Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Blast From the Past: 'The Marble Faun' Flies Into Stormy Skies


'Nobody is perfect,' the old saying goes. One of America's greatest authors discovered just how true these words are -- at his own expense.

The ‘Marble Faun’, was begun by Nathaniel Hawthorne during his visit to Italy in 1858 and was published in 1860. In England it was issued as the ‘Transformation.’ The scene is laid in Rome, but two of the four chief characters are Americans. The most interesting person in the story, however, is Donatello, a young Italian of noble birth who bears a strong resemblance to the statue of a faun by Praxiteles, and who, according to a tradition in his family, numbered a faun among his early progenitors. 
There are two women characters, of different types. Miriam is of a rich, full-blooded nature, and her past is bound up with some terrible mystery. Hilda, who is said to have been drawn with the writer's daughter in mind, was evidently intended as an example of the pure and self-contained New England maiden, but she has been aptly characterized by one critic as an “admirable little icicle.” The romance is a study of the effects of a great guilt on these persons, and especially on Donatello, in whom it brings about the change referred to in the English title of the book. 
Hawthorne here seems to be considering the great question of the mission of sin in the world, but in the end the explanation which he allows one of the characters to suggest he makes Hilda reject with horror. The romance has serious technical defects. It contains an excess of traveler's descriptions, which, however excellent in themselves, have little to do with the story; and it fails to satisfy the curiosity which the author persistently arouses regarding Miriam's past. Dissatisfaction with the ending was so great that in a later edition the author added a chapter of explanation, which, however, he justly regarded as no improvement. 
The chief merits of the book lie in the conception of Donatello, in the elusive symbolism and suggestiveness which characterize all Hawthorne's best work, and in several impressive scenes. Some of these, like the meeting with the model in the catacombs and the visit to the church of the Capuchins where the murdered monk lies, have a more dramatic quality than is usual with Hawthorne.
Encyclopedia Americana, 1920 

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