Fear of Fanshawe

Intransigence, Desire, and Scholarship in Hawthorne’s First Published Novel
  • David Greven


At sixteen, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote to his mother, “In five years, I shall belong to myself.”1 The need for self-mastery is one of the major themes in Hawthorne’s first published novel, the 1828 Fanshawe.2 Fanshawe’s innovative distinction is that, in its insistence on viewing romantic love and sexuality as hindrances to self-mastery, it locates panic over coherent male sexuality and gendered intelligibility at the center of the rising ideology of Jacksonian self-made manhood. Anticipating Hawthorne’s other men “apart from men,” such as Parson Hooper, Reuben Bourne, Feathertop, Ethan Brand, Owen Warland, Wakefield, Goodman Brown, Dimmesdale, Coverdale, and Clifford, Fanshawe is an isolate, inviolate male, emotionally, psychically, and sexually unavailable either to women or men, and equally estranged from compulsory marriage and homosociality. A consideration of Fanshawe and its titular protagonist affords us an opportunity to interrogate Hawthorne’s responses to the myriad, competing social programs of his day that contributed to the national construction of gendered identity—including Jacksonian self-made manhood, the temperance movement, health and sexual reform—and to gauge the warring progressive and conservative impulses in his work. Fanshawe therefore requires reinsertion into the milieu of Hawthorne’s interesting times: Andrew Jackson was elected the year Fanshawe was published, and the American Jubilee, the nation’s fiftieth anniversary, occurred only two years earlier.


Gender Identity Male Rivalry Social Threat Sexual Ambivalence Romantic Love 
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  1. 1.
    See James R. Mellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins UP, 1998), 16.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Seven Tales of My Native Land, a collection of themed, nationalistic stories and sketches, was the first work Hawthorne readied for publication, but, as happened to his subsequent collection, Provincial Tales, the deal fell through and the collection was never published. The surviving tales from Seven Tales are “Alice Doane” (which only exists in reworked form in the later story “Alice Doane’s Appeal”) and “The Hollow of the Three Hills,” both of which, interestingly, have women at their centers. These uncompleted projects are discussed in Lauren Berlant, The Anatomy of National Fantasy (Chicago, IL: Chicago UP, 1991).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Nathaniel Hawthorne, Fanshawe, in The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, vol. 3 (Columbus, OH: Ohio State UP, 1971). All references to this work are noted parenthetically within the text.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Quoted in Edwin Havilland Miller, Salem Is My Dwelling Place (Iowa City: Iowa UP, 1991), 74.Google Scholar
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    Many forms of anti-intellectualism, such as Scottish Common Sense philosophy, which Hawthorne studied, coexisted in Jacksonian America. Hawthorne took classes in this philosophical discipline at Bowdoin and contended with the tenets of Scottish Common Sense throughout his early work; see Allison Easton, The Making of the Hawthorne Subject (Columbia, MI: Missouri UP, 1996), 8. As Easton points out, the processes governing “social identity and the nature of moral authority” were thought to be fixed, “because the mind … was not an active creator of meaning but rather a divinely programmed machine that worked according to these rational laws of reason” (8). This philosophical position eschewed the unconscious as a possible determiner of human life. Since a preoccupation with unknowable motives is foregrounded in Hawthorne’s work (e.g., Parson Hooper, Rappacini), we can see that Hawthorne, while influenced by Scottish Common Sense, did not write to promulgate the theories he had learned. Fanshawe’s lack of allegiance to the strictures of Scottish Common Sense is easily noticed. As Easton writes: “Several elements indicate a lack of commitment to a Common Sense view of things, indeed a lack of interest in the social order. The introversion of Fanshawe’s world of learning is not unattractive: ‘like one who was a ruler in a world of his own’.… His detachment dooms him to an early death, but is the source of an apparently superior moral power. In contrast, all the other characters, involved with their families, work, and sense of duty, are shown to be strangely vulnerable” (21). Fanshawe seems preternaturally and prodigiously self-guided and determined. Like Billy Budd, he has no apparent biological family; he seems to have sprouted himself. Figures like Ichabod, easily replaced by another pedagogue, Fanshawe, and Billy Budd seem to suggest that solitary, inviolate manhood relies on a sense of self-generation. But Fanshawe’s self-guidedness, his certainty of direction—his faith in himself, divine or otherwise—leads him to a self-universe in which he dies young. Hawthorne appears to be suggesting, among so many and competing suggestions, that the perils of the too-self-reliant life include a propensity for, an attraction toward, death.Google Scholar
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    James N. Mancall, “Thoughts Painfully Intense”: Hawthorne and the Invalid Author (New York: Routledge, 2002). Since I quote widely from this work, references will be noted parenthetically in the text. Though my chapter was largely written before his study was available, Mancall’s timely work on Hawthorne and the “invalid scholar” anticipated my interest in Hawthorne and Robbins.Google Scholar
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  16. 43.
    Considering the issues now raised about Fanshawe’s ambivalence over the ideology of self-improvement, it is again helpful to consider Hawthorne in relation to the political milieu of his times. An ongoing controversy in Hawthorne criticism, addressed by virtually all commentators on the author’s political beliefs, are the discrepancies between Hawthorne’s Democratic leanings and his contempt for reform movements. (Hawthorne’s bizarre allegiance to Jackson metonymically represents these discrepancies. His satirical razzing of Brook Farm in The Blithedale Romance evinces his [agonized] disdain for reform movements.) Intervening, Kathleen Colgan, in The Influence of Political Events on Nathaniel Hawthorne’ Political Vision and Writings (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001), 74–75, suggests that it was Hawthorne’s recognition of human limitations—and not an optimistic faith in human perfectibility—which made him a Democrat. For if, as Hawthorne’s work argued, sin is a universal human condition, than that fact precludes any assumption of authority by one man over another … Human fallibility leaves no warrant for forcing others to conform their lives to any reformer’s notion of an idealistic pattern … for Hawthorne, the only true reform was moral reform, inner transformation, for perfection lay beyond time. Yet, Fanshawe shows that perfection—at least the desire for it—exists very much within the present as well. The perfection Fanshawe seeks is a purity of mind and body, with the soul obviated by the protagonist’s soullessness. If Hawthorne’s only affirmed manner of reform is “inner transformation,” Fanshawe is a reformer of the self, stripping the self bare of unnecessary appendages (other people, hopes), becoming perfectly self-sufficient in ways consonant with, yet deeply critical of, his times.Google Scholar
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    T. Walter Herbert, Dearest Beloved: The Hawthornes and the Making of the Middle Class Family (Berkeley, CA: California UP, 1993), 144.Google Scholar
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    My thinking on queer sexuality’s threat to futurity is emboldened by the recent (and often disquieting) work of Lacanian theorist Lee Edelman; see, e.g., AA Edelman’s “Hitchcock’s Future,” Alfred Hitchcock: Centenary Essays, ed. Richard Allen and S. Ishi Gonzales (London: British Film Institute, 1999), 238–59.Google Scholar
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  20. 52.
    “He set his hero apart from the common herd … [but] he could not give Fanshawe that fascinating mixture of good and evil qualities at the core of the gothic hero. Fanshawe embodies pure goodness and spiritual refinement; he is no more suited than the gothic hero to the broad and simple daylight of American life. His heroism is remarkably passive … Hawthorne could invent no action by which the hero could bridge the gap between himself and his environment. The logical outcome of his situation, foreshadowed in his wasting pallor, is an early death.” See Nina Baym, The Shape of Hawthorne’s Career (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1976), 28–29. I am in sympathetic understanding with Baym in aesthetic terms—which are far from unimportant—but Fanshawe has interest beyond the aesthetic. If we read Fanshawe in the ways I have proposed, this aesthetic “failure” actually comes to seem a perfect fulfillment of the designs of the work. I am indebted to Baym’s general views of Hawthorne’s feminism, his critique of dominant, tyrannical forms of male power in a patriarchal culture.Google Scholar
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    See AA Morrison’s book, The Explanation for Everything: Essays on Sexual Subjectivity (New York: New York UP, 2001), 72.Google Scholar
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  23. 58.
    These lines, from Defoe’s 1727 A Treatise Concerning the Use and Abuse of the Marriage Bed, expose not only Fanshawe’s depravity but the moral decadence of those whose licentiousness may exceed even the presumably sanctified domain of marital sex. Graham also sternly warned that even married couples were not immune to the debilitating effects of sex (see Lecture, 35). The general affront to sexual desire and activity, while especially fixated on onanistic crimes, numbered even seemingly normative men and women amongst its potential wrongdoers. In addition to being echoed by Hawthorne, Defoe’s language of biblical retribution for sex crimes—the burning up of the once beautiful—is remarkably similar to Graham’s, suggesting that, while in some ways a “new” development, the sexual reform movement of the 1830s was merely a spectacular flowering of anti-sex theories sown in and growing throughout the early eighteenth century. The Defoe lines are quoted from David Pivar’s Purity Crusade: Sexual Morality and Social Control, 1868–1900 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973), 20. In this study, Pivar focuses on that other Victorian sexual monster, Charybdis to the masturbator’s Scylla, the prostitute.Google Scholar

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© David Greven 2005

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  • David Greven

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