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TitleThe Romance of Failure: First-Person Fictions of Poe, Hawthorne, and James
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Total Pages212
Table of Contents
Introduction: "Proper Identity" and the First Person
1. Disfiguring the Perfect Plot: Doubling and Self-Betrayal in Poe
2. Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance and the Death of Enchantment
3. The Jamesian Critical Romance
Document Text Contents
Page 2


Page 106

Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance 95

Coverdale has certain personal limitations which help define him
as a character, the first person's struggle to understand his own
story may have more to do with the demands made on him as
Blithedale's narrator—a self-imposed mission which is continually
being confirmed by the other members of the group.

The complex relation between Hawthorne and his first person
thus varies in accordance with Coverdale's own doubJeness in the
romance. At those moments when the minor poet becomes aware
of his role as narrator to muse on the problem of storytelling, I
would argue, Hawthorne is intimately relying on Coverdale to help
him work out the difficulties of romance writing. Yet we cannot
simply equate author and narrator, for in making his first person
conscious of his narrating, Hawthorne also makes him self-con-
scious, that is, he imagines a particular "self" for his creation apart
from the writer's own "inmost Me." However closely Coverdale's
personal compulsions may appear to correspond to his author's,
Hawthorne clearly means to keep his autobiographical impulses at
bay by encouraging us to regard his first person as just another
"imaginary personage" ( i ) whose painful experience should not be
directly compared with "the actual events of real lives" ( i ) , including
Hawthorne's own.

To recall the preface's warning, the history of Brook Farm is
one affair, the fiction of Blithedale another. In this way Hawthorne
hopes to treat the problem of the artist in the book primarily in
terms of Coverciale's character; the first person is thus sacrificed
as an egocentric clown on occasion for comic effect in order to
prevent his author from turning the romance into a naked confes-
sion. But the minor poet's difficulty, we shall see, extends beyond
his personal idiosyncracies, and even beyond his special duties as
a narrator. In the pages that follow I will generally refrain from
analyzing in isolation the frequently discussed quirks in Coverdale's
personality—his sexual fears and attractions, his effete dandyism,
his envy of Hollingsworth and malice toward Priscilla—because I
think these psychological dimensions of the narrator represent self-
defensive evasions on the part of Hawthorne himself, who en-
courages us to erect a separate identity for his first-person agent
behind which he can hide. Instead, I will be concentrating on Cov-
erdale's efforts ai representation, his attempt to provide some com-
prehensible artistic form for (he Blithedale community. Although

Page 107

96 The Romance of Failure

the teller's tale and his sell-ironic "character" remain entangled
throughout the book, it is the first person's role as literary plotter
that specifically enables Hawthorne to cast his own anxieties as a
romance writer into sharp relief without losing himself in his fiction.

These anxieties emerge from the very start of the romance.
The book's first chapter, with its emphasis on theatrical spectacle
and veiling, provides a key transition between the theoretical con-
cerns of Hawthorne's preface and Coverdale's more immediate
preoccupations as the community's poet laureate. The contrast
Hawthorne makes in the preface between old-world romance and
American fiction, in fact, bears a striking resemblance to a distinc-
tion between two kinds of showmanship that Covcrdale makes while
describing "the wonderful exhibition of the Veiled Lady" (5). For-
merly, Coverdale remarks, during the lime his story takes place,
the Veiled Lady was displayed with "all the arts of mysterious ar-
rangement . . . in order to set: the apparent miracle in the strongest
attitude of opposition to ordinary facts" (6). "Now-a-days," on the
contrary, during the time his story is being narrated, "in the man-
agement of his 'subject,' 'clairvoyant,' or 'medium,' the exhibitor
affects the simplicity and openness of scientific experiment" (5).
Instead of trying to create an enchanted atmosphere or "Faery
Land" remote from reality, the modern-day showman manages his
medium by pretending to match that reality. Like an American
writer's novels, the contemporary mesmerist's "subject" is thus com-
pelled to betray the paint and pasteboard of its arrangement.

Analogizing two contrasting styles of writing fiction with two
contrasting styles of performance, the romance's opening pages
help to explain Coverdale's dilemma as a narrator. The story he
has to tell is indeed enchanted, but his method of presentation will
work against that enchanted past by trying to rival current reality,
the reality of putting together a work of fiction. Separated by twelve
years, the moment of narrating and the events within the narration
are at odds with one another. The entire f i rs t chapter, moreover,
enacts this very dilemma by calling attention to the first person's
awkward attempts at narrative management, thereby revealing the
paint and pasteboard of his plotting. As many critics have pointed
out, the romance opens on a very bewildering note which violates
all kinds of narrative conventions. Instead of beginning the way
most storytellers begin, namely, introducing characters one by one
and placing them in a causal sequence of events, Coverdale starts

Page 211

zoo Index

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 62
Lubbock, Percy, 7

McDonald, Edward, 188 71.12
McElroy, John, 18871.12
McGann, Jerome [., 186 71.56
Matthiessen, F. O., 188 n.z
Mellard, James, ig i 71.21
Melville, Herman, 10, 18, 51, 180 71.20
Miller, J. Hillis, 192 71.29
Modernity, 26, 31, 104, 175
Mott, Frank, 185 71.38, 186 71.50
Mull, Donald, 192 71.24

Nabokov, Vladimir, 175

Pease, Donald, 25-26
Persona, New Critical assumptions

about, 15, 86-87, 161-62. See also

Pierce, Franklin, 114
Plot, as inducing paranoia, 46-47; rela-

tion to personal identity, 17-18,
27, 37-38, 61-62, 131; as sacri-
fice, 95-96, 124-25, 154, 170; as
substitute for community, 87,
96-98, 106-11, 115, 128, 174

Poe, Edgar Allan, audience, sense of,
51-53; essays and marginalia,
36, 52, 55, 61, 62, 69; and Jack-
sonian democracy, 55-56; and
journalistic style, 63, 67; obtuse-
ness in, 26; on perfect plot, 17,
37-38, 61-62; and plagiarism,
23, 52, 62; reviews of Haw-
thorne, 6, 36, 120; and voice,

43-44. 54, S8- 6.5
"Al Aaraaf," 36, 60
"Balloon-Hoax, The" 63, 64
"Berenice," 22, 32, 47, 49, 53, Go
"Black Cat, The," 39-45, 47, 58, 150,

"Descent into the Maelstrom, A," 34
"Eleonora," 49
Eureka, 34-38, 46, 68

"Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,
The," 44, 53, 64-67, 70

"Fall of the House of Usher, The,"
3, 25-26, 32, 44, 47-51, 53, 54,
66, 74, 132, i 59

"Gold-Bug, The," 47
"How to Write a Blackwood Article,"

3-8, 13, 20, 23, 32-33, 44, 54
"Island of the Fay, The," 42
"King Pest," 181 n. i
"Ligeia," 3, 22, 24, 32, 38, 44, 49, 53
"Loss of Breath," 54, 57
"Man of the Crowd, The," 19, 27-

35. 3«, 41 , 45. 57- 61, 63, 95, 99
"Man That Was Used Up, The," 53-

57- 7°
"Masque of the Red Death, The,"

l8 l 71. 1

"Mesmeric Revelation," 64
"Metzengerstein," 181 n.i
"Morella," 44, 49, 58
"MS. Found in a Bottle," 21-22, 34,

"Murders in the Rue Morgue, The,"

*7, 39, 44-45- 58

Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, The,
34, 181 71.2, 183 n. 11

"Philosophy of Composition, The,"
6, 18, 36, 38-39, 65

"Power of Words, The," 34
"Premature Burial, The," 53, 58-60,

"Purloined Letter, The," 27
"Raven, The," 38-39
"Shadow—A Parable," 35
"Tale of Jerusalem, A," 181 n. i
"Tell-Tale Heart, The," 45-47, 62
"Unparalleled Adventure of One

Hans Pfaall, The," 63
"Von Kempelen and His Discovery,"

53, 67-70
"William Wilson," 3, 25, 44, 53, 54,

Poirier, Richard, 188 74.2
Pollin, Burton R., 186 71.56, 188 71.3
Porte, Joel, 181 71.5
Powers, Lyall H., 192 71.29
Price, Martin, 46

Page 212

Index 201

Quinn, Ar thur Hobson, 18;; n.'j
Quinn, Patrick, 187 n.*j

Racth, Claire, 194 71.40
Reliability, of narrator, 9, 15-16, 24-25,

93-95. 102, 147
Richard, Claude, 182 71.7
Rieoeur, Paul, 160, 178 ?; .<>
Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith, 177 n.z,

192 n.29
Robinson, E. Arthur, 185 «.$i
Rogin, Michael, 54
Romance, as American tradition, 11,

22-23; as conceptual category,
120; as criticism, 136-37, 159;
and first-person fiction, 14-15,
127-28; as natural, 81-82; as a
theater, 90-92, 98, 102-3, 11()

Rowe, John Carlos, 183 r i . i i , 195 71.46

Scarry, Elaine, 87
Schneider, Daniel, 191 n .2 i
Self-betrayal, 8, 38, 47, 71 , 129, 144,

159, 173. Sue also Confession
Silvermari, Katja, 179 72.14
Siminel, Georg, 184 n. 17
Smith, Barbara II . , 178
Smith, Nichol, 183 ".15
Solomon, Rachel, 150
Sontag, Susan, 178 n.8
Stan/el, Franz, 8, 13
Sterne, Laurence, 21-22
Stoehr, Taylor, 117, 185 0.30
Stovall, Floyd, 183, 186 n./io

Sundquist, Eric, 181 n.r,
Sutherland, Judith I.,., 195 71.45

' ate, Allen, 182 n.8
"hompson, G. R., 182 re.9
"horeau, Henry David, 10, 18

' odorov, T/vctan, 6
ornashevsky, Boris, 177 n.2

Tom Jones (Fielding), 12
'Frilling, Lionel, 124, 181 n.r,
Trollope, Anthony, 123, 125, 170
Twain, Mark, 18, 180

Unreliability. See Reliability

Valery, Paul, 182 n.G

Waldrneir, Joseph, 191 n.2i
Watt, Ian, 189 n.i i
Weinstein, Phillip, 195 n.^-i
West, Rebecca, 194 71.42
Whipple, William, 185 71.40
Whitman, Walt, 10, 18
Wiesenfarth, Joseph, u j f j n_42
Wilbur, Richard, 24, 28
Wilde, Oscar, 193 ".32
Williams, William Carlos, 23-24, 121
Willis, N. P., 56, 68
Winters, Yvor, 184 n.y>

Ycazell, Ruth Bernard, 189 74.9

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