Part One: Madness and Manhood in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and The Blithedale Romance
  • David Greven


As we have seen in our discussions of Irving, Hawthorne, and Cooper, nineteenth-century American literature provides examples of same-sex apathy, ambivalence, rivalry, enmity, and even hatred that must be integrated into critical accounts of the period. Inviolate manhood as a trope allows us to recognize, among other things, the occasionally skeptical nineteenth-century authorial perspective on mounting social programs such as the institutionalized forms of marriage, the family, and fraternal friendship. The works examined in this chapter and the next—primarily Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novels The Scarlet Letter and The Blithedale Romance; and more briefly, Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 short story “The Fall of the House of Usher”—illuminate not only male characters but also power relations, the interplay of competing ideologies, not just inviolate men but the characters who, to whatever degree and with whatever agenda, desire and compete for and against them. They light up the process whereby some fictive antebellum men reject both normative male friendship and normative heterosexual desire. One of the key themes in this chapter will be constructions of male-male relations in Hawthorne and Poe. A by-product of the innovative recent work on separate-spheres theory, certain male authors such as Hawthorne have been newly considered as “domestic” and “sentimental” writers, as well as figures who benefited, unlike their female literary competitors, from homosocial connections.


Sexual Intercourse American Literature Male Friendship Separate Sphere Racial Purity 
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  1. 2.
    See No More Separate Spheres!, ed. Cathy N. Davidson and Jessamyn Hatcher (Durham: Duke UP, 2002);Google Scholar
  2. Separate Spheres No More: Gender Convergence in American Literature, 1830–1930, ed. Monika M. Elbert (Alabama UP, 2000); Chapman and Hendler’s Sentimental Men and Romero’s Home Fronts similarly argue for the erasure of separate spheres distinctions in the conceptualization of nineteenth-century American culture. While I am in general agreement with this work, I also find it worrisome that the experiential realities—such as compulsory homosociality—of separate spheres in nineteenth-century American life have been potentially obscured, even obviated, in these provocative studies.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Carol Bensick, “His Folly, Her Weakness: Demystified Adultery in The Scarlet Letter,” New Essays on The Scarlet Letter, ed. Michael J. Colacurcio (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985), 137–59; 157.Google Scholar
  4. 16.
    David Leverenz, Manhood and the American Renaissance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1989), 275.Google Scholar
  5. 22.
    Rudolph Radama Von Abele, The Death of the Artist: A Study of Hawthorne’s Disintegration (Nijhoff, 1955), 48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 25.
    Another critic offers another interesting perspective. Because The Blithedale Romance draws heavily upon the theater, it behooves us to think of “the fourth side,” “the openness of the stage from the perspective of the audience.” The fourth side is also crucial to Derrida’s critique of Lacan’s famous “Seminar on The Purloined Letter,” an essay on Poe’s story. “Derrida points out that Poe’s story cannot be regarded simply in terms of triangulated scenes, as Lacan would have it, because the ‘general narrator’ also makes significant comments.” In The Blithedale Romance, Coverdale provides the crucial fourth side, “being writer and reader as well as participant in the dramatic action he describes.” See Allan Gardner Lloyd Smith, Eve Tempted: Writing and Sexuality in Hawthorne’s Fiction (Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble, 1984), 73–74.Google Scholar
  7. 26.
    Like Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, gazing upon the flawless and beloved Adam and Eve, so favored by God, Coverdale feels jealousy, “the injur’d Lover’s Hell” (V. 449ff). Freud postulates that within the process of jealousy lies a sense of terrible grief. “It is easy to see that essentially it is compounded of grief, the pain caused by the thought of losing the loved object, and of the narcissistic wound; further, of the feelings of enmity against the successful rival, and of a greater or lesser amount of self-criticism which tries to hold the person himself accountable for his loss.” See AA Freud, “Certain Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia and Homosexuality,” Sexuality and the Psychology of Love (New York: Macmillan, 1963), 160–70; 160. Coverdale’s jealousy may be read as grief over his disenfranchisement from normativity, even as he himself engineers this disenfranchisement.Google Scholar
  8. 27.
    Sophia Hawthorne found Fourier’s writings “abominable”; she reported that Hawthorne also read them and became “thoroughly disgusted.” See Mellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, 279. Despite her own squeamishness about sexual matters, Sophia probably accurately reported her husband’s response to Fourier. Brook Farm converted to Fourierianism in 1843. Hawthorne joined Brook Farm in 1841 but left before Fourierian order—with its Cadres, Echelons, and “tables of organization for the ideal phalanx”—was instituted. See Taylor Stoehr, Hawthorne’s Mad Scientists: Pseudoscience and Social Science in Nineteenth-Century Life and Letters (Hamden, CT: Archon, 1978), 147–51. Hawthorne’s subsequent reading up on Fourier and horrified reactions, mixed in with his own ambivalence toward Brook Farm, would appear to inform the fatalistic approach to Blithedale as an enterprise.Google Scholar
  9. 31.
    Mueller sums up the Hollingsworth–Coverdale relationship this way: “In The Blithedale Romance, homoeroticism is finally abandoned in favor of ‘frosty bachelorhood’ on the part of one character involved in the relationship and a heterosexual marriage, clouded by the outcome of the homosocial exchange of women, on the part of the other” (71–72). See Monika Mueller, This Infinite Fraternity of Feeling: Gender, Genre, and Homoerotic Crisis in Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance and Melville’s Pierre (Madison, WI: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1996). Some critics, like Mellow, Miller, Martin, and Mueller, argue that Hawthorne and Melville both worked out in literature—The Blithedale Romance and Pierre, specifically—the tortured feelings each eventually developed within the course of their famous friendship. If so, as these critics contend, Hawthorne transmuted his fraught friendship with Melville into art with The Blithedale Romance, we can look upon Hollingsworth as the Melville figure, brimming with blustery brio, offering his hand to Hawthorne for a deep longing promise of friendship, and Coverdale as the Hawthorne figure, cryptic and unresponsive, but secretly filled with unresolved longings.Google Scholar
  10. 39.
    The Grahamite reformers, confoundingly, also defied Victorian norms by advocating birth-control and reproductive rights through their belief in “voluntary motherhood.” See Jayme A. Sokolow, Eros and Modernization: Sylvester Graham, Health Reform, and the Origins of Victorian Sexuality in America (Cranberry, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1983), 127–28.Google Scholar
  11. 50.
    John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York: Harper and Row Perennial Library, 1988), 165.Google Scholar

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© David Greven 2005

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  • David Greven

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