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


Page 86

be found all of those singular narratives—A Select Party, The Hall of Fantasy, The Procession of Life, The New Adam and Eve, The Intelligence Office, Earth’s Holocaust, A Virtuoso’s Collection—written between 1842 and 1844 in which Hawthorne assembles upon some fanciful scheme a gallery of personages or symbols or ideas among which he moves as showman or spectator commenting upon the varieties of life and legend. Perhaps without being aware of it he was growing ready for larger flights and a wider scene. At the same time he imparts an artful unity to the Mosses by the preface which conducts to the stories as an avenue of trees conducts to the Old Manse itself and which concentrates attention upon his themes as the cylinder of a telescope concentrates attention upon the object covered by the lens.
  A similar function is performed for The Scarlet Letter, written in Salem during the winter of 1849–50, by the introductory essay on the Custom House where Hawthorne had recently, as he thought, been wasting his time. The essay understandably surprised his late associates, who, though the gravest of citizens, learned now that they had been for Hawthorne little more than the characters of a farce; and it still surprises those of his readers who, knowing his reputation better than his veritable self, find in it a humor so chuckling, an eye for personal traits so sharp, a hand so deft at whimsical caricature, an intelligence so shrewd in its grasp of concrete realities. It was not for lack of talent in that direction that Hawthorne overlooked the surfaces of life; it was for lack of interest in matters not central to the serious concerns of the soul. In being a Puritan to the extent that he rarely lifted his



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