthorne's writing. Grateful
for the apparent change of heart, Hawthorne now proposed to dedicate the volume
This dismayed Horatio Bridge, who had actually shown the generosity
for which Goodrich was to be rewarded, and he set about dissuading Hawthorne
from the proposed dedication, still without disclosing his own role. Goodrich's
own selfish interests were well served by the deal, Bridge wrote. "There is
no doubt in my mind of his selfishness in regard to your work and yourself .
. . when did he ever do anything for you without a quid pro quo?" (Mellow 76).
From his position as Hawthorne's secret patron, Bridge hammers home the Emersonian
maxims. "The bane of your life has been self-distrust.... I wish to God that
I could impart to you a little of my own brass"(NHW2: 147,149. This little comedy
illuminates the pretense endemic to self-reliant masculinity. Bridge's help
may serve as an emblem for the massive complex of unacknowledged assistance
--- from family, friends, women and other less fortunate men, both white and
black --- that is eclipsed by the ideology of self-making, and supported Hawthorne
lifelong. Hawthorne could not believe in an identity he knew he had concocted.
Knowing that the personhood that he put in circulation had no backing apart
from his own self-asserted self-sovereignty, Hawthorne felt like counterfeit
coin. He lacked "brass," said Bridge: truer would be to say that he knew his
brass was brass. The commonplace term --- brass --- betokens the commonplace
subliminal uneasiness of ambitious entrepreneurial men, that the self they put
forward, and on which they rely to make their way among other such men, is a
Beseiged by the demoralization that this conventional dilemma entailed,
Hawthorne celebrated the conventional remedy for it. "Thou only hast revealed
me to myself" he wrote to Sophia Peabody (soon to be Sophia Hawthorne) "for
without thy aid, my best knowledge of myself would have been merely to know
my own shadow . . . and to mistake its fantasies for my own real actions." The
domestic angel had a spiritual force in the life of a self-made man because
she counteracted the paralysing self-distrust that is concealed behind his mask
of masculinity. "We are not endowed with real life," Hawthorne explains "and
all that seems most real about us is but the thinnest substance of a dream --
till the heart is touched. That touch creates us -- then we begin to be -- thereby
we are beings of reality" (CE 15: 495).
The domestic angel redeems the self-made man by believing in him as he wishes
to believe in himself, providing an intimate assurance that dispells the nightmare
of affectation and self-ignorance. Yet Sophia's power to make Hawthorne real
does not mean that he ever told her about his difficulties with Samuel Goodwyn
Goodrich, and about Horatio Bridge's role in that. Sophia became his angel in
part because she came to know him after he published Twice Told Tales.
Sophia's first knowledge of "Nathaniel Hawthorne" was mediated through a literary
reputation that he had been excruciatingly anxious should not be marred by amateurish
early efforts. The spiritual force of the domestic angel thus compounds the
masculine masquerade, since the reality she underwrites is his unreality, the
fiction by which he wishes to be known.
Hawthorne published his first novel Fanshawe at his own expense, yet
quickly determined that he wanted to disown the work, and asked his friends
to return the copies he had sent them. He never came to regard this episode
with indulgent humor, as a bout of youthful distress long since superseded.
On the contrary, the repudiation of Fanshawe was an action essential
to the life-long strategy of his self-making; Sophia learned about it only after
his death, and refused at first to believe such a book had ever existed (CE
3: 308-314). Hawthorne was different from himself even with Sophia, the guarantor
of his heart's reality.
The concealed self of
the self-made man is not only an "inmost me" pervaded by spiritual tremors that
can be allayed through the sacred intimacy of marriage. It is a matter of professional
strategy and financial arrangements: Sophia was startled when Nathaniel published
his campaign biography of Franklin Pierce without showing her the manuscript.
And it's highly unlikely she knew anything about the kickbacks to the Democratic
party that he had demanded of subordinates during his term at the Custom House.
Dimmesdale's deception, likewise, follows from the requirements of his professional
position, not from some inner necessity.
The chronic dilemmas of masculine self-making take center stage in the The
House of the Seven Gables, where forthright self-reliant manliness and outright
hypocrisy converge to become indissolubly united. Jaffrey Pyncheon is said to
represent "the sin of long ago," but his acquisition of the family legacy has
bankrolled a spectacular career of self-making. He has made a vast fortune on
his own by investing in growth sectors of the antebellum economy, in railroads,
banking, and insurance. Pyncheon enjoys an inner knowledge of the new financial
systems, making it a custom to visit the Insurance Office so as to appraise
the current gossip, and to drop "some deeply designed chance-word, which will
be certain to become the gossip of tomorrow" (270). He creates pseudonymous
bank accounts, and employs other arcane methods, "familiar enough to capitalists,"
(234) by which the maze of financial institutions may be used to conceal his
Pyncheon likewise exploits the new systems of patronage and publicity that
were aimed at mobilizing mass electorates, securing voters' support for political
leaders they could not know first hand. Pyncheon's political contributions have
purchased the support of men "skilled to adjust those preliminary measures,
which steal from the people, without its knowledge, the power of choosing its
own rulers"(274). Pyncheon expects to be elected governor, but the election
will be a sham, concealing the power of an economic oligarchy.
Pyncheon is likewise skilled at performing the interpersonal gestures of the
masculine masquerade. He has pursued his career of ruthless self-aggrandizement
by projecting a carefully crafted image of harmless benevolence and unfailing
interpersonal warmth. Yet there has developed "a hidden stream of private talk"
that tells the true story of his cruelty. Hawthorne declares that moral reality
is to be found in "the woman's, the private and domestic view," and emphasizes
the "vast discrepancy between portraits intended for engraving, and the pencil-sketches
that pass from hand to hand, behind the original's back" (122).
to Judge Pyncheon marks her as possessing the moral and religious touchstone
that Hawthorne found in Sophia; without knowing any of Pyncheon's private story,
she instinctively draws back from his gestures of affectionate kinship.
Pyncheon himself is haunted by a partly conscious self-disgust, so that the
outward rebuffs that greet him strike home to an inner misery. In describing
Pyncheon's benevolent smile Hawthorne observes that it "was a good deal akin
to the shine on his boots, and that each must have cost him and his boot-black,
respectively, a good deal of hard labor to bring out and preserve" (117). The
menial toil that goes into keeping up the smile does not counteract simple malice,
which smiles without being prompted; the black smile hides displeasure and inward
This blackness flows out of Pyncheon's being, "darkening forth" to fill
his surroundings, and becomes the blackness of non-being as his dead face is
engulfed in midnight: "The features are all gone; there is only the paleness
of them left. And how looks it now?... There is no face! An infinite, inscrutable
blackness has annihilated sight! Where is our universe?" (276). The desperation
that enters the narrator's voice at this juncture indicates that Pyncheon dissolves
into a "darkness visible" that is contagious, and the figure most susceptible
to infection is his seeming opposite, Holgrave, who watches obsessively as Pyncheon
sits dead in his chair.
Hawthorne makes a decisive thematic investment in Holgrave
as Pyncheon's opposite number, a wholly self-reliant man who takes pride in
having no advantages of wealth and family position. His life-story echoes Emerson
praise for the self-sufficient lad "who in turn tries all the professions .
. . teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school " (Whicher 161). Holgrave too
has a record of ad hoc enterprises --- as schoolmaster, salesman, newspaper
editor, pedler, and now as daguerreotypist. He "had never violated the innermost
man," Hawthorne tells us, in "putting off one exterior, and snatching up another,
to be soon shifted for a third" (177).
Yet the innermost man crumbles when Holgrave
enters the gloom that surrounds Judge Pyncheon's demise, because the demon-ridden
non-selfhood of the Judge and Holgrave's consummate self-reliance are fundamentally
akin. The assertedly self-made man is perforce a confidence man, who succeeds
in "self-trust" insofar as he deceives himself, and denies that his existence
is conditioned by the vicissitudes and injustices of gender, class position
and economic happenstance. In desperation, Holgrave turns for spiritual solace
to Pheobe, exclaiming that "the presence of yonder dead man threw a great black
shadow over everything; he made the universe, so far as my perception could
reach, a scene of guilt, and of retribution more dreadful than the guilt'" (306).
Pheobe supplies the spiritual antidote to this nightmare as the two profess
their love for each other, and their intention to make a life together. "It
was in this hour," Hawthorne comments, "so full of doubt and awe, that the one
miracle was wrought, without which every human existence is a blank" (307).
Phoebe's profession of love for Holgrave redeems him from the masquerade of
male self-sufficiency, yet also brings that masquerade to its consummation.
The Holgrave that Pheobe loves is a man without consequential family background,
pursuing his work as a daguerreotypist in the old Pyncheon house as just another
happenstance. The prize for the confidence-game Holgrave has been playing is
Judge's Pyncheon's fortune, to be obtained by marrying Phoebe. As she redeems
his soul from the horrors of inner unreality, he relieves her of control over
Holgrave's announcement that he is a member of the Maule family
resembles Coverdale's disclosure of his love for Priscilla. It reveals that
we've hardly come to know this character at all; nothing we have learned means
what it seems to have meant when we learned it.
Hawthorne does not indict Holgrave
as a fortune-hunter, but he assembles circumstances that unmistakably frame
such an indictment. In the very scene that centers on Pyncheon's dead body,
Hawthorne had presented a procession of his deceased kinfolk, in which we learn
that his only son is dead, so that the great estate is to devolve upon Hepzibah,
Clifford, and Phoebe(280). Does one read the anxious rhetoric of Holgrave's
love-making without being subliminally aware that the Judge's secret bank accounts,
insurance shares, railroad holdings, and his extensive real estate are all staked
on the outcome? Holgrave does not reveal to Phoebe the false pretenses under
which he has courted her, nor does the redemptive bliss that "makes all things
true" prompt him to show his true colors. Holgrave mentions quite casually that
Phoebe will be assuming the name of Maule when they marry, explaining that he
would have disclosed his identity sooner, "only that I was afraid of frightening
you away" (316).
Holgrave is simply not burdened by the practical deceptions
entailed by his pursuit of self-made masculinity; instead he lavishes attention
on the spiritual distresses of his inner life. The fate of Pyncheon causes him
to view "the universe" as "a scene of guilt" and of retribution more dreadful
than the guilt," but his own culpability doesn't come into the accounting. It
is handsomely rewarded rather than punished. The interior conflicts of self-made
manhood arise in good measure from the systematic exploitation of women, and
of other subordinate contributors to the well-being that middle-class males
claim as unaided achievements.
The imaginative power of Hawthorne's work rests
in good measure on his incessant probing at the interior contradictions and
the emotional dilemmas generated by the ideology of self-making, but in settings
that insistently (though often covertly) point outward toward the social conditions
that gave this self-cancelling ideal its appearance of validity. "Be true! Be
true! Be true!" never stands clear as a summary maxim; it is forever enmeshed
in a set of moral failures and enigmas that make a self-made man different from
himself. When Hawthorne yields to an autobiographical impulse, he perforce writes