How about one more rummage through D. H. Lawrence’s little book.
A couple of years ago I puzzled over a strange book by William Carlos Williams, In the American Grain (1925), an obscurely written historical counterpart to D. H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature (1923). Although Williams and Lawrence only directly overlap with chapters on Franklin and Poe, and despite Horace Gregory insisting that Williams’ book does not resemble Lawrence’s (p. xiv), I now see that the Williams book is highly derivative of Lawrence.
WCW briefly turns to Hawthorne, to attack him, in his Poe chapter, for his realism (“his willing closeness to the life of his locality in its vague humors; his lifelike copying of the New England melancholy,” 228) and his traditionalism (“by doing what everyone else in France, England, Germany was doing for his own milieu, is no more than copying their method with another setting,” 229), meaning that Williams chooses to badly misread Hawthorne (and to give the highly original Poe too much credit for originality). His misreading was, and perhaps still is, a common one, taking The Scarlet Letter as treatise on Puritan thought and The Blithedale Romance as an investigation of the Brook Farm utopia and so on – heaven knows what the realist crowd thinks is going on in The Marble Faun – when he is really – I will turn to Lawrence:
Nathaniel Hawthorne writes romance.
And what’s romance? Usually, a nice little tale where you have everything As You Like It, where rain never wets your jacket and gnats never bite your nose, and it’s always daisy-time. As You Like It and Forest Lovers, etc. Morte D’Arthur.
Hawthorne obviously isn’t that kind of romanticist: though nobody has muddy boots in The Scarlet Letter, either. (Ch. 7, 88)
What on earth is Forest Lovers? A bestselling 1898 historical novel by Maurice Hewlett, a writer with a style distinctive enough to earn him a parody in Max Beerbohm’s Christmas Garland, a great honor.
Romance, Hawthorne, Morte D’Arthur – this sounds familiar for some reason. Perhaps because Lawrence stole it from a post I wrote three years ago! Reading Studies in American Literature has been a disheartening experience.
Lawrence takes The Scarlet Letter as a parable of sin, primal Adam and Eve stuff. “Hester Prynne was a devil” (100), but the men are worse, and the elf child Pearl will likely be worse than the men.
And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe.
And then from hour to hour we rot and rot. (103)
“[O]ne of the greatest allegories in all of literature” (106), Lawrence judges. That sounds about right.
Listen to this bit. It is in the Scarlet Letter chapter. It is a surprising digression. What is it doing here?:
My father hated books, hated the sight of anyone reading or writing.
My mother hated the thought that any of her sons should be condemned to manual labour. Her sons must have something higher than that.
She won. But she died first. (92)
I almost forgot to mention that Jessica at so very very recently read a later (earlier?) version of Lawrence’s book, which inspired me to read it for myself.