This Is His-This Is My Mystery
The Common Journal of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne, 1842-1843
MARTHA WERNER AND NICHOLAS LAWRENCE
Looking Backward: 1870-1868-1864
"When a person breaks in, unannounced, upon the morning hours of an artist, and finds him not in full dress, the intruder, and not the surprised artist, is doubtless at fault." So ends the preface to Passages from the English Note-Books of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and with it Sophia Hawthorne's public silence as editor of her late husband's journals. Although a subsequent version of the preface would excuse the editor as a "friend" rather than an "intruder," it's worth pausing to consider this extraordinary statement by the author's spouse of twenty-two years, the "inmost wife" and collaborator who, Nathaniel once informed a correspondent, "speaks so near me that I cannot tell her voice from my own" (CE 18: 256). Seeking to deflect criticism of the notebooks themselves, Sophia represents her editorial self as an impersonal "person," divorced from her usual role as protector and first reader of her husband's work, who flouts Victorian decorum by uncovering to the public what should remain private. Her language echoes most immediately a New York Times review of Passages from the American Note-Books, published in 1868: "Here in the Note-Books, we come upon Hawthorne's genius in undress-taken, perhaps, somewhat at a disadvantage-caught unawares-or, at all events, not always set off with the adornments and trappings of his art." (The Times review had, in addition, complained of the text's lack of "a word of preface or explanation of any kind": Idol and Jones 314.) At the same time, the radical alienation detectable in Sophia's choice of metaphor has its precedent in her own words, for example, the stunned eulogy she wrote to her friend Annie Fields upon Nathaniel's death in May 1864: "In the most retired privacy it was the same as in the presence of men. The sacred veil of his eyelids he scarcely lifted to himself. Such an unviolated sanctuary as was his nature, I his inmost wife never conceived nor knew." Two months later, responding to publisher James T. Fields's pleas to publish excerpts from the notebooks in The Atlantic Monthly, she wrote: "The veil he drew around himself no one should lift.... He gave all he wished to give. Who shall wrench more from him?" (Stewart 299). In turning to the quasireligious image of a veiled oracle, Sophia of course echoes Hawthorne's own favored metaphor for the mystery of subjectivity: "So far as I am a man of really individual attributes, I veil my face," as the narrator explains in "The Old Manse" (CE 10: 33). To try to lift the veil of the "inmost Me" that the author promises not to divulge is to risk turning "Hawthorne," if not ourselves, into a character from one of his tales.
Nowhere is the strangeness of Sophia's preface more apparent than in relation to the journal they kept in common during the first year of their marriage. Catalogued as MA 580 in the Pierpont Morgan Library, this notebook contains the intermittent record of newlywed life in Concord that Hawthorne would later draw on for his preface to Mosses from an Old Manse. Like its companion journal, MA 569, documenting the early years as the Hawthorne family grew to include five members, the Old Manse journal remains unpublished in entirety. Sophia's edited version of Nathaniel's contribution to MA 580, replete with emendations, truncations marked by ellipses, and silent omissions, was published in the July 1866 issue of The Atlantic, part of the serialized excerpts from his American journals that appeared each month of that year. These excerpts came out in book form in 1868, published in the United States and England, and were reissued virtually unchanged through numerous printings and editions until Randall Stewart produced his restored and corrected edition of the American notebooks in 1932. Stewart's work became the basis for the updated Centenary Edition published in 1972, but not until 1996 did Patricia Dunlavy Valenti publish Sophia's portion of the common journals in Studies in the American Renaissance. Important as this work of restoration is, the journal as it has come down to us duplicates the severe separation of gendered spheres that marked domestic ideology in the nineteenth century. Additionally, the interplay of spousal address and exchange present in the Old Manse journal has itself been veiled by a series of ink-blottings and scissored excisions performed on the manuscript, presumably by Sophia herself. The intimacy of her editorial engagement with the text, doubling the intimacy of its contents, could hardly be further removed from her self-characterization as careless intruder at the close of the 1870 preface.
The passage of MA 580 from private to public document cost Sophia no small effort. Just as Hawthorne's preface "The Old Manse," when published, invited the reader to inspect the author's house and grounds without mentioning his wife (except in his use of the unspecified "we"), so Sophia continued the labor of self-effacement when copying excerpts for The Atlantic: "I have now finished the Old Manse records," she wrote to Fields in February 1866, "-all that I could copy. It has been difficult to leave myself out, but I think I have been pretty skillful" (Stewart 306). The double meaning is clear: it was doubtless difficult to remove all specific references to herself in her husband's text, but also to remove her own text-a frequently rhapsodic testament to the bond she was experiencing anew as editor of his words. At the same time, the activity of copying effected a euphoric communion with the Nathaniel of 1842, a Nathaniel by the time of his death long vanished, and hence a way of retrieving the self-styled paradise of the couple's early, relatively carefree life together. Editing the notebooks was thus rife with paradox: in attempting to reestablish contact with her dead husband's spirit, Sophia removed evidence of that contact in the document that she was editing; in presenting the Old Manse journal as continuous in tone and texture with Hawthorne's solo notebooks, she had to suppress the collaborative occasion that distinguished it from them. This doubleness of intention-making the private public while retaining its privacy-echoes, in turn, the multiple levels of address engaging Sophia as she applied herself to the task of editing; in addition to the specter of an intimate yet dead past and the all-too-contemporary public audience of Atlantic readers, her work on the manuscripts was directed at a posterity that presumably included her own children, for whom certain passages in MA 580 were blotted out, excised, rendered illegible or invisible. The result is a published text like a series of nested Chinese boxes that both reveals and conceals layers of editing, a private document that wears occasional veils of black ink or empty space so as to produce, even now, a sense of hiddenness or mystery within an apparently mundane record of bourgeois daily life in mid-nineteenth-century America.
Sophia's double task as editor surfaces not only in the dual character of MA 580 but also in a persistent duality structuring much of Hawthorne's writing. Generations of commentators, beginning most famously with Herman Melville and Henry James, have remarked on the peculiar mode of coexistence between the metaphysical and the ordinary in the Hawthornian corpus. On the one hand, as J. Hillis Miller notes, James is perplexed by the "banal literalism" of Hawthorne's private notebooks, their tendency to record quotidian facts and trivial events rather than delve into speculation or self-scrutiny. On the other hand, Hawthorne's imaginative writing in the tales and novels notoriously betrays "a fatal tendency to fall into the abstraction of allegory," especially an allegory that overreaches itself by setting up an almost humorously incongruous relation between tenor and vehicle-as if, in James's words, "the kernel had not assimilated its envelope" (368). What James overlooks, however, is the way that portents and commonplaces exist side by side throughout Hawthorne's notebooks, most notably in the form of vividly figurative story ideas and, to use Sophia's phrase, passages of straightforward "word-painting"; what James was unable to see, given the omissions in Sophia's edition, is that the relation between allegory and mundane realism undergoes a change in the notebooks that he and Sophia produced collaboratively. There, for the first time, the allegorical and the mundane occupy the same space, revealing themselves as continuous with one another like a M��bius strip. Instead of entries that read, as James puts it, "like a series of very pleasant ... letters, addressed to himself by a man who ... should have determined to insert nothing compromising" (350), the common journals inaugurate a self-allegorization that appears to be a function of their address to someone other than the author. That "someone" both is and isn't Sophia, an ambiguity she would come to appreciate only when editing the notebooks a quarter of a century later.
Love is and ever has been one of the great scenes of textuality. -Jerome McGann, The Textual Condition
Concord, July 1842: having leased the Old Manse from Samuel Ripley, a distant relative of Emerson's, Nathaniel and Sophia take up residence in their new home and soon begin writing in the same notebook. The journal they keep together functions variously as a means of "daguerrotyp[ing] & painting the hours" (MA 569, 7 September 1852), the nineteenth-century equivalent of snapshot albums or home movies; as an extension of their domestic space, furnished with observations of their surroundings and housing joint reflections on their newly married state; and, more fancifully, as a purported book of Paradise, in which they figured themselves as Adam and Eve enjoying an Edenic solitude together. "Externally, our Paradise has very much the aspect of a pleasant old domicile, on earth," writes Nathaniel in the first of his entries:
I must not forget to mention that the butcher comes twice or thrice a week; and we have so far improved upon the custom of Adam and Eve, that we generally furnish forth our feasts with a portion of some delicate calf or lamb.... Would that my wife would permit me to record the ethereal dainties, that kind Heaven provided for us, on the first day of our arrival! Never, surely, was such food heard of on earth-at least, not by me. (5 August 1842)
Nathaniel's sly reference to sexual manna from heaven represents an early indication of the way in which the journal both offers and withholds details even in the act of composition. The disabling paradox of writing Paradise is that it needs no record; the very act of recording signifies a fallen state. Unmentionable specificities find oblique expression in the notebook; wordless experience is veiled first in words. Sophia's initial, truncated contribution to MA 580, beginning the journal in medias res, offers a small narrative of transgression and punishment that prefigures expulsion from the Garden of Eden:
wife. I could not comprehend why. When I came to him, he told me I had transgressed the law of right in trampling down the unmown grass, & he tried to induce me to come back, that he might not have to violate his conscience by doing the same thing. And I was very naughty & would not obey, & therefore he punished me by staying behind. This I did not like very well, & I climbed the hill alone. We penetrated the pleasant gloom & sat down upon the carpet of dried pine leaves. Then I clasped him in my arms in the lovely shade, & we laid down a few moments on the bosom of dear mother Earth. Oh how sweet it was! And I told him I would not be so naughty again, & there was a very slight diamond shower without any thunder or lightening, & we were happiest. (n.d.)
For all the suggestiveness of Sophia's language here, ranging as it does from transgression to violation to penetration to the climactic shower, it is the first, fragmentary word "wife" and its follow-up that appear to signify most. As the journal stands, this broken-off opening expresses much more about the oxymoronic project of keeping Eden's books than anything the writers could positively include. Sophia closes her entry with an echo of the Milton that Nathaniel read to her during their evenings at the Old Manse:
There was no wind & the stillness was profound. There seemed no movement in the world but that of our pulses. The Earth was still before us. It was very lovely but the rapture of my spirit was caused more by knowing that my own husband was at my side than by all the rich variety of plain, river, forest & mountain around & at my feet. (n.d.)
Paradise Lost thus installs itself within the intimate circle of wedded paradise. Though the world was all before them, the evidence of MA 580 suggests that the priority of the new Adam and Eve lay in excluding the social world wherever possible. In this the journal reveals itself essentially as a version of pastoral, where, despite the increasing encroachment of outside trouble (bad weather, unpaid debts, annoying visitors) and internal disturbance (spousal absence, the necessity of labor, the presence of death), a fictive equilibrium is precariously maintained, primarily through the solace of nature. If Nathaniel's Brook Farm period is styled in his previous journal as a socialist experiment to restore a pagan Golden Age, harking back to Virgil's Georgics, here the passage to a Biblically inflected rural retreat draws in all the complications attending the bourgeois vision of a paradise built for two.
Long before the conclusive moment of expulsion-"Our landlord has driven us out of our Paradise at Concord" (CE 16: 126)-the material signs of trouble in the paradise of MA 580 occur both as "flitting shadow[s] of earthly care" and as gaps-gaps in the chronological record of days, gaps in what is intentionally or unintentionally withheld. Months pass without an entry; anxieties, including those concerning Sophia's health during pregnancy, are registered only to be set aside. As a labor of leisure, the journal had to compete for time with other forms of labor, including Nathaniel's professional writing, household upkeep, work on the garden, and the separate journalizing that occupied them both apart from MA 580. The fiction of complete and Edenic mutual transparency that supports the project of the common journal is belied by these latter efforts, which record thoughts and experiences that aren't, initially at least, shareable. A passage from one of Hawthorne's tales of this period, "The Birth-Mark," recounts how the heroine, Georgiana, peruses her husband's scientific logbook:
The book, in truth, was both the history and emblem of his ardent, ambitious, imaginative, yet practiced and laborious, life. He handled physical details, as if there were nothing beyond them: yet spiritualized them all.... In his grasp, the veriest clod assumed a soul.... The volume, rich with achievements that had won renown for its author, was yet as melancholy a record as ever mortal hand had penned. It was the sad confession, and continual exemplification, of the short-comings of the composite man-the spirit burthened with clay and working in matter....
"It is dangerous to read in a sorcerer's books," said [Aylmer], with a smile, though his countenance was uneasy and displeased....
"It has made me worship you more than ever," said she. (CE 10: 49)
Excerpted from Reinventing the Peabody Sisters Copyright © 2006 by University of Iowa Press. Excerpted by permission.
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