Volume three of four in this collection of Hawthorne’s strange and unsettling tales
Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the earliest admired American novelists and short story writers. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, his origins ever influenced his work. His tales were invariably set in New England, were darkly romantic and were often concerned with the occult and witches and their works in particular. Indeed, one of Hawthorne’s ancestors actually sat as a judge during the famous Salem Witch Trials, so the author’s inspiration could barely have stronger foundations. Predictably Hawthorne’s stories contain puritanical messages on the themes of sin, guilt and fundamental evil which go well with stories that contain uncanny and, sometimes, almost surreal elements. Although Hawthorne was decidedly popular with readers opinions about his work was sharply divided among his peers. Poe was a particularly harsh critic. Nevertheless, more recent analysis has suggested that he remains—possibly—America’s greatest novelist, challenged only by Henry James and William Faulkner. This Leonaur collection of four volumes has gathered together Hawthorne’s tales which contain elements of the weird and bizarre. It contains very well known works and those that may be less familiar.
The penultimate volume of this special Leonaur collection features what is possibly Hawthorne’s most famous novel ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and the novelette ‘The Gentle Boy.’ It also includes no less than twenty seven short stories including ‘The Minister’s Black Veil,’ ‘The Ghost of Dr.Harris,’ ‘The Antique Ring,’ ‘Night Sketches,’ ‘Sights from a Steeple,’ ‘An Old Woman’s Tale,’ ‘The Haunted Quack,’ ‘Roger Malvin’s Burial,’ ‘The Birthmark,’ ‘Wakefield’ and others.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
As they went, they seemed to see the wizard gliding by their sides, or walking dimly on the path before them. But here I paused, and gazed into the faces of my two fair auditors, to judge whether, even on the hill where so many had been brought to death by wilder tales than this, I might venture to proceed. Their bright eyes were fixed on me; their lips apart. I took courage, and led the fated pair to a new-made grave, where for a few moments, in the bright and silent midnight, they stood alone. But suddenly there was a multitude of people among the graves.<br>
Each family tomb had given up its inhabitants, who, one by one, through distant years, had been borne to its dark chamber, but now came forth and stood in a pale group together. There was the gray ancestor, the aged mother, and all their descendants, some withered and full of years, like themselves, and others in their prime; there, too, were the children who went prattling to the tomb, and there the maiden who yielded her early beauty to death’s embrace, before passion had polluted it. Husbands and wives arose, who had lain many years side by side, and young mothers who had forgotten to kiss their first babes, though pillowed so long on their bosoms.<br>
Many had been buried in the habiliments of life, and still wore their ancient garb; some were old defenders of the infant colony, and gleamed forth in their steel-caps and bright breast-plates, as if starting up at an Indian war-cry; other venerable shapes had been pastors of the church, famous among the New England clergy, and now leaned with hands clasped over their gravestones, ready to call the congregation to prayer. There stood the early settlers, those old illustrious ones, the heroes of tradition and fireside legends, the men of history whose features had been so long beneath the sod that few alive could have remembered them.<br>
There, too, were faces of former townspeople, dimly recollected from childhood, and others, whom Leonard and Alice had wept in later years, but who now were most terrible of all, by their ghastly smile of recognition. All, in short, were there; the dead of other generations, whose moss-grown names could scarce be read upon their tombstones, and their successors, whose graves were not yet green; all whom black funerals had followed slowly thither now reappeared where the mourners left them. Yet none but souls accursed were there, and fiends counterfeiting the likeness of departed saints.<br>
The countenances of those venerable men, whose very features had been hallowed by lives of piety, were contorted now by intolerable pain or hellish passion, and now by an unearthly and derisive merriment. Had the pastors prayed, all saintlike as they seemed, it had been blasphemy. The chaste matrons, too, and the maidens with untasted lips, who had slept in their virgin graves apart from all other dust, now wore a look from which the two trembling mortals shrank, as if the unimaginable sin of twenty worlds were collected there. The faces of fond lovers, even of such as had pined into the tomb, because there their treasure was, were bent on one another with glances of hatred and smiles of bitter scorn, passions that are to devils what love is to the blest.<br>
At times, the features of those who had passed from a holy life to heaven would vary to and fro, between their assumed aspect and the fiendish lineaments whence they had been transformed. The whole miserable multitude, both sinful souls and false spectres of good men, groaned horribly and gnashed their teeth, as they looked upward to the calm loveliness of the midnight sky, and beheld those homes of bliss where they must never dwell. Such was the apparition, though too shadowy for language to portray; for here would be the moonbeams on the ice, glittering through a warrior’s breast-plate, and there the letters of a tombstone, on the form that stood before it; and whenever a breeze went by, it swept the old men’s hoary heads, the women’s fearful beauty, and all the unreal throng, into one indistinguishable cloud together.