Reading Group #8 ('Young Goodman Brown')

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Reading Group #8 ('Young Goodman Brown')

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juny 7, 2011, 5:37pm

Alright, here we are. I'll try to get this read before Thursday!

juny 7, 2011, 6:09pm

excited! I probably won't get to this until Friday or Saturday, but I'm looking forward to everyone's comments.

juny 8, 2011, 10:31am

No rush, everyone! Plenty of time.

juny 9, 2011, 8:21am

Just a tangential thought:

I won't go into details, but I'm struck by how cinematic some of the images in this are. I'm thinking back in the black and whites, here - possibly even some of the well-know silents, but some of the images immediately rang bells. I wonder if anyone's ever written a book about the old film-makers' reading habits?

Editat: juny 9, 2011, 11:12am

Again, I won't got into details, but I've just completed my 'careful' reading of the story and I'm developing an opinion - open to debate, of course - that Hawthorne should have a reputation for cynicism and bitterness rivalling that of Bierce (assuming he hasn't got one - I could easily have overlooked it).

juny 9, 2011, 4:33pm

I've just spent twenty minutes or more carefully composing a post without spoilers; pressed 'backspace' to remove an extra space; and not only removed the space but the whole thread and blasted myself right back to the LibraryThing home page. Now I'm putting the effort into composing a post without yards of bad language.

juny 9, 2011, 5:01pm

This is an absolutely engrossing story (I really wanted to say 'fascinating' but I'm trying to cut down on my 'fascinating's). It almost seems that every line throws up questions to think about and, if you're not careful, you can end up thinking yourself round in a circle and then tying yourself in a knot. I write from experience.

I felt with 'The Minister's Black Veil' that it would have paid dividends to have read a good biography of Hawthorne for a grip on his personal beliefs and concerns; I think that even more so with this. I know some say we shouldn't strive to tie works too closely to their authors' lives and concerns, but I'm sure that Hawthorne dealed in a lot that was personally important to him. He doesn't strike me as the 'detached' sort of writer. I'm half detecting a whacking great paradox at back of this, of which - if it exists - Hawthorne must have been aware; but I'm rather fumbling around in the dark, at the moment.

And it's got me rethinking my ideas on 'The Minister's Black Veil' - I need to revisit that.

Editat: juny 9, 2011, 7:44pm

'Young Goodman Brown' is, of all his stories (in my opinion), his most personal and his most intense. It deals not only with the themes he explores time and again in nearly everything he writes, but also grapples most powerfully with his private guilt and frustration with his ancestry, his religion, and even the concerns of his country, moralistically, as a whole. I certainly don't think it's reaching, then, to tie this one up with Hawthorne's life and concerns.

I need to give it a reread, but the theatre is sucking my soul out (how fitting!). I'll get it done tonight after I'm through, and come back tomorrow with a more organized comment...

(And oh, rankamateur, oh oh ohhhhhh how many times I have lost posts for the very same reasons as you...)

juny 9, 2011, 7:49pm

I would agree rank that the story deals w/ some very real things from Hawthorne's family history. I know some of the character names are drawn from a witch trial, in which his grandfather was a judge. But I'm sure there is more going on here below the surface, historiclly, than I'm able to pick out.

I like your comment about how every line throws up questions about the narrative. Couldn't agree more. Though the prose/wordage isn't necessarily Hawthorne's most sophisticated, the construction of sentences and paragraphs, along with the psychological ambiguity, makes it an endlessly fascinating read for me.

The first question that came to my mind when reading it this week was this: Why is Goodman Brown going on this "night-journey" at all? We don't really have a background to fill us in. I have many more questions and thoughts, but I'll have to save them for later when I have more time to think/write.

Editat: juny 10, 2011, 5:59am

#8, #9 - I'm still not very clear on Hawthorne's religion. Was he a convinced believer or a tortured doubter or what?

The narrative voice, here, seems to take the stance of the orthodox (in this context) believer to contrast with Brown who is, from the start, a 'back slider' (as Sal says, why does he go in the first place - something he 'should not' be doing?). It seems to be his religious doubts and his lack of faith in the people around him which make him vulnerable to whatever befalls him. I see him as being presented as the 'bad guy' here in that he doubts his faith/Faith. Yet the whole story seems to have a very cynical and critical view of the kind of people who should be, in the context, the 'good guys' - which could be seen as the 'bad guy' being a reflection of Hawthorne himself (or you could read it all as the deceits of the Devil - said you could think round in circles!).

If I'm right about all that - debatable, of course - that last bit (before the parentheses) is the paradox I mentioned in #7.

Or Hawthorne could have been quite confident in his faith but cynical of the integrity of most outwardly religious people. But I got the strong impression that he was presenting Brown as the typical 'crooked man' who sees the rest of the world as crooked. I'm sure he would not have been unaware of the potential irony of that, so - paradox - I'm going in a circle again.

As I said, absolutely fascinating engrossing intriguing.

ETA - Done a bit of editing to this - probably wrote it too fast.

juny 17, 2011, 4:14am

'Or Hawthorne could have been quite confident in his faith but cynical of the integrity of most outwardly religious people.'

I think this is true. And, to an extent, I know how he feels, which is why I find his fiction (usually) so engrossing. He takes the right approach and condemns the over-religious without condemning, necessarily, their religion. It's a very fair way of writing...especially when you're writing eerier fiction, as the nuance grows exponentially without the didacticism. Though you can feel his pain, frustration, and guilt in his stuff, you never feel a real hatred for faith (of any kind): and that is a very American approach to fiction, and one of the notes we can most appreciate in Hawthorne's influence on further work...

So, if anyone is ready to move on, I think I am. As usual, please (especially you, Sal) continue to comment if you have anything to say.

The next story will be free of most of the depth present here, but it's a really fun read nonetheless. It's 'Canon Alberic's Scrapbook' by M. R. James. A new thread is up.

Editat: oct. 29, 2018, 1:00pm

A lecture online by NYU prof of American Gothic, with topics enveloping Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, etc. this book came up often. Four were mentioned as works of 'romance', not as trite novels, which is a new concept to me, but Hawthorne was imperative about the difference. Why did I think all novels were fiction? No matter the genre? Appearing much like a hissy fit initially, Hawthorne's ego had obviously been wounded by the success of Harriet Beecher Stowe (the book was not expected to do well, by her or by her publisher). Perhaps he and Melville purposely joined forces to prove they could not only write it but do it better, even if less successful in terms of sales. Bizarre approach, but perhaps he needed the competition to spur him on. I had no idea that Uncle Tom's Cabin was the first piece of American Literature to surpass one million dollars in sales.

The four books mentioned were; Young Goodman Brown, The Blithedale Romance, The Scarlet Letter, The Marble Faun. I might try to get the three I haven't read, and proceed chronologically. I am tempted though to pick the shortest to read first. =)

I find it humourous that both Melville and Hawthorne added an 'e' to the end of their surname. For different reasons, but still similar enough, to distance their own writing from the 'sins of the fathers'. I wonder how many men used pen names back then... Women I understand, not wanting to taint their social norms with rebellion, but if Radcliffe could do it... The only one I know of was Mr. Tarzan when he first began writing Princess of Mars and the like, not wanting to be mistaken for a lowly writer of sci-fi stories, wanting only the paycheque. I enjoyed John Carter even if most didn't. But then, it starred a Canadian actor (Taylor Kitsch). 100 years in the making, so sad.

oct. 30, 2018, 9:04am

>12 frahealee:

Your first paragraph has me baffled, frahealee. What 'this book' are you talking about? What did Hawthorne and Melville write in response to Uncle Tom's Cabin? Perhaps put in a link to that lecture?

oct. 30, 2018, 9:10am

I love this group: one post had me pondering, again, on Polidori's The Vampyre, and his relationship to Byron, then, minutes later, another post in another thread has me (accidentally, really) reading a piece where Harriet Beecher Stowe is rather acidly laying in to Byron and his mistress ...

Editat: oct. 30, 2018, 9:33am

>13 alaudacorax: My reference to 'this book' meant the title Young Goodman Brown. I haven't read it yet so am unsure of the plot and references to the story, but was intrigued by the relationship of the authors at the time their various works were formed (both before and after publication). I try to include the link when possible, for my own reference as well as making it easier for the group to find, if it's of interest, but it depends which computer I am using at the time. My son's old laptop which I use when my daughter is home has lost its sensitivity to cut/paste feature, but while my daughter is at school, I can use her laptop, which is newer. Even hers though, I find annoying. I learned to type back in 'office practice' high school classes in the day before electric typewriters, so my style is fairly 'firm'. When I later used electric typewriters in my office job in tourism for a decade, I found them annoyingly sensitive also. A laptop keyboard and even a detached desktop keyboard (which I prefer but rarely use now) drive me bonkers because I type so quickly and press so hard that the 'mouse' and letters bounce all over the place! No wonder my hands often hurt (from persistent inherited arthritis) but it is a very hard habit to break. I am fairly sure that my typing speed has declined from a manual typewriter to this laptop not because of age but because of technology! Drat.

So, now that I am on the newer laptop, here is the link:

Nathaniel Hawthorne lecture by Cyrus Patell at NYU

and you can see the text of a letter to Hawthorne's publisher at 22m:50s mark...

oct. 30, 2018, 9:30am

>14 alaudacorax: This group and its comments are a source of inexhaustible 'jollies' for me and the banter is hysterical at some points and so profound in others. LOVE IT!

oct. 30, 2018, 9:36am

>15 frahealee:

Ah! Thanks for the link. I found on YT three lectures on American Gothic by Patell and just came back here to ask if it was one of them - you got here before me! I shall 'Watch later' the lot - a treasure trove.

Editat: març 13, 2019, 9:24pm

Bumping this up to the surface to keep it within view.

This was helpful to know going into the story. Just a few 'cheat notes' on how to start the story, get in the right mindset. (chapter 1, overview)

woods (wild/uncivilized/hidden) / witches / Devil / serpent staff / night travel / unstable surroundings / etc.

"Faith kept me back awhile" … something tells me the whole story will be like this, double meanings for even simple statements, which amplifies the impact of each concept … out of context this would seem to be a negative statement, which makes it a bit bewildering because it means the polar opposite. Brown's wife delayed him, did not want him to go, had faith in his goodness already. His faith should have kept him pious, at home, safe. It delayed his going, the wife and the task at hand. His 'unfaith' or seeking side (curiosity?) is what lures him to the woods at night.


Maybe it's just because I'm in the midst of the Lenten season, but to me, this entire story is one big take on the 40 days in the desert when Satan tempts Christ with material riches, negativity, feasting to abate His fasting, lonely and sleep deprived, it may seem that He is experiencing hallucinations, but it is the spiritual battle for the existence of love, of friendship, of trust and caring, of faith in oneself and in one's community, etc. They duke it out, and Satan is defeated by Christ's final command, not plea. It is selflessness that wins the day, in both situations. Pretty basic. If you want a laugh version of this, watch Bedazzled (2000) with Elizabeth Hurley trying to win the soul of Brendan Fraser. =) Same old. Twist ending.

Melville said it was as deep as Dante. So, The Divine Comedy has already been lined up for this year!

Editat: març 17, 2019, 10:40am

I am glad that I took the time to hear the Patel talk again before grinding this story through the sieve. It makes it clear that Uncle Tom's martyrdom is completely without irony, although irony has been used at other times in the novel. Patel points out that Poe and Melville and Hawthorne would never have chosen to or been able to convincingly do the same. This removes that element then from YGB.

It also emphasizes that although he has studied allegory and is a fan of it when done well, he does not prescribe it to his own writing because he does not want a literal translation of what one word or phrase or character is trying to say. He prefers the plot to have a slippery slope unique to each reader, which ultimately keeps him from huge popularity and respected literary merit. Hawthorne notes Bunyan (Pilgrim's Progress) and Spenser (The Faerie Queene) as examples of what he admires but is not trying to replicate. The key to Romance vs. Allegory. Coleridge says allegory illustrates abstract concepts, but coldly. Romance maintains the warmth.

Hawthorne seems to be taking equal pot shots at the contemporary elite and the zealot or fanatic. He wants his readers to be wary of short cuts to moral redemption. There are two ways to look at the pious figure. Melville says he (Hawthorne) is worried by and thus dramatizes the pull of the Calvinist sense of depravity too quickly away from original sin, as Emerson would prefer to do by glossing over the nature of evil.

The point seems to be that Hawthorne thrives on the nature of ambiguity. He is only interested in that grey area where the real and the unreal overlap. The exaggerated shadow place where your eyes and mind might be playing tricks on you, but might not. In the statement evil is the nature of mankind, he is saying the opposite by telling the reader to be wary of Devil mischief, sly tricks that might ultimately result in a crumpled house of cards. In this case, Brown knocks the stuffing out of his own life, saps his family of colour and flavour, by his own vulnerable downfall. He remained unsteady in his faith for the rest of his life. That presence of evil was always with him, which loaded up the scales of imbalance too much on one side, the side opposite to piety. Belief vs. behaviour. Too much of one and not enough of the other.

Editat: març 14, 2019, 4:18pm

Turns out, Hawthorne had three children; a son who became a criminal (served one year in jail for some kind of fraud), an eldest daughter (Una) who suffered severe depression, and a youngest daughter (Rose) who married at age 20 and became widowed 27 years later, then in 1900 took vows to become a Dominican nun. Her cause has been taken to Rome for possible sainthood, as Mother Mary Alphonsa. She started a terminal cancer hospice under the St. Rose of Lima service community.

I watched an hour interview with Hawthorne biographer Brenda Wineapple and although half was about political (zero interest to me) contacts and employment, some names stuck:
++ became friends with (President) Pearce and Longfellow at university in Maine, and both men helped him out of tough times later in life, with Pearce there at his death (1804-1864); NH had written a 200p. biography on Pearce which few people knew about, but his brother-in-law criticized
++ the family rented an abode from Emerson's kin for 3yrs but NH was better friends with Thoreau
++ he met Melville much later and was slightly older, almost like a father figure to fanboy Herman, but they shared similar political and literary philosophies (1819-1891) and respected each other immensely
++ the university was chosen for its strict moral code but NH enjoyed the political bonding aspects much more
++ he married the youngest of 3 Peabody sisters and remained in love and faithful to his death; she died 7yrs later, with the son having 10 kids with 8 surviving, so the majority of the relatives in New England are his offspring
++ the word sardonic surfaced frequently

The author first encountered Hawthorne at age 12 with The Minister's Black Veil which she did not understand but it scared her and stayed with her. Later, she realized that it was okay to not understand. =) The writing and the images were what was important.

març 15, 2019, 7:28am

>20 frahealee: - Later, she realized that it was okay to not understand.

BOOM!!! There's the key and the problem for me. My intellect can believe that, but my heart can't. Not only does the story leave me perplexed (Black Veil even more so), but then I have to deal with the idea that Hawthorne wanted me perplexed. Or, to put it another way, it takes me out of my comfort zone, but Hawthorne intended to take me out of my comfort zone, plus, surely, the Gothic genre is all about taking one of their comfort zone, but isn't that not what I meant by comfort zone? ... and Hawthorne's got me scurrying round in circles ... again ...

Apologies for the awkward double negative above, but I can't figure out how to say it any better way at the moment--not enough sleep last night, probably ...

març 15, 2019, 7:43am

>21 alaudacorax:
I went back to listen to the Librivox site (not on YT, the actual thing that pops up in my Bing search bar) for Young Goodman Brown, a mere 40min, and had the same moment … felt perplexed by this;

Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?
Be it so if you will; but, alas! it was a dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown. A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream.

If he didn't want me to think it was a dream, then why would he use the word three times in a very short space ??? Grrr. In the interviews and reading about him this week, I felt he was trying to have a go at things, distancing his 'Romance' from the novel, distancing his technique from familiar allegory. The literal meanings were too confining for him, so he morphed them into what he wanted to do/say but that leaves most readers very confused.

Editat: març 15, 2019, 7:53am

The same, to a lesser degree, for The Minister's Black Veil. The first sermon starts out with 'secret sin' and then he ends his final days with a tumult on secret sin of those in the room with him, challenging them to remove their own black veils. So, if he didn't want the congregation to believe that was its purpose, to draw attention to their misdeeds, then why would Hawthorne harp about it over and over? Let the reader alone, man! Stop poking at me!! I'll get what I get when I get it. =(

The off-balance nature of his writing, must have something to do with his overlaps, either in concept or writing style. His prose is a thing of beauty, no matter what he does, so maybe he's trying to shake up the reader so they don't drift off along a corridor of beautiful language. You know what I mean? Like with poetry, the beauty is sometimes enough, without the analysis.

Just read 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge' by Bierce, with kind of the same suspension of disbelief hangover...

Which is funny, because you mentioned they both might be extremely bitter men, both out to get the reader in their own way! I have nine more Hawthorne, and four by Bierce. Then tossing the lot and going back to Blackwood and Machen. =D