Hawthorne's Letters, His "Lost" Notebook and Others
During the mid-1830s, Hawthorne began keeping a notebook in which he recorded general observations of his daily life, his emotional responses to what he saw, and ideas for stories. This early notebook was not among those which came into the possession of scholars in the early part of this century, but was lost until the late 1970s. Its contents were transcribed and edited by Hyatt Waggoner and printed in an edition that the Goucher Library has in its collection. The first twenty pages (along with information contained in the editor's preface and introduction), should prove helpful to writers struggling to explain Hawthorne's intentions in composing his short stories written at around the time these notebook entries were created (i.e. "MK,MM"). The story of how these notes came to be preserved and rediscovered over 140 years later (after traveling to England and from thence to Boulder, Colorado) also should be of interest, but if you are short of time you may skip this part.
His other notebooks were named by scholars after the places in which Hawthorne used them: "American," "English," and "Italian." Some of those entries also are relevant because they come from the early 1840s, the period during which "R'sD" was created. You also will find his letters from the summer and fall of 1844 extremely interesting as you try to understand his frame of mind during the period when he was imagining Giovanni struggling to understand Beatrice and the competition between Baglioni and Rappaccini for control of Giovanni's future. Read curiously and see what you discover.
Some questions to ask yourself as you read the Lost Notebook entries and letters:
1) How might Hawthorne's private writing shed light on the kind of things he might have considered attractive but forbidden by his concept of "sin"?
2) How does Hawthorne choose scenes from daily life to commit to memory via prose? Do you see any common patterns here? Look especially for the way he imagines people's social interactions, and how their behavior affects and reveals their minds.
3) When he represents such events in letters to friends and relatives, how do you think he will shift his diction and focus for such public writing? What does this tell you about the shifts your own prose ought to go through between emails or written notes and the rough draft you give to me? If you want to read his letters from this same period, they are in Volume 15 of The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Eds.William Charvat ... et al. (Columbus, OH: Ohio State UP, 1962) 816 H39 1962.
4) When he sketches out a story idea in such a short space, might he have something so compressed that it could grow into two or three stories? How might these ideas be "spun" or "split" to produce some of the key elements in the three tales we have read? Do you see what this might mean for your rough draft ideas?
5) Hawthorne's first published work, Fanshawe (1828), was set at Bowdoin College and appears to have closely followed the actual details of his life as an undergraduate there. Why would you imagine he recalled and destroyed all copies of this book? How would you expect his attitude toward fiction and its sources in reality might affect his eventual use of (or suppression of) the notebook passages in his fiction?
6) Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, his wife, came into possession of all his papers after Hawthorne's death. If you have time, see what Hyatt Waggoner's introduction says she did to the notebooks she found among his papers (Lost Notebook 25). Why would she do this, what does this tell us about the strength of his ideas' effects on his contemporaries, and by what means have we become aware of her deeds? Would you call her actions justified? Under the conventions of international law, if critics have obtained a dead author's private letters and notebooks by legal means, they can do with them whatever they want. Do you think this is right? (Henry James wrote a terrific short story on the lengths critics might go to in order to acquire a trove of an important poet's correspondence—"The Aspern Papers", and A.S. Byatt's Possession: A Novel, explores the illegal excesses that they might attempt.) What topics would you say were high on Sophia's "hit list" and what does that tell you about Hawthorne's fiction's deepest meanings?
7) I assigned these specific journal entries and letters because I knew they had obvious historical relevance you would find it easy to explain (i.e., they were produced in the same period in which he was working on the stories we read, so they are admissible as evidence of his train of thought at the time and we may infer from them some notions of his hidden intentions in the published work). What might you make of entries from his later journals, written perhaps five or ten or twenty years after these? What would you have to do in order to make use of them relevant to a thesis about the tales we have from 1832 (MK,MM) and 1844 (R'sD)?
8) What other sources of information might we have about authors' mental world which might help us understand their intentions in writing fiction? For instance, consider the very real possibility that someone in this class may go on to become an important American author. In Hawthorne's tiny (8 students) entering class at Bowdoin College, there were a future president (Franklin Peirce) and two major C19 American authors, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Hawthorne, himself. What might a critic some hundred years later wish to know about you or the famous people you are studying with, and from what sources might the evidence emerge?