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


Page 99

subordinated to the central invention, enough so that in spite of them the romance has often been called the most shadowy Hawthorne ever wrote. A fellow-craftsman, however, William Dean Howells, preferred The Blithedale Romance to the others, and Henry James thought it “the lightest, the brightest, the liveliest” of them all. It lacks, indeed, any such mastering theme as that in The Scarlet Letter, or any such brocaded vestures as is worn by The House of the Seven Gables. Its particular excellence must be looked for in a touching charm that springs from the very tenuousness of its substance—a tenuousness greater than life’s even when Hawthorne was writing about matters he had seen with his physical eye, because the entire action of the novel is represented through the medium of its narrator, Coverdale the minor poet, who daintily eyes the moving world without ever coming close to it. Because Coverdale has no means of knowing all the history of the principal characters, Hawthorne waives the right of omniscience and omits certain hidden motives and submerged links of the story. Coverdale, too, being in love with Priscilla, tends to the confusion and limitation of vision appertaining to his state. While Hawthorne doubtless did not calculate all the consequences of his device, he was enough of a dramatist to incur them. The story flickers, lightens up, broadens, deepens, contracts, almost disappears, flares forth again, as it would have done in the perceptions of a real Coverdale; and the whole is seen through a misty illusion comparable in effect to those curtains of gauze let down at theaters to soften a scene. Through that wavering veil Coverdale sees enacted, against scenery which truthfully represents a community



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