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


Page 90

years has that Jehovah wrapped himself whom the elder Puritans invoked day and night about all their business, praying for the remission of sins through the merciful affection of his son? What prayers go up? Who counts upon the treasury of grace from which any sinner might hope to obtain salvation if his repentance were only sore enough? The theology which for seventeenth-century men was almost as real as religion itself had come to be for their profound descendant no more authoritative than some remote mythology except as it shadowed forth a cosmic and moral order which Hawthorne had himself observed. In one respect he seems sterner than the elder Puritans, for he admits into his narrative no hope of any providential intervention which might set these jangled bells again into accord. Dimmesdale will not encourage Hester to hope for a compensating future life even. The consequences of deeds live forever. At the same time Hawthorne has drawn the action down from heaven’s pavement, where Milton would have conducted it, to earth and has humanized it to the extent that he centers it in human bosoms. The newest schools of psychology cannot object to a reading of sin which shows Dimmesdale and Chillingworth as the victims of instincts and antipathies which fester because unnaturally repressed while Hester Prynne is cleansed through the discovery of her offense and grows healthier by her confession. All the Christian centuries have known the truth here represented. But only certain of those centuries—and not the Puritan seventeenth—have been capable of viewing love as Hawthorne views it and unfolds its tragedy. To the actual contemporaries of Hester and Dimmesdale it would have



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