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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 103

his theme, Hawthorne afterward deepened it into another Paradise Lost—of a sort. Donatello, descendant of a faun and in spite of centuries of intermixture almost a faun himself, through sin estranges himself from his careless Eden and enters the human fraternity of guilt in the companionship of the more experienced Miriam, on whose behalf he sins, and who, by not preventing him, sins with him. Having thus shared a sin they find themselves indissolubly married by its spiritual consequences, whatever their outer fortunes may be. An accidental witness of the murder, Hilda, whose conscience grew in New England, in another degree also acquired the responsibility, which tortures her until she rises above her Puritan prejudices to a universal mood and unburdens herself at the confessional which her own creed has disallowed. The fourth character, Kenyon, has only technical duties to perform: to be a chorus in some scenes and a not-too-impassioned witness in others, and to marry Hilda at the end. The Marble Faun, though twice as long as The Scarlet Letter, has an equal unity—if not an equal depth—of tone and a still higher concentration of events. Donatello from his ancestral tower among the Apennines and Miriam and Hilda and Kenyon from their several birthplaces, their previous lives only hinted at, come together in the easy society of Rome, where the tragedy overtakes them. They act it with the swiftness of drama and then vanish, going as mysteriously as they came, so mysteriously, indeed, as to vex all but those readers who are competent to perceive how much the strength of the central impression depends upon the obscurity which hides the past and future of the characters.



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